I’m going to let you into a secret… most employees want to work hard and do well. I don’t think there are many in the workplace who would lie to you for malicious reasons. However, the best employees might lie to you if they think this is the best course of action.
How can that be? I hear you ask.
You have done an excellent job of hiring talented and highly-skilled people. Across your organisation, there are people who bring a wide range of expertise and are committed to using this for the good of the business. And yet you find out that they are keeping things from you or feeling the need to ‘spin’ the truth. Your first reaction might be to think that they are stupid and incompetent. Or you might think that they are being insolent; deliberately lying to because they think they know better than you do. But how dare they, right? I mean, you’re the boss for a reason and they should do what you say, yes?
The thing is, you might want to consider if there is something you have done to create an environment where, for good reasons, they think it’s better to lie to you than generate problems by telling you the truth. The alternative to this could well be silence which is another clear indication that all is not well in the ranks.
Here are some instances where your actions might be encouraging your staff to hide the truth:
1) When you make the job more difficult than it needs to be – they are getting on with something they know is valuable for the business and they have planned their time proportionately. Then, you find out about it and decide it’s not the way you want it done even though your way will take a lot more time and resource that they and others should be spending on other things. In an attempt to avoid that, they try to get the work done ‘under the radar’ because it’s easier than raising their head to get it blown off.
2) When you take work off them because you think they have ideas above their station or think someone else could do it better – You find out a member of staff is working on something you think should be done by someone else so you tell them off an take it off them without asking any questions. This is upsetting for them because they have worked hard on something they were interested in or felt they were good at. If they felt that you would be encouraging and supportive, they probably would have been glad to involve you in the first place.
3) When you dismiss something they are confident is a good idea – let’s say you have someone who has experience of delivering certain type of activity and is confident that it’s a good idea and they can do it well. It’s in line with organisational priorities but you want it doing a certain way, they think you are missing a trick but you won’t listen to them. It’s understandable that they might try telling you just enough to get on with it the way they think is best.
4) When you pull their work apart – they have identified a clear opportunity within the organisation’s objectives without any risk. They would love to speak to you about it to ensure it’s how you want it to be and get your advice but they’ve shown you something before and you’ve ripped into it, giving criticism that is disproportionate and far from constructive. Ultimately, you’ve knocked their confidence and destroyed their trust. They are not keen to come back for more so they keep it to themselves because they think it will allow them to get the job done more easily.
So hopefully, you’ve realised that if good people are keeping things from you, it’s worth reflecting on whether you have created an environment where they think that’s the best course of action. In terms of what you can do about it, I’d advise that you start listening carefully and understanding how you can help rather than hinder.
My approach is always to think about how I can support my staff to do their best work. I try to ensure clear direction from the beginning and offer pointers where I think they might help. Questions are also a useful tool for helping them to think things through and hopefully bring them around to your way of doing things. Ultimately, if you are critical, judgemental or heavy-handed, they won’t tell you what’s going on and I’d say understandably so.