For most of us, it is likely that our parents drummed it into us that one should always be honest with people. Sincerity and integrity are values that even the worst of us are taught to uphold.
And in fact, we do! How do you explain the fact that even a liar hates being cheated and that the worst person to steal from is, you guessed it...a thief?
But the story changes when we reach the business and work place After all business is all about profit.
True, business is about profit, but is it all about profit? It is all about money. The means justifies the end? Really?
Keep in mind that, as Socrates said, ‘man is selfish by nature’. With this in mind, let’s briefly analyze the business rationale. Person ‘A’ buys from seller ‘B’. A is buying for selfish reasons. Profit is the mark up (or margin) that the seller will make after deducting his/her from his/her selling price, the buying price and expenses. It is, thus, selfishly in Seller B’s interest to keep buyer A coming back so s/he can have his profit stream coming from this customer. What to do? The simplest and most effective answer to this question is that s/he must embrace the spirit of altruism, consider and solve the buyer’s selfish interest(s) if s/he as the seller is to remain in business for a while. What does the buyer want? What is the most cost effective way of satisfying his/her needs? What are the buyers future needs? How will they be satisfied? These are the questions that must constantly be honestly asked and answers found by the seller.
Being honest in business will always mean that you will get better business in the long run. Why be honest?
First, you will be sincere and objective about yourself. This will not only set the right level of expectations with the other person (hopefully), but will consequently make it clear whether the person is ready to do business with you.
The challenge that most business people face is that of differentiating the short, long and the very long run.
This is important in planning. It is a difficult job. You have to determine your short-term and long-term interests.
More often than not these interests clash. You thus have to come up with a healthy give-and-take balance between these interests that will ensure growth of your business. For example, will you spend heavily on promotion and price moderately low so that you can build a loyal customer base that will ensure sustained profitability or will you jump for the quick wins that will not last long?
Most dishonest people in business (and in life, really), think short term and operate in the very short run.
It is what the English refer to as ‘not thinking beyond your nose’. For that reason, they are constantly busy, caught up in ‘a rat race’ (the English, again!). Let’s be clear here; there is nothing wrong with being busy. In fact, it is very good. But being busy without results is worse than idling. It is ‘ubabaishaji’- shadowboxing, as we call it in Kiswahili. Ever heard of a shadow boxing champion?
When you sell dishonestly, two things will happen.
One; you will not have that customer and the ones s/he would have brought along (as a happy customer) as well as the ones s/he will talk to (the majority) as a displeased customer. Two; consequently you will have to start all over again whilst literally ‘dodging bullets’ as a result of the bad reputation that comes with dishonesty. This is much tougher than being honest and has no gain.
As the Bob Marley sings, ‘you can fool some people sometime but you can’t fool all the people all the time!’
Sam Kebongo is a skills and business advisory services consultant. He teaches entrepreneurship at Rwanda Tourism University College.