Lies lies lies yeah*… does the truth still matter?

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A former colleague and I were chatting a few days ago, when this topic came up – in today’s society, in which corruption and unethical behaviour seem to be pervasive, are organisations feeling the brunt? And if they are, what steps are they taking to safeguard themselves against a similar mindset affecting their own internal culture?

In South Africa, where the country’s leadership has shown itself to be less than honest (a grave understatement, some will say), and lawlessness seems to be going unchecked, how are our own businesses counteracting the effects of what can generally be viewed as a moral vacuum?

Of course, this is not a uniquely South African problem. One just has to look at United Airlines’ recent behaviour, at the allegations made against both candidates in the 2016 US presidential elections, at the reason behind meat exports from Brazil being banned (albeit temporarily), at world politics … the list is almost endless. In the #EY Global Fraud Survey 2016, some of the key findings showed that:

  • 51% of respondents in emerging markets consider bribery and corruption to happen widely in their country.
  • 42% of respondents could justify unethical behaviour to ensure they met financial targets.
  • Almost half of all finance team members interviewed stated that they would be prepared to engage in at least one form of unethical behaviour to meet financial targets or safeguard a company’s economic survival.

The survey goes on to cite that globally, “bribery and corruption are still perceived to occur widely, and our respondents do not believe that the situation has improved since our last survey in 2014. The situation appears to have deteriorated in developed markets … The worsening view in developed markets may reflect an increased awareness of bribery and corruption in those markets. This may be a result of numerous high-profile corruption cases affecting major U.S. and European corporations.”

Staggering, right? So, the question remains, does the truth matter? From what I’ve been reading lately, the answer thankfully is yes. It seems more people are beginning to question the status quo, and more is being written about the need for authenticity and telling the truth**.

In our own country, we are starting to see evidence of a backlash against corruption and unethical behaviour in the rolling mass action of recent weeks and in the social media uprising against Jacob Zuma and his cohorts. And in Russia and Venezuela, citizens are taking to the streets to voice their displeasure at their own leaders.

I believe these protests are also fueled by the need to be engaged – to have a say in the destiny of a country, and what is wrong and what is right; to understand what direction it’s taking, and to not be powerless in the face of a government or governments that seem to be making unilateral decisions without consulting their citizens.

However, I can find little evidence that organisations are doing the equivalent, aside from a stated desire to fight corruption, and having a Code of Ethics in place***. But this crisis, in my opinion, goes beyond merely having a whistle-blowing facility in place… surely open and honest dialogue and engagement can be the only way to genuinely tackle the significant issues that drive unethical behaviour and corruption?

And this is why I am such a passionate advocate of #authentic #communications. I truly believe authentic communications – based on telling the truth – has the power to cut through the BS, and has a critical role to play in re-establishing much-needed trust, not only in society in general, but within our own organisations. And we cannot afford to wait… the time is ripe for a reality check.

* With both sincere apologies and thanks to the Thompson Twins for their lyrics.

** Please check out the articles I’ve like and/or shared.

*** Feel free to share your view!