How to Get Ahead: Lie, Cheat and Steal


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For nearly 20 years, I’ve been listening to various theories about why companies have been so clueless in serving the needs of their customers… and why it often is so frustrating to work for a large, “successful” company.

I’d like to suggest that the #1 cause of both problems is the same: companies often empower the employees who – in countless small ways – lie, cheat and steal.

Reward takers, ignore givers?

To use Wharton professor Adam Grant’s estimates, about 35% of the business workforce is comprised of takers. These are folks who are out for their own interest. Among their numbers are leaders who are driven more by ego than empathy. Some are self-promoters who are quick to take credit for the work of others, who twist reality to suit their interests, and who care about power more than people.

Yes, I’m being brutally honest here.

The vast majority of “customer-focused” initiatives reek of a taker mindset. Most of them are nothing more than thinly-veiled efforts to boost sales and/or automate marketing. They do not think of customers’ interests first. They do not give major new benefits or services to customers. They seek to take more money out of people’s wallets.

In short, these initiatives were designed by takers, and if you are a giver it is enormously frustrating to deal with the hypocrisy that surrounds you: your company says it wants to help customers, but its policies and procedures are designed to take from customers, not give to them.

Is “lie, cheat and steal” too strong?

The taking mentality creates systems that make it so hard for customers to stand up for themselves that it’s easy for companies to “legally” lie, cheat and steal from them. Don Peppers and Martha Rogers superb book, Extreme Trust, details many such examples, even if their language is a bit more polite than mine.

One such example is charging customers monthly for services they haven’t used in a very long time. (That’s a big shoutout to Yahoo and It would be easy for such companies to proactively do the right thing – contact each customer and ask if everything is alright – but it is more profitable to remain silent and collect the cash.

Likewise, is it stealing when you take credit for the best ideas of your subordinates? Yep. Is it cheating when you blame subordinates for your own misjudgments? Yep.

Putting takers in charge of customer experience is like asking a bear to guard your honey.

The solution: hire, promote and empower givers

If you really, truly want to grow your company faster than your competitors, hire, promote and empower givers.

Givers are people who think of other people before they think of themselves. They are the people who should be designing and running customer-focused initiatives. They are the folks who have the vision and ability to grow revenues, because they are focused on the needs of others.

Help us test this theory

Adam Grant, Dane Barnes and myself are working on an online assessment that will allow companies to not only identify honest-to-goodness givers, but also evaluate other critical skills necessary for the owners of successful customer-based initiatives. These are qualities such as motivation, initiative, and a growth mindset.

The assessments won’t be ready until later this summer, but we’re reserving spots for companies who wish to be part of our beta test of this assessment program (it’s free, in return for your feedback.) Let me know if your company would like to participate, and I’ll be glad to provide you with details. My contact information is at the end of this quick summary:

Image credit: Zilverbat/Flickr

Republished with author’s permission from original post.

Bruce Kasanoff
Managing Director of Now Possible, was cited by The Chartered Institute of Marketing among their inaugural listing of the 5 most influential thinkers in marketing and business today. He is an innovative communicator who has a track record of working with highly entrepreneurial organizations.


  1. They understand and have been trained to act in ways that, for the company and for themselves, it is far more rewarding to help optimize value through corporate reputation/image and customer behavior: and Another Wharton professor, my colleague Peter Fader, and I agree on building true customer-centricity from the top-down (C-suite executives) and the bottom-up (front-line employees), resulting in a win-win for all stakeholders.


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