A couple of years ago, I was doing some software development as a subcontractor and nothing was going right. Sure, I was able to get most of the functionality working, but that last bit that was going to complete the project was proving incredibly difficult. In short, nothing that I tried was working.
I wrote simple examples. That is, I removed all of the complexity until I was left with nothing but the problem. It didn’t work.
I read the books. The software tool my team was using was pretty poorly documented, but there were a couple of “go-to” resources. Reading those books didn’t help.
I contacted the author and other subject matter experts. Their successes were equal to mine.
So, when it came to my turn to report in the status meeting, I spoke the words that have never (ever) been spoken to this manager. I simply said, “I don’t know.”
I thought I heard a pin drop, but as it turns out, it was actually a bead of sweat that boiled out of this man’s furrowed brow, traveled down the bridge of his nose, and landed right beside the microphone exactly 3.42 milliseconds before he started yelling into it.
Clearly, he didn’t like honesty.
I was working on another project when my phone rang. It was the boss’s boss scratching around for the straight dope. I took the call, answered his questions with honesty and integrity, and that was that the end of it. For an hour.
Then my phone started ringing. “What did you say?” “Why did you say that?” And then the dreaded…
“He just canceled the program. It’s your fault.” Yes, as a result of my honesty, the sponsor was pulling the plug which translated into a total of about $2 million being taken back from 21 companies.
What do these lessons tell me? No one wants honesty. They want things to be okay. They want pretty little packages. They want things to be easy. They want all the answers even if they are fabrications. Everything needs to look good on the outside, who cares what’s happening on the inside!? Rationalize or be punished. This is not a lack of integrity, it is business as usual.
In this case, I was later informed that “I was not clear with my customer” and “we had, in fact, completed the task” and “I just wasn’t looking at things from the proper perspective.” Maybe, but that is someone else’s truth…not mine. In the end, funding was fully reinstated and I kept my integrity.
As for the first customer, he might not like my answers, but he does keep asking me to support his team. He likes my results and knows what kinds of answers he’ll get.
These are two examples where telling the truth was not fun, but it was still worth it. Telling the truth is not always pleasant, but it is important.
Dare to be different!
PS: The wiki on this movie says that it’s not entirely accurate, but it sure feels like a reflection of my reality. If you want to be entertained while fending off that somewhat sick feeling in your stomach, you might want to watch The Pentagon Wars (free on YouTube: http://youtu.be/f0rcHWN1n10).