why employees lie

Why Employees Lie About Failing Projects

Employees lie about failing projects for a whole host of reasons.

First off, your workforce is full of adults with obligations. Never underestimate the pressure of needing to make a mortgage payment. When student-loan bills are due, people will say and do all kinds of things to make sure they’re not jeopardizing their financial well-being.

The way to achieve radical honesty — and to encourage workers to voice their opinions — is to create a confidential feedback mechanism so that employees can share concerns without fear of retribution. That’s what we’re trying to do with GlitchPath, but pulse surveys and anonymous feedback websites might also help.

Second, most employees aren’t paid to tell you when things are failing. When you pay someone for their output — especially if that person is part of the gig economy — it doesn’t benefit anyone to stop a project and talk about failure. The only thing that matters is the deliverable.

You could partner with your HR and procurement teams to rethink the way you write contracts and employee agreements, but reviewing your total rewards structure seems daunting. Try following Google’s lead of paying people to talk about failure before everything falls apart.

And, finally, people lie about failure because they’re scared of telling the truth. If a project is failing, it’s failing due to bigger issues that are often beyond an employee’s control. Who wants to tell the emperor that he’s naked? Nobody, that’s who.

When people can’t speak truth to power, you have bigger issues than failing projects. You’ll see high attrition rates combined with an increased risk of safety violations and even corporate espionage. If your workforce operates in fear of its leadership team, it’s time to rethink your leaders.

So, as you can see, employees lie about failing projects because management sends a message that it’s OK to lie about failing projects. And if your employees are lying to you about failing projects, they might be lying about more important issues.

Want to beat failure in your company? Conduct a quick premortem and ask yourself how a culture of denial — supported by a disengaged and dishonest workforce — will wreck your business.

And then take action before your organization become the next BP or Enron.

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