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“Truthiness” in HR Communication

“Truthiness” in HR Communication

by Frank Roche on December 11, 2006

in Communication

“Truthiness” was voted the 2006 word of the year by Merriam-Webster. It’s so apropos in a year when up sometimes was down, and “I never said that” was contradicted by dozens of taped instances of politicians saying the very thing they denied.

“We’re at a point where what constitutes truth is a question on a lot of people’s minds, and truth has become up for grabs,” said Merriam-Webster president John Morse. “‘Truthiness’ is a playful way for us to think about a very important issue.” [CNN, Dec. 9, 2006]

Stephen Colbert coined “truthiness” on his faux talk show The Colbert Report. He plays a blowhard talk show host who’s unwavering in his devotion to ideology:

“I’m not a fan of facts,” he intoned. “You see, facts can change, but my opinion will never change, no matter what the facts are.” [Newsweek, Feb. 13, 2006]

Colbert introduced “truthiness” on the inaugural The Colbert Report on Oct. 17, 2005 [Wikipedia]. Here’s the video (I’ll warn you that Colbert’s not for everyone, but regardless of your political leanings, the idea of “truthiness” still resonates):

Stamp Out Truthiness in HR Communication

“Truthiness” as a word makes me laugh, but “truthiness” as a concept is no laughing matter. And I’m afraid that employees often think that their company communication is more truthiness than truthfulness. That’s just not right. Let’s do this: let’s stamp out truthiness in HR communication. Let’s stamp out truthiness in all employee communication.

Less than half of employees think their companies communicate with them openly and honestly according to a large-scale Hay Group survey reported in CIO Magazine. Yet, a Canadian HR Reporter study showed that “trust in senior management” ranked highest among seven elements needed to drive employee engagement. Honesty is valued but often not delivered. Ever wonder why employees are skeptical?

Is there too much “truthiness” in company communications? Recently there have been egregious examples of breaking the trust necessary to make that work. It’s a little hard to spy on Board members and employees, then say that “we have trust and respect for individuals.” It’s hard to take the ethical high road when companies have backdated stock option grants and then pay a fine but “deny any wrongdoing.” And it’s just plain old ineffective to try and spin employees on anything but the unvarnished truth.

Hill & Knowlton research summarizes the argument of truthfulness over truthiness by showing that corporate reputation is hard won and easily lost: “A company that fails to look after the reputation aspects of performance will ultimately suffer financially too”. Let’s laugh at the word “truthiness,” but let’s stamp it our in our HR communication.


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