People often have great personal values, but have a hard time bringing them to work.  One of the principles hard to fully incorporate into our work zone is honesty. What truly prevents us being fully open and honest at work? What can be done about it?

During the early days in our business I had a couple of teachers that worked in our customer service department. One day, while cruising down the hall I overheard these representatives chatting and when I entered their area they abruptly stopped talking. After some prodding, one of them said that she was excited because she got an interview with a school for a teaching position.  She revealed that ultimately she was scared if we (RealTruck) knew about it, she might lose her job. I assured her if her passion was teaching I would do anything I could to help her pursue it and I couldn’t help her if I didn’t know about it.

Another experience during this time was a customer service representative told me a shipper had run over a package and he didn’t know what he should tell the customer. The question kind of shocked me. I said to tell the customer the truth and that we would get a replacement out right away. I found it interesting that for some reason, even people who want to be honest often will question whether or not they should tell the truth in a work situation. Is fear of personal economic consequences greater than personal values? Maybe, but was there something we could do about it? How could we create an environment that encouraged open and honest communication?

Ask yourself who you are most connected to and closest with. If you are like me it’s the people you can share just about anything with – what you think, your hopes, your judgments, and so forth. This basic idea eventually turned into one of our guiding principles at RealTruck – “Transparency Rocks,” which is really about practicing open and honest communication. Here are a few of the things we do to create culture that encourages openness.

    1. Ask Questions:  It’s important to put yourself in a position to learn.  People are unique and no one person is great at everything.  I think we were made this way so we would need each other.  Asking questions creates a culture where it’s okay to be inquisitive and learn from others and our mistakes.  It’s important to ask questions beyond just those I think are better at something than I am.  You never know who can teach you something.
    2. What’s Up Video:  Every couple of weeks I’ll do a “What’s up at RealTruck” video that is privately posted on Youtube and shared with the entire company.  It is very transparent as to what is going on within various departments.   The content of the video comes from our weekly leader’s meeting.  It covers everything from what each department is doing to financial information.  It’s generally about a 7 or 8 minute video.  This helps everyone in the company know what is going on and allows everyone to see how each department and person ties into  the big picture objectives.  It’s important that everyone is in the “know,” not just the leaders.
    3. Ask Anything:  We set up a system on our master interface where anyone can ask an anonymous question.  This let’s everyone know we are an open book.  Here is the description we use:

“Ask Anything! And yes, we mean anything! Why Scott hasn’t gotten a hair cut? Why we have a certain policy? Why we have an anonymous ask anything? Etc. Your question is submitted anonymously so no one will know who asked it. We will answer the questions (the best we can) each Tuesday.” We answer all questions and generally direct them to whomever is best able to answer the question.  Each question and answer is sent out to our entire company.  Here are a few of the questions we have received:

– Has RealTruck ever thought about selling rims?
– Is the gift card entry box ever going to be moved back to the start of the checkout process?
– Why is the customer service lead doing crafts and putting them on the wall when we are so busy?
– What is the result of the t-shirt poll?
– Is there anyway we would have an icon on product lines that are made in the USA?
– Why in most Disney movies is there rarely a positive mother figure? i.e. The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Finding Nemo, Cinderella, and Snow White.?

What is the benefit of an open and honest work culture?  There are many actually.  Ultimately we learn amazing things about each other.  What each person is good at and not so good at.  We want to help each other be our best when we can speak freely and really know each other.   If we, as a company, can bring out the best in each person, then that will bring out the best in the company.  We have discovered talents we didn’t know we had.  This kind of openness allows for various departments to get input and learn from each other.  Web developers can influence customer service and so forth.

An open and honest environment creates trust.  This trust allows us to do together what we cannot do alone.  When you get a lot of people moving in the same direction, if you happen to be going in the wrong direction you can get there faster so you can turn around.  When you’re lucky enough to be going in the right direction you can achieve some amazing things.

This ethic even spreads to our customers and partners.  We are not perfect and we strive for progress.  We have challenges and more learning to do.  Creating this kind of culture has allowed a small North Dakota company that was started in a basement without any external financing to grow into one of the top 600 e-commerce companies in North America.  Very humbling and very real.

scott bintz

What? How To Really Be Honest @ Work