Liar, Liar!

The contractor is a good friend, a pillar in his community, and as honest as the day is long. He would never treat anyone unfairly. His word is his bond. When
he makes a promise, you can bank on it . . . except when it comes to his marketing. In his marketing, he lies.

The lies aren't big. A politician's handler might stretch and call them "spin." He's spinning a compelling reason to buy from his company because he's uncertain the truth is reason enough. He tells himself, the fiction's not important. It's only a few little white lies, used to justify a discount. So what's the harm?

What's the harm if he spins a little fiction to weave a gripping tale that entices consumers to act now? The fiction is easier than truth and it sounds so much better.

The harm comes when his employees see and hear the marketing. They know it's not true and these simple acts of deception speak louder than any moralistic platitudes the owner delivers in a service meeting.

Why be honest with the customer when the boss isn't? After all, it's only the sale that matters, the end justifies the means.

Why be honest with the boss when he isn't honest with the public? Since he's not honest with customers, what are the odds he's honest with us? So what's the harm with a little moonlighting on a guy like this?

It's a slippery slope that's been pre-greased by popular culture. Employees are primed to see the worst in the world of commerce. Every consumer, including each of your employees, is assaulted by an unrelenting negative barrage on business and business ethics from Hollywood and the media. The assault goes on 24/7 with that most ethical and upstanding of all creatures, the politician, piling on every election cycle (remember the wailing about "Benedict Arnold CEOs?").

In this environment, any disconnect between management's words and actions results in a canyon sized credibility gap. How bad is it? In the "New Employer/Employee Equation Survey," conducted by Harris Interactive for the think tank, Age Wave, of 7,718 American workers, only 36% thought management "acted with honesty and integrity."

It's sad that some people think ill of their employers. It's sadder that some employers give them a reason. It's tragic that it's all so completely unnecessary.

Most deceptive marketing is needlessly cunning. Yes, the fraudulent promotion might work, but so would an honest one. Not only is the truth usually compelling enough, it has — well — the ring of the truth about it.

The honest contractor trades away nothing of value for his veracity, but gains much. He gains a credibility advantage, rather than a credibility gap. He gains a good night's sleep, knowing he has nothing to feel uneasy about. He gains a better workforce, which mirrors the quality of his genuineness to everyone they contact.

In the end, a good honest claim, a good honest service promise, a good honest promotion, a good honest ad, a good honest letter, and a good, honest script will work just as well as their dishonest counterparts, but without tarnishing your integrity within your organization, or worse, within yourself. The choice is not one between honest failure and dishonest success. Honesty and success are not mutually exclusive. It's deceit and success that ultimately cannot share the same space. If you can be successful the right way, why would you ever choose another way?

Matt Michel is the CEO of the Service Roundtable, the industry's largest and most affordable contractor group at $50 a month. For more information, visit www.ServiceRoundtable.com. To contact Matt, e-mail [email protected]. For a free copy of Matt's "Little Book of Business Facts," contact Liz Patrick toll free at 877.262.3341 or by e-mail at [email protected]

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