As a professor of auto mechanics at a college in Toronto, my dad is the mechanic of the family. As a kid, I remember helping him fixing people’s cars on weekends (which mainly consisted holding a light so he could see), and he’s still the guy people count on when they need advice on what car to buy or to figure out why their car won’t start. When talking with family members once, I remember asking why he hadn’t opened his own garage and they replied: “He’s too honest.”
It’s pretty scary to think that to survive in business you have to, in some way, not be honest. But it makes sense. Whether you’ve gone to one before or not, we know mechanics as the people we go to for one problem and find out there are 10 others. It’s a part of their business model to find other problems and get you to fix them - even if fixing them isn’t as important as they make it out to be. I’m not saying your mechanic is lying to you, but I do believe that they’re more interested in making money off of you than saving you money.
Yesterday evening I sat down for dinner with fellow agency owners
and talked about how much more money we could make if we overworked our people and hired people for cheap overseas. Forget free catered lunches and ping pong tables: an experienced business owner’s biggest fantasy is sometimes a team of workhorses who never sleep.
It’s hard to run an honest business these days. A lot of us try, but we can feel like we’re being taken advantage of when things are moving slowly. Balancing an honest work culture and keeping a company profitable is delicate and something companies don’t think about until there’s a negative impact. Often, owners can feel confined to maintain a culture rather than fix underlying problems: they come across overly apologetic when asking for things that are completely understandable and end up unintentionally fueling a culture that doesn’t take things seriously.
Often the best thing we can do to help others help us to run honest businesses is by doing exactly that: being honest. By helping people understand the context of the decisions we’re making (which has become harder to do with instant messaging like Slack), we can make sure people understand why it’s important to pay an invoice on time or send an email to a particular customer. You’ll be surprised how often people are happy to put in that little bit extra when they understand why. It’s okay to ask for help from customers and staff, and doing so will continue to build that honest culture you started.
So, what does it mean to run an honest business? I believe it comes down to not taking advantage of people (both our customers and our staff). We need more businesses like my dad, and we need to show that working hard and being honest can mean success in business: but we also need to understand help honest businesses stay in business as consumers.
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