My dog walker April leaves us a note every day. That’s part of the job description, surely. Notes from dog walkers are essentially the startup’s version of the weekly product rollout email, or the quarterly Founder/CEO investor updates. It keeps us in the loop. But in April’s note above, she didn’t just perform her daily duty, she went above and beyond: “I stole a ginger ale. It’s so hot and it looked so good.”
And it got me thinking about honesty.
The Internet is a place where honesty and authenticity so often win out. You can rarely pull a fast one around here. Someone on Twitter or Reddit will sniff out the lie. A Wikipedia editor will religiously scroll through a page’s revision history to make sure it’s kosher. There is a sense of nobility in keeping it real. Sure, there is still space to hide behind avatars, or operate superb pseudonyms such as Startup L. Jackson’s, but overall the pendulum online swings towards honesty and openness.
So I began to wonder if we’re lagging a bit in the startup world when it comes to that same honesty within our organizations that we’re displaying on the public web. Honesty is vital within any organization and great for culture. There are many things to be honest about and a lot you can do to create a culture of honesty:
- Give credit where it’s due. Managers: give credit to your team. Why present a document beginning with “I put this together,” when you can instead say, “our team put this together,” or “we put this together,” or even better, “Yoni took the lead on this one.” A little shout-out goes a long way. You’re already the boss. Do you think we don’t know that you know how to work Google Docs?
- Be honest with your co-founders/management team. If you can’t be honest with your co-founders, partners or fellow management team members, you really should reconsider who you’re coming to work with every day. It’s difficult to build things that are valuable, so keep it real with those who count on you the most and who you count on the most.
- Be inclusive, not exclusive. Being inclusive goes a long way for culture. People just love being included. Leaders often exclude others because of perceived lack of efficiency. Often, it actually won’t slow you down. You may be nervous that if you include one particular department in your process, somehow the project will take longer to accomplish. But the less honesty and inclusiveness, the more people will get frustrated with you, which will actually slow you down more in the long run (and perhaps create resentment). Most of the time, your colleagues don’t even want to participate in the content of the discussion. They just want to feel included.
- Speak up and disagree on occasion, even with your superiors. Whether you’re an intern, a recent college graduate in her first entry-level job or a CEO with a board to please, we all have, in some way or another, someone to report to. And the more powerful within an organization that someone is, the less honest feedback they’re likely to receive. This is a shame. Within reason, and with the right tone and communication style, healthy disagreement should be a staple of every business leader’s workweek. If you bottle it all up and aren’t honest about what may not be sitting right with you, the stress will be pervasive and you will be less effective.
Honesty shows you respect your peers. Externally, entrepreneurs aren’t going to change. When we run into a former colleague or partner we haven’t seen in a while at a conference, we’ll still say, “we’re crushing it” and “growing like crazy!” Fair enough. We’re optimists by nature and it’s smart to sell our momentum externally for a variety of reasons. But behind closed doors, it’s better to let your sales team in on the fact that the site is currently a bit unstable, and that you’re dedicating your focus to improving the infrastructure. Sure, the site may go up and down. But knowing ahead of time from you is much better than receiving an email every month with inquiries about the issue from others. Be proactive, not reactive.
This isn’t a call for CEOs to release employee option pool breakdowns. It’s just a friendly reminder for those same leaders and department/division heads to recognize the value of honesty on a day-to-day tactical basis. Your culture will improve through inclusion.
So let’s get back to April. April was honest with her client. She was thirsty and wanted a Ginger Ale. Do the same with your customers. Once you are honest within, it’s natural to be honest externally. You can’t have one without the other. Going through a brand transition? A product update? Pricing changes? Honesty is the best policy.
And if you need a dog walker in Los Angeles, I have one I can recommend.
A version of this post originally appeared here.