I found my dog walker April on Nextdoor. A few months later, the billboards lining Ventura Boulevard in LA’s San Fernando Valley began displaying ads for new dog-walking mobile apps like Zingy and Wag, but by then I was already covered thanks to my modern day e-mail listserv. Nextdoor is one of those hidden gems on the internet, that if used properly can provide substantial value. In addition to my (tremendous) dog walker, I’ve found recommendations for a reliable plumber, painter, and learned quite a bit about what goes on in my neighborhood. The site is far from perfect, it’s user base lacks perhaps, how could we call it, a sense of social media expertise, awareness or etiquette that a digital native may possess, but then again you’re never left confused by a sequence of emojis you don’t understand. The Venn diagram for Nextdoor users and Snapchat users would probably look something like this…
Nextdoor’s structure provides the ability to interact with a tight-knight, private community but most importantly it truly enables authenticity and honesty. It’s the modern equivalent of shooting the shit with your neighbor at the end of your driveway, in your robe, picking up the New York Times on a Sunday morning. You get the honest recommendation. The peer review. A social Yelp without (most of) the bullshit. But it’s not Nextdoor that got me thinking about honesty and openness this morning (whilst keeping one eye glued to the TV watching the ageless Roger Federer fall short at Wimbledon), it’s my dog walker April.
April leaves us a note every day. That’s part of the job description, surely. Notes from dog walkers are essentially the startup’s version of the weekly product rollout email, or the quarterly Founder/CEO investor updates. It keeps us in the loop. But in April’s note above, she didn’t just perform her daily duty, she went above and beyond: “I stole a ginger ale. It’s so hot and it looked so good.”
And it got me thinking about honesty.
The internet is a place where honesty and authenticity so often win out. You can rarely pull a fast one around here. Someone on Twitter or Reddit will sniff out the bullshit, the lie. A Wikipedia editor will religiously scroll through a page’s revision history to make sure it’s kosher. There is a sense of nobility in keeping it real. Sure, there is still space to hide behind avatars, or operate superb pseudonyms such as Startup L. Jackson’s, but overall the pendulum online swings towards honesty and openness.
So I began to wonder if we’re lagging a bit in the startup world when it comes to that same honesty within our organizations that we’re displaying on the public web.
Honesty is vital within any organization and great for culture. There are many things to be honest about:
- Giving credit where it’s due. Managers – give credit to your team. Why present a document beginning with “I put this together,” when you can instead say “our team put this together,” or “we put this together,” or even better, “Yoni took the lead on this one.” A little shout-out goes a long way. You’re already the boss, do you think we don’t know that you know how to work Google Docs?
- Be honest with your co-founders / management team. If you can’t be honest with your co-founders, partners, or fellow management team members, you really should reconsider who you’re coming to work with every day. It’s very difficult to build things that are valuable, so keep it real with those who count on you the most, and who you count on the most.
- Be inclusive, not exclusive. Being inclusive goes a long way for culture. People just love being included. The reason leaders often exclude others is due to perceived lack of efficiency. “It will slow us down.” Often times, it actually won’t. You may be nervous that if you include that one department or that other department in your process, somehow the project will slow down. But the less honesty and inclusiveness, the more people will get frustrated with you – which will actually slow you down more in the long run (and perhaps create resentment). Most of the time, your colleagues don’t even want to participate in the content of the discussion, they just want to be included.
Honesty shows you respect your peers.
Externally, entrepreneurs aren’t going to change. At the conference when we run into a former colleague or partner we haven’t seen in a while, we’ll still say, “we’re crushing it,” and “growing like crazy!” Fair enough. We’re optimists by nature and it’s smart to sell our momentum externally for a variety of reasons. But behind closed doors, it’s better to let your sales team in on the fact that the site is currently a bit unstable, and that you’re dedicating your focus to improving the infrastructure. Sure, the site may go up and down, but if they know ahead of time from you, that’s much better than receiving an email every month asking why the site is down. Be proactive, not reactive. Which is essentially being honest.
This isn’t a call for CEO’s to release employee option pool breakdowns, it’s just a friendly reminder for those same leaders and department/division heads to recognize the value of honesty on a day to day tactical basis. Your culture will improve through inclusion.
So let’s get back to April. April was honest with her client. She was thirsty and wanted a Ginger ale. Do the same with your customers. Once you are honest within, it’s natural to be honest externally. You can’t have one without the other. Going through a brand transition? A product update? Pricing changes? Honesty is the best policy.
And if you need a dog walker, you’ll probably find an honest recommendation on Nextdoor.