Last month, a newly elected American congressman was exposed as a serial fabulist. He had fabricated a façade of fake names, aliases, education and employment history, fraud, and even family deaths on 9/11 and the Holocaust.
People like Congressman George Santos, or whatever his name is, eventually get found out when their grandiose lies suddenly matter.
That, unfortunately, happens to organisations. Simple exaggerations and feel-good narratives are used to impress customers, staff, and stakeholders. They’re accepted because they don’t really matter. They are then repeated and magnified over time.
At some point, the façade suddenly matters very much. This happened to Nike when its claims of “social responsibility” were undercut by the reality of its factories in China and elsewhere.
Harvard Business Review reported on a 15-year longitudinal study into what caused institutional fabrication within organisations. It found factors such as unfair incentives on staff, low cross-company interaction, and a culture where frank conversations were avoided.
These are substantial issues to fix. In the meantime, a simpler lesson is to avoid the urge to claim too much about what you do.