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January 29, 2018

26 ways to success - H for Honesty - "The first step to Greatness" article published in The Hans India 25th March 2016

“The First step to greatness”

Honesty is a facet of moral character that indicates positive and virtuous attributes such as integrity, truthfulness and straightforwardness of conduct. Honesty also means the absence of lying, cheating, theft etc. Honesty would make a person trustworthy, loyal fair and sincere. It is something that should be ingrained in us or is the DNA by which we are judged.

Honesty is tested in most placement interviews. Two of my favourite questions are “How far is Holland from Netherlands” and “how much does a 5 tonne air conditioner weigh?”  The answers are quite simple. Holland and Netherlands mean the same country and a 5 tonne air conditioner does not weigh five tonnes. Tonnage for an AC is its cooling capacity. 

Similarly when asked about the marks procured in examinations it is better to be as honest as possible. There is nothing called almost 60%. 59.5% is not a first class, it is a second class. Remember P.T.Usha, she lost a bronze medal in the 1984 Olympic games by a hundredth of a second! There is no rounding off in life. We are what we are. Accept it!

“How much salary do you get?” is a common question. Be honest. Statements about salary should not be bluffed. A suspicious interviewer might ask for factual proof. A new employee in USA landed himself in a huge mess when he destroyed a very critical document. His faux pas – he burnt a document. His boss wanted a photo copy and said “burn it”. The trainee could have avoided the mishap only if he had asked “Burn, would you like me to destroy the file or take a copy?” Be honest and ask for clarification when faced with such situations.

Golden rules of honesty:  Do what you say and say what you do, Make few promises but once made  honor them, own up to mistakes,  personal integrity matters – one can lose everything except character, don’t take credit where it is not due. One should be honest to pass on credit to the person who deserves it.

Some examples of business honesty:

1. Product recall: Businesses throughout the world face turbulent times and it is quite possible that products sold might have some defects, minor or major. If the fault is a major the concerned regulatory authorities might force the company to exercise a product recall. Product recall is getting the defective products from the market so that the products can be rectified and new parts be fitted and handed over to the customer.

But in many cases the companies themselves voluntarily choose to accept that the products that they had supplied were defective and exercise product recall as it is quite prevalent in automobile industry. Honesty is the best policy. 

2. Dog Fooding: Eating your own dog food, also called dogfooding, is when a company uses its own product for testing and promotion. The CEO of Alpo dog food, Lorne Greene advertised that he fed Alpo to his own dogs. The president of Kal Kan Pet Food was said to have eaten a can of his dog food at his shareholders' meeting! A Stellar example of honesty and love for his own product!

3) Avis, the car rental company did the unthinkable; it honestly advertised its second place market share. Traditional market wisdom tells a company to ignore its real market share and to pretend to be like the leader.  In polite words most marketers try to window dress their offerings.

But What Avis did was refreshingly different. They not only admitted that they were number two, they infact advertised it and made it the center of one of the most successful campaigns ever run. “We’re number two. We try harder.” Avis was emphasizing the fact that most market leaders get complacent with their leadership position and that they no longer take care of their customers as they ought to do. Number two in the race will have to try that much harder even to cling on their market share and they diligently work that much harder to delight the customers.

The campaign was a great success and took Avis from 18% market share to 34% in a very short time. Yes, honesty does pay rich dividends!

4) Volkswagen Beetle was a car that was functional but not very good looking.  Volkswagen could have ignored the design but in a product category where looks are very important, how the Beetle looked would always be the focal point.

Instead of ignoring the plain looks of the Beetle, the company made looks the central theme of its advertising campaign. Volkswagen re-invented car advertising and created one of the most successful car brands. Beetle was a likeable, fun, modest car brand and attained that image without sacrificing brand values like quality and integrity. And that too without great looks. A marketing coup par excellence!

Honesty exercise – A trial by fire: Some time ago an experiment was conducted throughout the world to test the honesty levels of the people on the street (the common man). The modus operandi was very simple; drop a wallet (purse) on a busy street and to see how many people returned it.

In India this experiment was conducted in Mumbai. The wallet contained Rs 3000/, not a small amount.  The wallet had cell phone number, a business card and a family photo.  Trained researchers were positioned near the dropped wallet. They observed the people who picked up the wallets and did not object if he person walked away with it.  9 out of 12 Indians in Mumbai returned the money.

India was ranked 2nd most honest among 16 cities surveyed with a total of 196 dropped wallets. In all other countries the wallets contained US $ 50 dollars. This proves the point that many of us are indeed scrupulously honest. The honest majority is silent and hardworking. The dis-honest few hog the headlines and make us bow our heads in shame. 

 “You can fool many people many times, you can fool some people sometimes, but you can’t fool all the people all the time”. And that includes the almighty and ourselves. Fooling the almighty and fooling ourselves with dishonest acts and deeds would indeed be a crying shame.

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