Honesty: The 3rd of seven ways to be more effective as a change manager

My article this time focuses on the truthful third member of the seven deadly virtues of a change manager. Of course virtues aren’t a substitute for knowledge, but they do give that knowledge a better chance of being applied. Character as well as ability is the key to being virtuous.  Deadly if used too much or too little, Honesty is one of the double-edged swords in my list:

Perception | Judgement | Honesty | Ambition | Courage | Resilience | Invisibility


It can be tempting to hide the truth of how much change there will be, and how easy or difficult it will be to accomplish. It can especially be tempting to cloak cost reductions in the form of head-count behind some other minor facet of the change. It is often tried, and rarely if ever works.

People in workplaces form herds. While sounding a bit like clusters of less intelligent animals, nothing could be further from the truth. The work environment is very well known to the people who spend their time within it. Any small change in the behaviour of its leaders or the environment can be picked up with unerring swiftness and accuracy, because people are wired to detect threat. There is little chance of remaining totally confidential, and in the absence of information people leap to the worst conclusions.   

Trust is an essential ingredient in helping an organisation to change. So why attempt deception that is unlikely to be successful anyway? Bringing the pain forward in time, and talking about the goal, the rationale, and the plan as early as possible all help people to deal with their views of the change, well before the impact is experienced.

Too much honesty without empathy or direction can be destructive. Brutal honesty can stand in the way of change because relationships are ruined. Faced with difficult truths and having no belief in the future, people will entrench resistance responses.

Too little honesty and the first detection of deception also destroys trust. This makes the change effort exponentially harder. Communications are treated with scepticism and more time is needed to manage resistance. At worst, self-interested cynical behaviour interferes with the ability to galvanise group action, and people become active saboteurs. Lack of trust in leaders is generally worse than a lack of trust in the change itself.

The key question – what is the truth about this change?

I hope you have the ambition, even before the next article, to reflect on your experience with the deadly virtue of Honesty. Does it need its friends of the past few articles – Perception and Judgement? Or can it stand shining alone? Your stories and comments are always welcome.

This blog was originally published by Camille on LinkedIn here.

Camille Clerc
About: Camille Clerc

An experienced and passionate change manager, Camille has led significant change projects to deliver cultural and organisational change through IT transformations, business process improvement and technology projects. Guiding and advising senior leadership teams including C-suite, Camille has delivered astute, commercial, pragmatic change management strategies that have steered organisations through significant IT and cultural transformations.