[The following is an edited version of the remarks delivered by Jill Feldon at the 2017 Page Up Annual Business Meeting in Washington D.C. She is Vice President, Public Relations, Communication and Brand Management at Kaiser Permanente and Page Up Chair.]

I want to talk to you about one of our Page Principles - one that is an important value to me personally, and which has taken on greater significance in today’s world. That topic is the first of the Page Principles … telling the truth.

Truth has become a hot topic in this time of alternative facts. Indeed, the truth is not an easy thing.  Here’s how the New York Times magazine described it in an ad earlier this year:

The truth is Hard
The truth is Hidden
The truth must be pursued.
The truth is hard to hear
The truth is rarely simple
The truth isn’t so obvious
The truth can’t be glossed over
The truth has no agenda
The truth can’t be manufactured
The truth doesn’t take sides
The truth isn’t red or blue
The truth is hard to accept
The truth pulls no punches
The truth is powerful
The truth is under attack
The truth is worth defending
The truth requires taking a stand
The truth is more important than ever.

So let’s ask ourselves, in our world of communications, why is telling the truth so hard?

Well, sometimes it's not easy to know what the truth is. In today's world we hear lots of facts, have access to tons of data, and hear no end of opinions, but do we know what's true? Sometimes the truth is hard to get.

And sometimes you think you have the facts and you speak up about it, only to learn that there's more to the story, which changes things. Has that ever happened to you?

Sometimes you know what the truth is, but it doesn't make your organization or your client look good. If the truth gets out, jobs could be lost. Or it might hurt sales or the stock price. So, do you tell the whole truth, or do you tell just some of the truth? And if you tell some of the truth, is that the truth?

Given this esteemed, experienced group of professionals, I think most of us would advise our organizations’ leaders or our clients that in this digital, networked, global world, the truth will come out. So you might as well be transparent, tell the whole truth, and deal with the consequences.

Sometimes speaking up about what you believe is true is difficult, especially when your beliefs might not be shared by others. You will likely offend someone. That has typically been the prevailing wisdom when it came to organizational communication. However, people today do expect their leaders to speak up and share their truths about social issues. And more brave CEOs are doing this, like Starbucks’ Executive Chairman Howard Schultz, who has been actively promoting equality and unity in today’s divisive world. Or the CEOs who resigned from the White House business advisory committee after President Trump’s controversial comments about what happened in Charlottesville. Through their actions, they are speaking their truth. Some people have gotten very upset by this. But more people seem to respect the fact that they have taken a stand, whether they agree or not.

As advisors to the C-suite, or to clients, leading communications professionals advise their leaders to take a stand on issues, even if they fear alienating customers, shareholders, or their communities. In a recent blog, Page Society president Roger Bolton and Peppercomm CEO Steve Cody said that when there is social injustice in a community, or legislation that could hurt business or the lives of employees, 80% of people believe U.S. companies have an important voice and should take a stand – even at the risk of offending some part of the populace.

Of course, after giving that advice, we are the ones left with the responsibility of cleaning up the fallout. I doubt any of our members would intentionally white-wash the truth our leaders have spoken. We all know we need to be mindful of telling the truth.

So why am I going on about this? Why is telling the truth the very first Page Principle? I believe it’s because telling the truth builds trust. And building trust is our core purpose as communication professionals. Building trust builds relationships. And that’s what we’re all about.

And the thing that concerns me about this truth-telling responsibility is that while we are so focused on having our leadership tell the truth to the world, I believe we need to be doubly concerned about doing the same with our employees.

It's understandable in that our organizations want to keep morale and confidence high. We don’t want leaders to come across as weak. We don't want to create dissension. And sometimes, we know that employees might not understand all the nuances of the situation. As the major says in A Few Good Men, "You want the truth? You can't handle the truth." I get the logic.

But I believe this is an area where our profession needs to have greater focus. We share truthful feedback with our leaders, and work hard to gather the facts when an issue arises. But too often I believe we allow our employees to hear only part of the truth. Probably for all the reasons I mentioned, or more. However, there's probably no more important audience to an organization than its employees. They are the most credible source of information about your organization – not your advertising, not your collateral, not your PR or social media. And certainly more credible in today’s world than your CEO.

Rather than shield employees from the truth, I believe we have the obligation, and the opportunity, to advance our profession by ensuring that our organizations are sharing the truth with employees and engaging the employees in helping find solutions.

According to Gallup, employee dis-engagement is at an all-time high. One in three employees don’t trust their employer. How do we build engagement? By being more inclusive and trusting our employees with the truth. Trust begets trust. Truth begets trust. When an organization’s leadership shows that it trusts its employees, employees will trust their leadership.

This is inclusion – it’s not just about bringing in a diverse workforce, but about sharing information with them. It’s about giving up control and, instead, collaborating with people from all levels across your organization. 

According to a study published in Harvard Business Review, greater inclusion leads to a 5% increase in employee engagement, and a 3% growth in business. Engagement leads to improved morale, productivity, and brand perceptions. And it all starts with transparency, trust and telling the truth.

As we think about what we’ve heard during this conference, let's also remember another Page principle: that the character of an organization is expressed in its people.  Their words, efforts and actions are a direct reflection of what their leaders do and say to them. Tell them the truth. Even when it's difficult. I think we will find that an informed, inclusive and engaged workforce is essential to a high-performing organization and society. 

Let me give an example of how this can work from my own organization. Like many companies, we have an operating plan that we update every year. Rather than just have the senior leaders flesh out the plan and announce it to the troops, however, we conduct reverse town halls. The leaders share a draft of the part of the plan that they are responsible for, and then invite our entire management team to poke holes in it, ask questions, or propose other ideas. Those ideas and challenges come from all areas of the organization – not just the part of the organization that is responsible for that part of the plan. Nurses comment on marketing. Accountants comment on customer service. This feedback is then used to revise the operating plan, which is then shared again with the management team. They then have another round of commenting on the revised plan before it is finalized. This degree of inclusion may seem over the top. But I can tell you that it has resulted in a much richer set of plans that has driven the organization to record growth, revenue, and employee participation in our annual People Pulse survey.

In other words, we’ve found that our success is directly linked to our ability to tell the truth, share our challenges and ideas, and earn the trust of our people.

We’ve done this at Page Up. When we put together our three-year operating plan, we laid out a draft plan and then invited everyone who attended the Page Up Annual Conference that year to gather at their table and comment on different aspects of the plan. All the comments, challenges and suggestions were incorporated into the three-year plan, which we have been executing against ever since. Thank you to everyone who provided this valued input.

To this end, there are three steps that are recommended by Stephen Covey:  

Number 1: Declare your intent.
Tell your employees that you want their input and be sincere. This may mean coming clean about this being a change in the way you operate. 

Number 2:  Demonstrate respect.
We live in a world where employees expect to have a voice – especially the incoming newest generations.  They consume information differently than in the past, and they decide whether or not to speak up or act. Show that you respect them and create an environment where they know it is safe to speak their truth, and they may decide to respect you and give you their best ideas.  

Number 3:  Deliver the results.  
Leading organizations listen and then act on the input they have received from people at all levels. Be mindful to not just take action, but be sure to tell your employees that their input was used and how their input was used, as well as what the impact was. Maybe not all the ideas were successful or useable. Tell the truth about the results.  If you do, your employees will be even more likely to speak up the next time.