Would you do business with a liar?

On the face of it, this seems like a ridiculous question. After all, who is willing to be in a relationship with someone who is less than transparent or even downright deceitful? But the reality is that a good number of us are doing exactly that.

Who can’t name a vendor (or even a project team) that promises to deliver software or a solution with agreed upon features by a fixed date and fails to do so? Ditto for consulting firms who make commitments that they can’t or don’t keep. 

Excuses, Excuses 

We don’t call those folks liars and they avoid looking like fibbers by moving deadlines, changing the scope and/or scale of their projects, and offering excuses like “this has taken longer and been more challenging than expected” and so on.

They may opt to say things like “the project failed” or find a scapegoat to blame and let him/her suffer the consequences. The rest of us go on with our business as if no sin was committed and soften the blow by assigning palatable words like “bungled” to describe absolute disasters.

Mind you, this isn’t just hearsay. The web is full of articles like “7 common lies told by enterprise software sales people." Stack Overflow, a question and answer site for programmers, has even posted questions like: “What is the best way to tell a client that a software project will be late?” (My favorite suggestion: “If the client is an attention-starved man and you either are yourself or have on staff a beautiful young woman, get her to deliver the news. (But NEVER do this if your client is an older woman!).”

Whether we recognize it or not, this is the way “we’ve” agreed to work. It’s “buyer beware” and people or vendors who blow it over and over again eventually lose customers (but it usually takes quite a while).

What Did You Say?

But what about when an officer of a corporation tells what I am going to call an outright lie … like the one Ektron's Tim McKinnon told TechCrunch’s Ron Miller?

“After denying to TechCrunch that Ektron had been sold, company president Tim McKinnon admitted in a later phone conversation that a sale had in fact happened, after a document confirming the deal began circulating online.”

Isn’t this at least the equivalent of lying on a resume? God knows plenty of CEO’s have done that, but they usually get fired or at least fined for doing so. (McKinnon later shifted reality again by saying that Miller misquoted him. But there is not evidence he asked for a correction or retraction.)

Mind you, pointing the finger at Ektron isn’t my purpose here. Instead I want to ask a much broader question. Should we do business with companies and people who lie?

Matters of Trust

To some, like my colleague Dom Nicastro, it doesn’t seem to matter all that much. Writing about Ektron he said “the future of the Nashua, NH-based .NET Web CMS provider comes down to a simple question: Do people like its software?”

I think that’s setting the bar way too low. If a company lies about something as big as its ownership, what else are they willing to lie about?

I might have put this whole mess aside except I'm concerned about our collective failure to ask some pretty important questions. Namely: Should we do business with companies that (at the very least seem to) lie? In an age where transparency is a virtue (i.e. Buffer) do we accept silence from a major investor (or owner) like AKKR? Would the fact that a vendor might produce or does produce decent software minimize the significance of the aforementioned questions?

I don’t think so. That’s why I applauded the way EPiServer fielded similar inquiries.

Integrity Matters

Early in my career a mentor told me that there were three important questions I should be able to answer with a “yes” before entering a business relationship.

  1. Do I trust the company/person I’m dealing with?
  2. Do I respect them?
  3. Do I like them?

In my early twenties I was skeptical about the world. I thought that if an affirmative answer to each was a must, it would leave me lonely and with no one to work with.

Thank God I was wrong.

A few decades later, I can testify to the fact that the world is rich in companies run by good, honest, respectable people who are easy to like and who keep their promises. I now (as I have for more than twenty years) decide who I will or won’t do business with according to the criteria. Every now and then I let a “no” slip in, and I’m never happy with the experience.

Pausing to ponder, rather than rushing to make a deal, has saved me, and the people around me, a great deal of angst.

I challenge you to take a breather, check references and spend some time listening to your gut before you commit. It will make your experiences more fruitful, the lives of those around you a little less frustrating and a lot more enjoyable, and the world a better place. 

Title image by Alan Cleaver  (Flickr) via a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.