Do You Think I Have a Big Butt?


Who tells the truth in Corporate America--and why


If I had a butt the size of a Xerox DocuColor 8000, would you tell me the truth? I seriously doubt it. Not because you're a wuss or want to spare my feelings. More likely because you're out-of-truth shape.

Your predicament: You work in an environment where the truth is no more important than the color of the sugar-substitute packets in your office breakroom.

Corporate America is awash with white lies, false hopes, unmet promises and unspoken truths. In the aftermath of Enron, Tyco and WorldCom, that hardly seems like a news flash. But what about where you work? Ask yourself the following: If you spoke the truth about your current sales forecast, HR diversification program or customer-acquisition strategy, you would: a) get an office where you could actually control the temperature; b) be showcased in the company's internal, online weekly newsletter; or c) be asked to share your thoughts with the COO at an off-site luncheon.

If the correct answer is: d) find it necessary to adjust your attitude, then you know what I know. Soldier on, my friend.

The fact is, Corporate America values people who can make things come true more than it values someone who can identify something that already is true. Think about it: Who is likely to be more prized by your company--a salesman who can produce from a territory record numbers that have already been delivered before, or a salesperson who can deliver numbers never before conceived? The answer is the latter, of course. The problem is, that kind of thinking has created a world in which the perception of the truth is more valuable than the verifiable truth itself.

My lament is that really being able to identify the truth, then describing what it is, has become a lost art. For example, when Mark Felt recently revealed to the press that he was Watergate's famed "Deep Throat," much of the ensuing news coverage dealt with speculation about his motivations. It was as though helping to get the truth out about a weighty issue wasn't enough. The sad part is, it is hard to imagine someone coming forward in either government, politics or religion to speak such important truths, given the climate that we operate in today. What I find ironic is that at a time when Corporate America is so loosely translating what stands for the truth is precisely the same time it is putting so little value on the few truths that it actually does know.

Of course, what is real and what is perception differs from company to company. At some companies, the sales pipeline is little more than a pipe dream; at others, it's a scientifically derived expectation of revenue based on actual indicators and commitments. OK, that was bunk: It's a pipe dream everywhere. No one wants to actually say that because, well, dreams sometimes do come true.

How can you really determine an organization's truth fitness? Test it against certain benchmarks. For example, companies with good policies and vaunted reputations tend to tell their employees everything, their suppliers and business partners some things, and their customers what they can. Ruthless companies tell their employees nothing, their partners falsehoods and their customers fantasies.

Despite this, we all know that dishonest companies can and do win over honest companies. And it's not because they lied, but often because they were able to make their perceptions of truth become real.

If that kind of thinking makes your skin crawl, then chances are you are a pragmatist, adherent to notions known to be true by all. If not, then you just may be a wishful believer in things that could one day be. Still not sure? Then consider the following: If asked by a customer to confirm whether a project's deliverable has been delayed, your reaction would be to tell the person that: a) you firmly believe the final deadline will surely be met regardless of any initial setback; b) all aspects of the project are up-to-date as of the last deadline; or c) you promise to get a complete assessment of the situation and call back in 24 hours.

You can make a legitimate case for all three answers, especially if you believe that anything can and will come true. What your company values and what it prefers from you is another story, especially if you can only see the truth one way.

My advice: Be careful of whose backside you call fat, because it could ultimately be yours on the line if you work for someone who doesn't see the truth the same way you do.

T.C. Doyle is senior executive editor at VARBusiness. You can reach him at tcdoyle@cmp.com.