Hard Truth

May 29, 2020

When companies find themselves in the middle of an unforeseen pandemic with deep economic implications, leaders must choose what they will relay to stakeholders as far as the organization’s plan to deal with the crisis as it unfolds.

Should you be completely honest and upfront, or is that harmful to your brand in the long run?Over the past several weeks, I have witnessed a few companies dealing with this issue in their own ways, and the effects of their decisions were drastically different. Let’s look at these situations.

Truth...or Consequence?

At the beginning of the epidemic, once it became clear that several businesses would be forced to shut down, the senior leader at a non-profit workout facility reached out to all members with the hard truth - if people stopped all their monthly payments and didn’t turn them into donations, the facility would not be able to continue and would not be able to re-open when this was done.

No sugar coating.

No vague words.

They bluntly and clearly stated they needed their members to step up and turn their monthly dues into donations if they wanted their workout facility to still be there to welcome them back once it was safe to do so.

What happened next? About 80% of their members agreed to make the switch to monthly donations.

Other facilities in the same industry that opted to sugar coat facts or to not put out any message at all saw a significant decline. Only 50-60% of members chose to continue donating their membership fee.

Meanwhile, back in March, one of my clients was furloughed due to the pandemic. Leadership has been sending out weekly videos with the purpose of staying connected. However, they have chosen to not share any strategies or plans for the road ahead.

Their effort became a useless attempt to ease uncertainty and it brought on a lot of anxiety for my client. She feels like she was left in the dark.

In this case, what might have been more helpful for the leadership to do is to share the real picture without fudging it - what they are looking at, factors being considered, possible next steps forward - and just saying it like it is.

Without the hard truths, my client is considering the worst-case scenarios and fearing the worst outcomes.

Choosing to Share the Hard Truth (Even When It’s Difficult)
Telling the truth, especially when dealing with an unfavorable situation, can be scary and extremely difficult. It is tempting to try to paint a rosy picture and soften the blow but doing so does not allow people to fully understand the problem.

By choosing to share the hard truth, leadership shows that they believe everyone has the capacity to understand issues and process how to best forge ahead.

It sets a foundation for trust, allowing the organization to play from a position of offense, rather than defense.

What happens when falsely sunny narratives - or even complete silence - get preference over the hard truth? The organization finds itself having to play defense.

When things turn out worse than initially promised, they will need to come up with excuses to explain why. It might be necessary to answer multiple people individually after they have already made up their own story for lack of information.

Quite frankly, it takes courage to tell the truth bluntly and without frills, especially when the content of the message will affect the lives of others in drastic ways. And as difficult as that might be, blunt truth-telling allows all parties to be placed in a position of knowledge and power.

Give Them the Facts - They Will Thank You Later

The best decision is to provide as much information as necessary for everyone affected: 

  • Present all possible case scenario

  • Cover worst-case & best-case scenarios as well as high-probability scenarios

  • Communicate in an honest but compassionate tone and selection of language

  • Allow for mental preparation of what’s ahead

  • Enable people to grieve for what is lost and rally to support the cause 

Conclusion: Making the Right Choice

While we might feel tempted to think that withholding unpleasant news and grim facts are the kinder thing to do, taking that route means doing everyone a disservice.

It is but a matter of respect to stay transparent and allow affected parties to make informed decisions and know the facts instead of sugar-coating the truth and letting people fill-in-the-blanks on their own, leading to more panic and anxiety.

In uncertain times, people crave honesty, straight facts, and calls for unity and action.They will look up to their leadership for some kind of guiding light amid a high-stress situation.

As difficult as it may be, choosing to step up (and tell it like it is) becomes the best alternative to not only avoid a future P.R. firestorm but also to give and get the support needed to get through this. Choose wisely! 

To connect and explore how I can support you and your organization email aleta@upliftlead.com.

You can also schedule a free 30-minute consultation HERE

About Aleta Maxwell

As a leadership coach, CEO & Founder of Uplifting Leadership and former CHRO, I leverage over 25 years of experience in the hospitality industry and non-profits to partner with leaders at all levels of management. Together, we uplift their leadership skill set and develop brand ambassadors.