Is It Practical to Be Honest?

Honesty in business is a relic of the past, and those who try to practice it are doomed to failure.”

 That is a comment I picked from a small magazine handed to me by some two Arab looking ladies outside the gate to my office earlier in the week. Just how practical is it to be honest? This had me thinking through the manner in which we conduct ourselves, in business, in relationships and with our associations. I do work that involves analyzing situations, making recommendations and implementing projects or suggestions that affect people and how they work, or live. Often, people get scared even when they do not show it whenever you book an appointment and ask them to prepare documents, systems or arrange for interviews related to what they do, what they have been doing and what they should do. It could be audit, inspection, progress review or planning and such aspects. The works involve analyzing adherence to procedures, touches on finances and evaluates their competence and professionalism. Basically every working individual goes through this.

Arrival on site is always characterized with pleasantries, kick off meetings and the rather frustrating aspect of gathering information or getting a manager to comment and give commitment with evidence as such. From review of documents and procedures, you’ll always find a step skipped, a signature altered or missing and favoritism extended to a given party. Such are simple indicators of dishonesty in business. Most will promise to send you information, shift responsibility to another party or just feed you to extremes with hopes that you will lose memory in the process.

Similarly in relationships; when we meet new people, we give them the best of who we are or that we perceive as the best they are looking for. Quickly things crumble. We fall back to our natural selves and our bad habits emerge, we are under pressure to deliver on promises that stretch us, or our demanding nature eclipses our initial diplomatic approach. We seek favors from those we are close to from our arrangements knowing we will settle or give favors in return but often something happens along the way that cramps our ability to deliver. As such we exhibit dishonesty, to impress, to justify or simply get away with something; environment, situations and circumstance.

I do not know how much you agree with that grim assessment. Admittedly though, dishonesty often brings rewards – at least in the short term. As a result, those who try to be honest are subjected to intense pressure in various areas. You stretch trying to understand why a given party cannot deliver; you stretch your morals to accommodate another or to find opportunity as such. An analysis of a few situations herewith:

Personal Temptation

Who would not enjoy having more money or some additional luxuries? When presented with an opportunity for dishonest financial gain, it can be hard to resist. At a meeting with @Roomthinker and @Africavigil a few weeks ago, we talked of corruption in government corporations and ministries. I shared with them a story of tender at a certain financial regulation arm of government where various interior architects bid for supply of furniture. One of the bidders offered to take the procurement team tasked with finding appropriate furniture to his factory in South Korea. If you sat on such a committee, whom would you award? Would you take a trip behind the boss’ back, possibly the only one in your lifetime across the globe all in return of a nod or would you prefer to be stuck behind your desk analyzing documents knowing you will get a Kshs. 3,000 sitting allowance in the end, and read about South Korea in your dailies’ ‘International News Column’? Oh, the said committee had to finish the report and recommendation while in Asia to the contractors favor lest they were left stranded. 

Pressure to maximize profits

In recent years, businesses worldwide have struggled with poor economic conditions. They must also cope with rapidly changing technology and increased regional and global competition. Employees may feel that resorting to dishonesty is the only way to meet performance goals set by owners and managers.

Just last week, the Governor of the Central Bank was under scrutiny by a parliamentary committee on financial regulation in view of the findings that some banks had knowingly engaged in activities that sabotaged the performance of the Kenya Shilling against major world currencies. Such a scenario, besides bringing to question the competence of the folks at the central bank, highlighted the possible pressure that some employees in treasury functions of the said banks went through from their bosses to push the trade further for maximum returns on forex trading. That our banking sector is competitive is not a secret. Every quarter we see Chief Executives and Chairmen proudly reading out their above set targets performance. Who wouldn’t want to be ahead in a game so fast and critical for their careers? Oh, and just a by the way, Central Bank only hires folks who managed a straight first class in University. One would think…

Pressure from others

Coworkers or customers may at times suggest, or even demand that you join them in dishonest schemes. As I mentioned earlier, particularly in works that involve tendering and tough competitors struggling to realize same opportunities, some hands exchange things; money, rewards and such. We have seen shoddy works being done by firms that were selected through tendering processes. While the Public Procurement Guidelines and the Procurement Act stipulates the procedures to be followed, it does not really have much control on mannerisms that characterize those who deliver the goods to the bidders. There is high potential in coworkers colluding to give information to some bidders in return for a cash reward and such. Such dishonest schemes are present, and it does not quite help that the arms charged with prosecuting and investigating suspects are pretty much… cabbages.

Culture

In some countries, it is customary for business transactions to be accompanied by exchange of gifts. Depending on the size and circumstance of the gift, the boundaries of honest business practices can easily become blurred. In many lands, corrupt officials demand money before performing their duties and willingly accept payment in exchange of special treatment.

In a part of corporate Japan, it is customary for executives to exchange some form of gifts, professional gifts I’d say. I learnt that on a business trip. Our facilitator asked participants to carry something of symbolism from their native culture or business backgrounds in exchange with the host on arrival. I carried along the now seemingly dead Kenyan Shirt as a gift, and in return I was given a local Japanese musical instrument. That is good business culture.

Bad business culture involves demands being put to someone with monetary or resource ability before they can access something they need. Such is a form of bribe and we know that too well back here in Africa. It is difficult to differentiate tips, rewards and bribes in business corridors. For instance, when you try to speed up a business registration process at the Registrar of Companies and Societies; you’ll easily establish that parting with a few shillings can easily get you your papers in hours, or a day. That simply means the systems have been corrupted to benefit such cartels. Why then don’t all business registrations get registered as fast? This is a culture hindrance even in places with adequate systems. It is impressive though, that Rwanda has set such a high standard for the East African nations.

Environment

Those who live in severe poverty or in countries where there has been a breakdown in civil order face the greatest pressure of all. In such environments, those who are unwilling to cheat or steal may be viewed as poor providers for their families. Congo, Somalia, Zimbabwe, and other war or economically torn nations exhibit such tendencies amongst the nationalities and in governance.  Interesting though is the fact that the cultures bring forth such environment.

Many would claim that dishonesty is necessary for success be it personal, business or even in social engagements. A competitive attitude often moves people to say; ‘Do whatever it takes to get to the job/ to get the job done.’ How true is this? Or are those who try to justify dishonesty actually ‘deceiving themselves with false reasoning?’ as James 1: 22 says.

“People’s perception of honesty has more to do with what they can get away with legally that what is actually the truth.”

Well, that’s it for this week.

Till then, Cheers!

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