The purpose of this paper is to explore how the concept of honesty can shed light on misreporting issues in projects. Research on honesty can be useful for practitioners and researchers in project management, in order to understand and counter the withholding and distortion of relevant information from projects. In moral psychology, dishonesty is often explained as a result of moral neutralization. The paper provides an account of how neutralization can lead to dishonesty in projects.
Design/methodology/approach – The current study is based on a literature review of research on misreporting and dishonesty in projects, and of relevant generic studies of honesty.
The author concludes that the phenomenon of moral neutralization can explain dishonesty
and misreporting in projects. Honesty can be encouraged by identifying attempts at moral neutralization, and rendering them unacceptable. At the core of this position is the view that the level of honesty amongst project members is most adequately understood and explained from a circumstance rather than a character approach.
The suggested primacy of a circumstance approach to honesty implies that
project practitioners should be aware of the phenomenon of moral neutralization. Even people of good moral character can become involved in neutralization, in order to render misreporting acceptable.The central practical challenge can thus be to recognize tendencies of neutralization in one’s own and other people’s moral reasoning.
The main contribution of this paper is to introduce the concept of honesty in general, and the concept of moral neutralization in particular, to project management research and practice. The paper also suggests concrete ways to redirect attention from character to circumstances, based on more general research findings in social and moral psychology.