Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

liesAccording to Mark Twain “There are lies, damned lies and statistics.”

In fact, I was once given a book written by Darrell Huff titled How to Lie With Statistics. It looks like Mr. Huff took Mr. Twain seriously.

A couple of days ago I wrote about honest project communication and the importance of telling  the truth (honest and transparent communication). This post generated a lot of discussion on Ganthead, where I have also made a couple of additional comments—some as recently as this morning. However, as I thought about it, I decided that I wanted to include some additional thoughts.

I do believe that honesty is the best policy. Over the course of my career I’ve witnessed others who have tried to skirt that policy and found themselves in trouble (in fact, a younger version of me had to once learn this the hard way myself). Sure, there might be times when the boss expects you to lie. I think that was probably going on at Enron. And Enron is a good example of what happens to organizations that foster a culture of lies.

As a project leader if you’re asked to lie to the team, and you lie about project status to your boss, your boss is probably getting what they deserve. A culture of dishonest communication is not a healthy culture. In fact, it is a destructive culture.

Of course there are times when I have stretched the truth a bit to avoid hurting someones feelings (I think we have all done that at one time or another), however I think we all know that is not what I’m talking about. There may be some reading this who believe that I am naive and telling lies is just a part of business—people lie all the time. And, you may be right.

Fortunately, I have never been required to lie to colleagues or customers by my boss, so I can’t speak to the challenges associated with managing my career within a culture of lies. I hope that should such an occasion ever present itself, my personal integrity would remain intact. That being said, knowing the people I am fortunate enough to work with, I doubt that will happen.

The crux of the matter in terms of project communication is this: decision-makers can’t make good decisions with bad information. Period. Honest project communication is crucial to good decision-making. Anything less is asking for trouble.

Dishonesty within the project environment can’t be tolerated. One of the things I hear regularly when I talk to customers and colleagues around the world is, “We can’t trust our project data.” I’m sure some of that can be attributed to old and irrelevant data, but some of it can also be attributed to the fact that some project managers aren’t truthful. Covering your behind by telling lies about what’s happening within a project may help you in the short term, but eventually  lies are discovered. This applies to team members too.

Although this might not be an “easy” black-and-white situation, it is nevertheless a very black-and-white situation.

One Response to Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

  1. Pingback: Integrity Matters | Utah Valley Business Blog