Let’s look closer at significance of binary honesty to any organization. First, a recap from Part 1 of 2:

Binary Honesty: Marked by truth in an either-or scenario.

Spectral Honesty: Marked by subjective accuracy in response to a question, i.e., measurable on a spectrum.

Whereas spectral honesty can be fudged once in a while for the sake of personal confidence or interpersonal cohesion, binary honesty is vital.

When 100% of the people in an organization can count on responses being true 100% of the time, the organization thrives. When an organization can only count on 99% of the responses to binary questions being true, it might as well not trust what anyone has to say. This includes lies of omission. Does all of that sound extreme? Here’s where I’m coming from:

I was once the officer-in-charge of a military personnel unit attached to a Combined Joint Task Force in a deployed location. Under my command were members of the Air Force, Army, Marines, and Navy. To ensure optimal procedures, we had to count on 100% trustworthiness.

One blistering day a sailor under my command found out that he was being moved to a different position in a new location. This had come out of nowhere for both of us. Generally, when the day-to-day lives of a military member are to be affected, someone in his organization will have heard about it in advance. But this was out of the blue.

I asked all of the senior non-commissioned officers in my “shop” whether anyone had heard about this activity. The response to this binary question was a resounding “No.” As a long-time bureaucrat, I decided to sleep on it… it was probably a paperwork mistake from headquarters, which would get cleared up by next morning.

The next morning, E-mail traffic revealed that one of my senior non-commissioned officers had actually directed the change because she thought that it would be “good for the manning and good for the sailor.” That was a questionable conclusion to draw, yet it was a matter of opinion.

The problem in this case wasn’t the out-of-turn decision to move the sailor. The organizational problem in this case was the lack of binary honesty.

At that time everyone in our organization realized that binary honesty was only 99% present. Moreover, everyone had a hard time believing that a binary lie had been told in our organization in the first place! We were so used to 100% binary honesty that this shook our worldview as a team.

For the next few weeks there was only about 99% trust in our unit. And 99% may as well be 0%. A binary lie in an organization is so deeply impactful on corporate culture that the U.S. Air Force Academy tends to disenroll cadets promptly when anyone is determined to have lied, stolen, or cheated. When a binary lie is told, each subsequent response to questions will be judged with a reserve of doubt. And doubt is disastrous for an organization.

In short, an organization either has 100% trust or it has no trust at all. My simple recommendation to all organizations: quickly fire any liar.


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