TRUTH OR LIES?

When you start a business you want it to survive and flourish. Reputation is everything and that means being straight with everyone you have dealing with. Integrity builds trust with your customers and it encourages creative thinking in your workforce. My company Buzzword Interactive Films emerged from Turning Point Theatre Company, an organisation with reputation built over 14 years. An ethical approach was part of that company’s history and culture. As a registered charity, Turning Point TC was short listed for the Charity Awards and it’s staff won independent awards for their inspiring work with Carers. We wanted to do it right!

The following is information and advice I have found on the subject when researching the Internet :

Groucho Marx once said : If you can fake it, you’ve got it made.  Pretending to be open and honest is exhausting. It does not lead to sustainability. Pushing something that does not have its basis in honesty is not sustainable. In these difficult financial times the most important thing for customers is that they feel they are dealing with an organisation that works to an ethical code, has built a reputation for this, is reliable and honest.

Anyone starting up an enterprise wants it to be around for the long term – and that demands straight dealing. Honesty is not something you can fake. It’s a positive quality that can permeate all your dealings with customers, staff, suppliers and the world in general. Indeed, it is a necessity.

‘I’ll tell you how I approach it,’ says Keith Sharp, UK and Europe marketing director for Tata Consultancy Services, part of India’s Tata Group. ‘As far as I’m concerned, just from a business sustainability point of view, it is not sustainable for us to come out with anything or project anything that doesn’t have a basis in truth and therefore honesty about it. We’re increasingly seeing that our prospects and customers want to be dealing with, and seen to be dealing with, a company that is trustworthy, reliable, ethical and honest. It is important in recruiting these days, and that’s good to see: firms that have a justified reputation for ethics and honesty are more likely to be able to recruit good people and keep them.’

It helps if that reputation is rooted in a company’s history and culture. Tata was founded nearly 140 years ago by Jamsetji Tata, a Zoroastrian who committed himself to building an ethical business that would never resort to bribes or other dishonesty. Every chairman since – and there have been just five – has followed that lead. The group has a detailed code of conduct, developed over the firm’s history, that every employee is obliged to adopt. Honesty is, says Sharp, ‘deep in the fabric of Tata’.

Honesty leads to trust, which is at the root of good business relationships. But is the honesty we exercise in business the same as we practise in the rest of our lives? In the past, there was a widespread idea that business is a game like poker, in which the standards of honesty are different. The classic statement of this position came in the Harvard Business Review of January 1968. In ‘Is Business Bluffing Ethical?’, Albert Carr argued that a degree of deception was not dishonest but standard practice.

Executives from time to time are almost compelled, in the interest of their companies or themselves,’ he wrote, ‘to practice some sort of deception when in negotiation with customers, dealers, labor unions, government officials or even other departments of their companies. By conscious misstatements, concealment of pertinent facts, or exaggeration – in short, by bluffing – they seek to persuade others to agree with them.’

Those who did not engage in these practices would place themselves at ‘a heavy disadvantage’ in their business dealings. The article gives a number of examples of when such deceptions would be appropriate – and some would raise eyebrows today. For instance, he tells of a manager of 58 who dyes his hair black and adjusts his CV to make out that he is 45. ‘This was a lie,’ wrote Carr, ‘yet within the accepted rules of the business game, no moral culpability attaches to it.’

The world has moved on. Business schools explicitly teach honesty, while agreeing that there need to be limits to voluntary disclosure of information. ‘Never tell a lie,’ says Paul Burns, dean of the business school at the University of Buckingham, ‘but you don’t have to tell all of the truth.’ In negotiation, you are under no obligation to tell your customers the details of your pricing structure, nor to volunteer any shortcomings in your products. These things are nobody else’s business.

Motivational speaker Larry Johnson is co-author, with Bob Phillips, of a management book called Absolute Honesty (Amacom, 2003). But despite his title, Johnson admits there are times when ‘the whole truth’ is not appropriate. He would not tell his daughter he didn’t like her dress when she was on her way to the prom: ‘I would look her straight in the eye and lie through my teeth. I’m not stupid.’

White lies, he says, are useful in business too: the important thing is to establish your criteria for when they are appropriate and when they’re not. ‘Because, if you are not crystal-clear, it’s easy to slip over the edge and to tell lies to avoid pain when you should be telling the truth. It is usually better to be straight. You don’t impeach your credibility; you build credibility with others, people trust you, and you don’t have to remember what you lied about.’

Tata’s Sharp agrees. ‘I think honesty is a habit. It’s like when you’re driving a car: you need to be in the habit of putting the indicators on when you are turning left. You need to do it always and not just when you are in heavy traffic. I just don’t think honesty is something you switch on and switch off. You do it, and it has to be a part of how you go about everything. I can’t imagine trying to assess what’s coming up today and thinking: “When do I have to be honest and when don’t I need to be?”‘

Rupert Howell is managing director of brand and commercial matters at ITV, a company that learned a hard lesson about honesty when Ofcom fined it a record £5.67m for cheating its viewers in phone-in competitions. Appointed in September 2007, many months after the events in question, Howell brought with him very different attitudes. As one of the founders of the advertising agency HHCL, which began with five people in 1987 and grew over a decade to employ more than 240, he is a fervent believer in telling hard truths – even when you don’t have to.

‘I remember a really silly incident early in the life of HHCL. A complicated press ad that we’d done for Thames Television had a spelling mistake in it. We spotted it after it had run. I rang up the client and said: “Look, I’ve got an admission to make. There was a typo in it and I’m really sorry about it.” And he said: “I’m really pleased you told me – no worries, just be a bit more careful next time.” If he’d discovered it, he’d have had every right to be cross.’

But how far should openness go with staff? Burns is wary of giving too much information, particularly when things are going wrong. ‘They don’t like uncertainty,’ he says, ‘and any business is a lot about uncertainty. They like a certainty that the business will succeed and that there’s a vision for how it will grow. That doesn’t mean the vision is untrue; it’s there and it’s enduring for the long term. It’s just that you might be going through a bad patch.’

Howell has a different approach. At HHCL there was a policy of full disclosure: ‘We had a weekly all-staff get-together with a few beers where we’d tell everybody what was going on. We’d tell them what money we were making, we’d tell them what we needed to do … We told them everything, and it never got out.’

This applied even in bad times. ‘We had a lean patch a few years in, as every business does, and we’d say to people: “Here are the numbers. We’re all going to have to pull harder, and you’re not going to get pay rises until we get these numbers moving.” And, guess what? – they all responded brilliantly.’

Howell believes that staff can be trusted to keep business secrets, so long as the reasons for secrecy are explained. ‘We were scrupulously honest with our clients and with our staff, and they repaid us in spades with trust and, ultimately, respect, and that led us to be successful and profitable.’

Being honest is the starting point for running an honest organisation. ‘The worst truth always beats the best lie,’ says Johnson. Telling the truth, he believes, is not always as painful as you think it will be, and once it’s done, you can put the issue behind you. It also enables you to keep things simple; lying is hard work.

But honesty works both ways. If you are honest with your staff, you need them to be straight with you. And for that to happen, they have to feel safe in telling the truth. Not only will this make people happier, it can also create, in Johnson’s words, ‘an environment where creativity can occur more rapidly, because people aren’t afraid to say what’s on their mind’.

In his book, and in his speeches and workshops, Johnson sets out a number of steps for creating an honest culture in a business and using it as a positive force for business development. You need to get into the habit of confronting and resolving problems through ‘constructive confrontation’, rather than using white lies to paper over the cracks. You need to establish ‘arenas of openness’, meetings in which anything can be raised by anyone. And, painful as it may seem, you must welcome honesty, even to the extent of rewarding messengers who bring bad news. ‘If you do that, the odds go up that people will be straight with you, whereas if you kill a few messengers, people are not going to be straight with you. An environment where I feel comfortable in saying what’s on my mind is one where, if I see something going on that shouldn’t be going on, I feel it’s safe to say something about it – even if it’s my boss that’s doing it.’

It’s not only about culture, it’s about structures. Tata Consultancy supports whistle-blowers through a network of ‘ethics counsellors’ independent of HR: there are 20 in the UK alone. Cadbury is another company whose emphasis on values goes back to the religious convictions of its founders. Honesty is one of the business principles to which everyone has to sign up annually. There’s also online training in ethics, including case studies dealing with such topics as conflicts of interest.

‘I’m not saying no-one ever lies, cheats or steals at Cadbury,’ says Alex Cole, corporate affairs director. ‘It would be beyond our capability to prevent those things from happening.’ So it has a ‘speaking-up helpline’, a confidential process through which people can report dishonesty as well as ordinary HR grievances.

‘Every one of those calls is investigated,’ adds Cole. ‘It might be anything from fiddling their expenses claims through to theft. If we weren’t finding issues, I’d be worried that the helpline wasn’t doing anything.’

Despite the manifold benefits of honesty, some will continue to disregard it, and yet, in the short term, survive. ‘Life is full of temptations,’ says Burns. ‘You can probably get away with the odd lie now and again, as long as you are not found out. But they tend to catch up with you. You can only say “the cheque is in the post” so many times.’

FARZANA BADUEL – THE POWER OF CANDID FEEDBACK

Farzana Baduel left university after two years to start her first business. Today, she owns and manages an eight-strong accountancy firm, which specialises in small-business accounts. She also runs a small commercial property business. Baduel learnt the importance of honesty in dealing with staff. Being ‘polite and diplomatic’ by nature, she found it hard to tell them when they were failing. The problem reached a head when she had to dismiss someone for poor work and found the culprit had no idea she was in trouble.

To avoid such nasty surprises, she has introduced a system in which all staff, including herself, are anonymously appraised by each other. ‘It’s very painful,’ she says, ‘but it’s brilliant.’ If three or four people come up with similar comments about a member of staff, it suggests there’s room for improvement – perhaps through training. The key, she says, is for people to be ‘as honest as possible with each other without fearing any sort of repercussions’.

This is especially important when things go wrong. ‘I love hearing about complaints,’ she says. ‘It’s the only way I know how to improve.’ Staff who have made mistakes are expected to own up, but she tries to set an example. ‘I’m very open myself about making mistakes. I think making mistakes is the best way to learn. I never get angry with people making mistakes – unless they lose enormous amounts. It’s tempting to get the gun out and shoot the messenger, but you have to refrain. It’s a constant challenge.’

 

SUPERMARKET GAMES

The Waitrose store in Peterborough, Cambridges...
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The supermarkets are at war again. Even my local Waitrose is making wild promises to its customers. Delia Smith confronts me with her beatific smile as I come into the store and I feel obliged to obey her suggestion to cook her latest, delicious pasta dish. She has even laid out all the ingredients for me in the chilled cabinet, right by the door. There is no escape; the flowers are behind me, the chiller in front – I have to comply and experience a wonderful romantic evening with whoever…

I could always be brave and rush through the checkout to the exit door with no shopping. But I know I will feel like a shoplifter. I will feel dreadful. How can you leave a Waitrose store without buying something? You will be making the wrong social statement! You must not do it!

And there is now something else in dear old Waitrose to give you the jitters. On the wall, as you enter the store, is a board of what look like remote controls for a lot of TV‘s. The idea is that you swipe your credit card and get one of these little grey gadgets to shop with. It’s supposed to save you time, as when you have pointed it at all the bar codes on your shopping you can fast track to a ‘special’ check-out. That’s the theory. In practice, I find I forget to point my little laser at my goods, sometimes it doesn’t work, and sometimes I get totally confused because there are lots of little buttons on the front of the thing that everyone seems to understand but me!

Then there is the embarrassment of going to the ‘special’ check out, only to be told that you will have to wait while the cashier re-checks all your items to make sure they add up to the amount the little gizmo says you have spent. This is quite random. You can go to the store for weeks and sale though without any worries – well some people can. But there is always that one time, when the place is full of people standing in front and behind you, when the jolly girl behind the counter says in a  loud voice: Sorry Madam, it’s telling me to do a re-check.  Oh, have I forgotten to scan something? I’m sorry, madam we can’t tell you that. I try desperately to remember that final figure  but it escapes me, so I will never know if I have forgotten to scan an item, if I am a secret shop-lifter or if I am in fact, going a bit senile.

I could go to Morrisons, I suppose. But they are further away and the cost of the petrol is more than the discounts on offer. Mind you, Morrisons and Waitrose give very different shopping experiences. Waitrose is the concert pianist and Morrisons is the brass band, if you get my drift? But then, we all like a brass band now and again, don’t we?  I love their huge fish counter sporting all sorts of exotic fresh fish that I’ve never heard of. I like the way the fish monger tells me all about his dad who was a fisherman and caught the biggest crab ever off the coast of Brixham. I like the way he keeps my haddock in his fridge until I do my other shopping and then come back for it, so we can have another chat. And I love the fact that Morrisons sell everything! Absolutely everything! I have even bought a brilliant pair of pants in there that fit me! Oh joy, pants that are made for a women of mature proportions! Hurrah!

At the end of every week, I consider my state of mind. Is it to be a Waitrose day or a Morrisons day? Am I in brass band mode or do I fancy a bit of Beethoven’s fifth? It’s quite a major decision, but the outcome is always the same. Food is always too expensive and it gets all eaten up, so the decision making will have to go on for ever…

Perhaps next week, I’ll shop in the local small shops in the high street. Now that will be a new shopping experience and one I think we might all try a little more often, perhaps?

LETTER TO A TERRORIST

This is a sample constructed-world as seen fro...
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Dear Fellow-Human-Being

You and I live on the same beautiful planet and there is no escape. You cannot take a plane to another home on another star. Like all of us, this is the only place in a vast universe where you can live. Perhaps one day, a thousand years hence we may have colonised other planets, but until then, what you see is what you get. And if you destroy what you see, you will have to live with that landscape in your mind, because that is another place you cannot escape from.

To kill another human being is not a natural thing to do. We have to train soldiers to kill and in recent studies it has been shown that soldiers, like the rest of us, cannot simply kill because they are told to. It will destroy them. Their commanders have to appeal to their innate moral sense, so that the action of taking another’s life is prompted by a wish to protect others. That does not mean that killing is right, but as it appears we will always be fighting a war somewhere, I would rather know that soldiers are fighting because they believe in some form of moral code that is based on justice, wouldn’t you?

But then you have devised your own moral code, haven’t you?  I presume that to you, it looks like justice. You believe in your cause. You think you are doing what is right. (The important word here is ‘think’). Do you actually take time to think? Do you think about the consequences of your actions; consequences that go on for years, for generations. No doubt you would say that the consequences of war against your leaders or beliefs are just as virulent, just as long-term? So there is an impasse…

You could say that some political leaders are terrorists. Do they know they are, any more than the groups who plan mass murder for a belief. Labels can protect you from the truth. To give yourself a political label protects you from another label – murderer. The blurring of these definitions does not lead to peace, but to more conflict.

How long will it take for peace to become your goal? Not peace achieved through violence and death, but peace through thought, through education, through compassion, through your humanity? How long will you allow yourself to be blinded by beliefs that have no proof of truth behind them? The truth is the death and destruction you cause; that’s the tangible reality.

So you are human beings who can live with the weight of murder and mayhem on your shoulders? Are you humans who can blow yourselves up for a set of stories handed down and inscribed in an ancient book? You are not the only ones believing so literally in words written in an ancient book, that you are willing to kill for them. But the pen is mightier than the sword, isn’t it? Were those amazing stories written to incite the destruction of the human race? Was that their purpose? Surely you need to go back to them and re-examine the words?

Perhaps you think that to kill in the name of your belief will open the door to paradise. You have been told that by your leaders. But as I said at the start of this letter to you, can you be sure that paradise really exists? The earth exists. You can see it and touch it and smell it. You can look at the night sky and see stars and planets that have hung in that huge blackness for trillions of years. You can see and hear the echo of stars that exploded before the first microbe existed on earth. This is a certainty. This is truth. You can visit any maternity hospital and see women engaged in the producing life. You can hold those babies and feel their tender, fragile bodies in your arms. That is real. That is truth.

Consider what and who you really are. You are made of the same star-dust as the rest of us. You will be engulfed by the universe, like the rest of us. I agree that we humans have not cared for each other. We have focused on greed and power for far too long. Extract yourself before it is too late. Move your life towards by finding happiness in your own short life and forget about paradise for the moment. Your humanity is needed. To be a terrorist is to be nothing; to achieve nothing. Be someone who makes a real difference by opening up your mind and heart. See what is out there. Focus on the small things that make a difference. Please.

With best wishes

Sarah

(This letter was written by Sarah aged 12, with my help.)

REASON AND EMOTION

Circulation in macroeconomics
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To understand economics you must understand human nature, because economics are governed by the way people think and thinking is not always rational. We expect the people who govern us to think rationally every minute of every day. We expect our economic experts to do the same. Impossible. Human beings cannot be rational all the time. We are flesh and blood not computers – and even they go wrong much of the time.

So here we are, in global turmoil, the UK in financial meltdown, like the rest of Europe. Who are we to blame? We blame the bankers. We blame the politicians who are currently our leaders. We blame the immigrant workers. We blame kids we call feral. Everywhere you look, there are people blaming someone for events that are hurting everyone. That’s human nature, too.

This week it will be ten years since the World Trade Centre was attacked in New York. The twin towers epitomised economics and capitalism in the western world. The terrorists who plotted that terrible multi-murder were totally irrational in their beliefs and actions. Did they really think that by killing so many innocent people they would change the world? They did change the world, but not in the way they wanted and they didn’t ‘think’.

They, like the rest of us, are human beings. Much as we want to vilify them and turn them into demons, that’s all they are – humans. But when there is no balance between emotion and reason, you get irrational behaviour or behaviour that is so rational that there is no room for emotion or compassion. Now science is beginning to identify a warrior gene; that is a gene that may point to you being a psychopath if your early childhood is severely abusive. Early abuse appears to trigger the gene. As this research progresses, the law will have to change. We will have neuro-laws that will take into account our genetic make-up.

The world is changing and will change, with or without any terrorist input. Science is the catalyst. The more we discover about oursleves and the universe we live in, the faster things will inevitably change. If only all those kids that looted shops in the English riots could balance emotion and reason in their minds and study science… What a waste this untapped resource is.

The arts and the sciences must no longer be separated. They must be interwoven and taught in a way that one complements the other. So there needs to be change in how teachers are trained. And they need more status, more respect and better pay. We need more artistic scientists. We all need a better balance between emotion and reason.

 

 

ARE WE BEING BULLIED?

Bullying UK
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Most of us, at some time in our lives have experienced bullying. It might have been at school, with a peer group or in the workplace. Bullying in school is often easier to identify and deal with than other types of abuse, for that is what bullying of any sort is – abuse. In the workplace we now know it is a major cause of stress and illness and contributes to employers losing millions of pounds a year in sick pay. It also leads to a faster staff turnover and lower productivity.

There is another sort of bullying; a more insidious type that you perhaps only notice when you are older. It is the way people talk to each other; the type of language they use. When this is backed up by a hidden agenda of malice and accompanied by nasty behaviour, it can be upsetting and hurtful.

This week we have seen Basildon Council using the law to evict a group of travelers from their homes on a site where they do not have the appropriate planning consent to live. It is reasonable to accept that the law is for everyone and if exceptions are made, they should be on humanitarian grounds. Planning permission must be adhered to.

But there are two sides to this coin. Councils will use the law to the letter in such cases, so at Dale Farm over 400 families who have made their homes on this site for the last ten years, will be evicted. This will include children. It’s hard to judge what effect such a traumatic event will have on their perception of the law. However, when a council is in the pocket of a developer, they can turn a blind eye to planning permission that is flouted. It is only when local citizens become aware of what is going on and make a fuss that they will act against these developers who clearly have some councils in their pockets.

What is also disturbing is that there have been some unpleasant remarks made on Twitter by people connected to Basildon Council. These remarks on Twitter have attacked people like the actress and campaigner Vanessa Redgrave for her support of the people at Dale Farm. Ms Redgrave may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but she has a track record of caring deeply about different causes. She deserves respect. She does not need to be sarcastically vilified by young and it appears, inexperienced in decency, Conservative councillors. Twitter can be very revealing.

Bullying on social media is a growing problem. We have seen young people driven to suicide when they have been targeted. So the options for bullying others has widened. And how are children to understand how disgusting bullying is when our political leaders use it so readily and in not particularly subtle ways?

Some years ago, I produced a theatre project for schools that explored how kids bully each other. I used Forum Theatre which is a technique created by the late Augusto Boal to enable the audience to interact with the performance. During the play, they have the opportunity to attempt to change the mistakes they see portrayed in the theatre piece. This is described as a ‘rehearsal for reality.’  It was heart breaking to hear stories of bullying from children aged 8 to 10. Forum Theatre gave them a safe arena in which to act out the situations and allow others to comment on them. Personally, I think Forum Theatre should be used in the House of Commons as Boal used it Brazil many years ago when he was a councillor.

Bullying can seep into your consciousness and sap your confidence. The sense that we are being bullied was clear in the recent Murdoch scandal. The politician’s expenses debacle was a type of bullying. We trusted them. They let us down by expecting that we simple little souls wouldn’t find out what they were up to. Now we see Council leaders talking like robots about the Basildon evictions. Do they have hidden agendas?  There is much contempt for others flying about and very little compassion.

The definition of bullying has grown. This government seems to want to reject any social function they had in the past, in favour of a repressive one. It’s very worrying.