A Successful 7th Generation Family Company

This is a guest post from old friend Jim Monk. Jim is a Texan by way of MIT who now grows coffee in Hawaii. H also writes great travelogues. He sent me this, about a tour of the Crane Paper Company. I just had to share it.

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Once in a while you get a chance to see something different.  Yesterday was one of those.  I am on a week long tour of New England – the home of the American Industrial Revolution.

We started out in Lowell, Massachusetts, where the American textile industry took a major leap forward.  There we looked at the canal system that powered up to 175 mills at one time and where employment was up over 80,000 at its peak in the late 1800’s.  From there we have visited an iron works, a shipyard, a museum dedicated to precision machine tools that enabled companies to manufacture products with interchangeable parts and, yesterday afternoon, a special paper company.

You may have used some Crane Paper company products when you have written nice notes to someone – Crane paper has been synonymous with quality and upscale for a long time.  But the reality is you probably use a Crane Paper product every day, without even thinking about it.

Crane Paper

Since 1871, the Crane Paper Company has been the sole supplier of the paper for the US currency.  However, “paper” is not quite correct.  What the company supplies to the government doesn’t contain an ounce of tree in it – it is all cotton and linen, with nowadays a slight admixture of very special fibers made by the government in a special laboratory and handed to Crane to be poured into the batches of material that will be made into greenbacks.

Greenbacks first got their name in the early 1800’s when the federal government finally started producing bills to replace the banknotes then in circulation.  “Banknotes” had been made by individual banks in various cities and states – hence the term banknote.

What we use now are no longer “banknotes”, even though we call them that.  The federal government made its first notes with the backside of them all in green ink – at that time green was difficult to photograph well and was hard to obtain, so the government felt the green would help to keep the bills from being counterfeited.

Today, thanks to North Korea, our bills are a whole lot more sophisticated.  It seems North Korea has been working on producing counterfeit $100 bills for some time to disrupt the American currency situation.  An observant teller at a federal reserve bank noticed one bill that had a different feel than the others – and that was the first time the government knew about the new counterfeit bills.  Eventually they traced them to North Korea, who then seems to have moved operations to Canada, where the percentage of counterfeit bills in circulation is far higher than in the US.

But American bills now have a nanotechnology woven into them as the latest round against counterfeiting – a whole concept that Crane developed.  Our speaker said they have some 40 patents on the technology but they have withheld lots of information on how the technology is used – “tradecraft”  — so no one else has been able to duplicate the new measures yet.

A special tape runs down the bills and has the interesting property that when you tilt the bill back and forth, you will see the image in the tape section move from side to side.  Rotate the bill side to side, and the image will move up and down!  And the image changes from a liberty bell to a “100” if the bill is a hundred dollar bill or the number of any other denomination it might happen to be.  This is done with a whole series of 2 micron wide lenses that are looking at images down below them.  The image you see is formed from hundreds of the lenses collecting bits of the images below them and compositing them towards your eyes.

The Present Mr. Crane

Now all of this was interesting, but for me the most interesting part of the presentation was the presenter, Doug Crane.  He’s in his early 50’s, judging from appearances, has children in high school and college and has already retired.  He came in to talk to us because he, too, went to MIT and just felt like talking to a bunch of MIT folks.

He said he is the seventh generation of his family to be involved (!) with the Crane Paper Company.  It is a privately held company – his family are the sole owners of the only company that has made our currency paper for over 140 years.

Towards the end of his talk his cell phone started ringing where it had been placed next to the computer that was controlling his presentation images.  He looked at it, looked sheepish and said, “Sorry, I have to take this one.”  We heard him arrange that the person would come to the place where we were to pick him up.

When he hung up, he said that was his Dad, who was coming to take him out to dinner because it was his birthday that day.

Now just how many seventh generation, successful company owners do you know?  Especially who seem quite modest, clearly knowledgeable about their business, plainly dressed and being picked up by their father that evening after coming in to give a talk to some strangers on their birthday?

When he left, he slung a back pack over his shoulder on his way out.  If America had more companies run by folks like that, we would be doing very well.

My tour is a success.  I hope your day is as well, Jim.

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It is now, Jim, many thanks.

Why Some Men Don’t Trust Women In The Workplace

(And Why Some Women Don’t Trust Men, And How to Break The Vicious Cycle)

Why Some Men Don't Trust Women in the Workplace 23-Feb-2014Nobody, it seems, wants to talk about one of the most important dynamics of the modern workplace: Men quite often don’t trust women, and women with comparable frequency don’t trust men. The breakdown of trust is especially common when the male is a manager and the female is his subordinate. Burdened by stereotypes, myths and other hidden assumptions about female employees, he doesn’t trust her to get the job done. Having repeatedly been marginalized by her male bosses and male co-workers, she adapts in ways that exacerbate the breakdown in trust.

This reciprocal breakdown in trust can torpedo not just one, but two careers. Still, all is not lost. There are ways to sever the dual ring of vicious cycles and reestablish trust between men and women in the workplace.

Cycle 1: Why men don’t trust women

Let’s start with the stereotypes about women as employees. Women always put family and children above their jobs. If there’s a ballet lesson or if school gets out early, the callback to a key client will have to wait until tomorrow. Women always get pregnant and take maternity leave just when a new office is opening. Women take Family Medical Leave to care for an elderly parent with a stroke or a teenage child with mononucleosis just when a new computer operating system is being installed. Women are always on the verge of quitting when child-care responsibilities become overwhelming, and they will no doubt quit right before a crucial deadline.

We move on to another unstated but critical myth. Women are emotional and not analytical. Women will make workplace decisions based on feelings rather than facts. Women worry more about their co-workers’ comfort level than about getting the work done.

Then there’s the hidden assumption that a female employee is not really committed to the business. In the minds of many male managers, this assumption is reinforced every time a woman requests flexible work accommodations. Working from home means less “face time” with her male manager, and when a woman is out of sight, she must not really be working for the company.

Sometimes a male manager assumes that his female subordinate has gotten her job solely because the company had to comply with affirmative action guidelines. He feels that the pressure from higher-ups to diversity the workforce has lowered the quality of new hires. He looks at the top echelons of the company, sees very few female executives, and concludes that investing in a junior woman is a waste of his time. Better to not trust her to do important assignments. Just let her wither on the vine.

Cycle 2: How women reinforce the mistrust

Let’s start with the natural inclination to trust those who are like us. A male manager may perceive that his female subordinate is just different. She has had different experiences. Perhaps she didn’t play on the high school basketball team. Maybe she could care less about the lack of good relievers in the bullpen or the dubious wisdom of a first-round draft pick. Having experienced harassment or bullying in the workplace, a woman may have her guard up. She may be disinclined to engage in backslapping, deprecating humor. When it’s time to remind a co-worker about an upcoming meeting, she may not tell him to “get your butt over here pronto.”

Let’s move on to the false inferences that male managers draw from women’s inferior salaries. Many women find it difficult to demand higher starting salaries and to negotiate raises. As a result, they end up doing the same work as their male peers for less. Managers are privy to salary information. A male manager may interpret a woman’s lower salary not as evidence of inequity, but as a sign of weakness, as an indicator that she does not really have a long-range commitment to the company.

A male manager may find himself excluding his female subordinate from informal get-togethers where co-workers can bond with each other. He may believe that women don’t want to go out for drinks, take advantage of free tickets to the season opener, or attend industry conferences. He may worry that close familiarity will be interpreted as sex discrimination or sexual harassment. When his female subordinate is excluded from these bonding events, he doesn’t get to know her. Feeling excluded, she lacks the motivation to go the extra mile for the company, and the gap in trust just widens.

Finally – and perhaps most important – you cannot trust an employee if you feel her behavior is unpredictable. A male manager may find it difficult to give critical assignments to a female employee because he’s not sure how she will interact with her co-workers or with customers. He’s not sure how she will handle a crisis. He doesn’t feel confident that she will put in the extra hours when the deadline approaches.

This sense of unpredictability is exacerbated by what I’ll call the toggling strategy that many women are forced to adopt. Having received conflicting signals about how to act in the workplace, she toggles back and forth between the traditional male mode – decisive, aggressive, demanding, career-focused – and the more sex-neutral collegial mode – collaborative, inclusive, less dictatorial. This toggling frustrates her manager, who perceives her as alternately antagonistic and ineffective.

Trust has become a key competency

There’s no need to dwell here on the adverse consequences of this lack of trust for the woman’s career. Nor does it require an in-depth analysis to see the enormous waste of talent and corporate resources. The critical point is that trusting co-workers of the opposite sex has become a key competency for assuming a position of leadership. A breakdown in trust can sidetrack a man’s career as well as a woman’s.

The business world has become increasingly diverse and globalized. A male manager who cannot look beyond the stereotypes of his female employees may be similarly unable to develop trusting relationships with peers and clients of different races, ethnic groups, religions and nationalities. The same goes for a female who has developed self-protective behaviors that exacerbate the breach in trust. Failure to trust will translate into failure to advance to the top ranks of the organization.

Breaking the cycles of mistrust

So how can a male manager resist his stereotypes about women in the workplace? And how can a woman steer clear of the safety strategies that exacerbate the mistrust?

First, he needs to accept as fact that women as a group are no less committed to their careers than men. Take it at face value that a woman who gets an education, shows up every day for work, completes her assignments and is receptive to feedback is, in fact, serious about her job. Understand that everyone has some family responsibilities and that a good manager can incorporate absences into his planning, whether they’re due to pregnancy, tennis elbow or a heart attack. If a woman is taking advantage of some form of flexible work arrangement, focus on the work performed, and not on how often you see her face.

He needs to persist in his efforts to include his female subordinates in the entire range of work-related activities. That means water-cooler conversations, after-work drinks, sports events and industry-wide meetings. She needs to break the habit of refusing any such overtures, to entertain the possibility of loyalty and respect for him as a manager. She needs to recognize that through his efforts at inclusiveness, she will get to know about the business. She will get to know him and his peers. She will trust him.

He needs to avoid pat assumptions about how she will react to others, as these assumptions rarely hold up in practice. He needs to make a genuine effort to get to know her, to understand why she acts the way she does, and she needs to allow him to understand her. She needs to send him the message that he can be confident about her reactions to future deadlines, mishaps and crises at work.

She needs to tell him straightaway when an assignment is unclear or when his expectations about her performance are fuzzy. He needs to tell her if she is acting in ways that make him uncomfortable.

He needs to realize that most women suffer from lack of adequate feedback, and not from poor motivation or bad intentions. He needs to tell her when she’s erred, to suggest mentors and coaches, and to model behavior. When there is a problem, he needs to no longer be reluctant to address it. And she needs to accept his advice. Don’t write her off. And welcome him into the bargain.

 

 

 

A Better New Year’s Resolution

Happy New Year! New Year card with folded colored paperI wrote a good blog post at this time seven years ago, and haven’t improved on it yet. Here it is again.

Happy New Year.

—————–

My unscientific sampling says many people make New Years resolutions, but few follow through. Net result—unhappiness.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

You could, of course, just try harder, stiffen your resolve, etc. But you’ve been there, tried that.

You could also ditch the whole idea and just stop making resolutions. Avoid goal-failure by eliminating goal-setting. Effective, but at the cost of giving up on aspirations.

I heard another idea: replace the New Year’s Resolution List with a New Year’s Gratitude List. Here’s why it makes sense.

First, most resolutions are about self-improvement—this year I resolve to: quit smoking, lose weight, cut the gossip, drink less, exercise more, and so on.

All those resolutions are rooted in a dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs—or with oneself.

In other words: resolutions often have a component of dissatisfaction with self. For many, it isn’t just dissatisfaction—it’s self-hatred. And the stronger the loathing of self, the stronger the resolutions—and the more they hurt when they go unfulfilled. It can be a very vicious circle.

Second, happy people do better. This has some verification in science, and it’s a common point of view in religion and psychology—and in common sense.

People who are slightly optimistic do better in life. People who are happy are more attractive to other people. In a very real sense, you empower what you fear—and attract what you put out.

Ergo, replace resolutions with gratitude. The best way to improve oneself is paradoxical—start by being grateful for what you already have. That turns your aspirations from negative (fixing a bad situation) to positive (making a fine situation even better).

Gratitude forces our attention outwards, to others—a common recommendation of almost all spiritual programs.

Finally, gratitude calms us. We worry less. We don’t obsess. We attract others by our calm, which makes our lives connected and meaningful. And before long, we tend to smoke less, drink less, exercise more, gossip less, and so on. Which of course is what we thought we wanted in the first place.

But the real truth is—it wasn’t the resolutions we wanted in the first place. It was the peace that comes with gratitude. We mistook cause for effect.

Go for an attitude of gratitude. The rest are positive side-effects.

 

DON’T Always Exceed Expectations

Many of us go around repeating a mantra that we think is self-evidently correct: Under-promise and over-deliver, we say. Always exceed expectations.

There is a website ExceedAllExpectations.  Another website, HowTo.gov, tells governmental agencies to use metrics to exceed expectations. And as you well know, it’s a common mantra in business.

Not so fast.

Why Always Exceeding Expectations is a Bad Idea

Think this through. If you intentionally exceed a customer’s expectations, then you intentionally misled your customer about what to expect. If you make that a habit, then frankly, you’re a habitual liar.

Think that’s too strong? Think it through the next step. When a customer habitually gets more than they were promised, what’s such a customer to think?  That’s easy – that you’re constantly sandbagging the quote to make yourself look good. And they will naturally start to bargain with you about the expected results and/or the price.

When you make a habit of exceeding expectations, you are training your customers. You are training them to expect you to under-promise and over-deliver. And they are not dumb, they learn quickly.

You have trained them to doubt you, to suspect your motives, and to disbelieve what you tell them in the future.

Proof from the Market

In yesterday’s bi-weekly newsletter TrustedAdvice, I included a link to a video clip about this idea. (By the way, if you’d like to get TrustedAdvice via email, click here to subscribe).

Within minutes, I heard from two readers, with very interesting comments.

From Reader 1
I have learned this time and time again, but I want to please my clients, so I repeatedly try to exceed client expectations – only to find the clients coming back and demanding more and more.  The fact is, I set myself up for failure, as you cannot give more than 100%. I end up getting frustrated because then clients generally speaking don’t appreciate it when you do give them 100%, they just expect more and more of you and your time.

and Reader 2 adds another wrinkle
My company has exceeding expectations built into its DNA, a by-product of yours truly (though I am so much better now than I used to be). It has created more damage than you’d ever think. Not just in terms of clients expecting more for less, but in a shop that can never truly feel good about itself just for doing a good job, always feeling we could/should have done more.

“Always exceed expectations,” despite frequently coming from good motives, actually succeeds in destroying trust, with customers and employees alike.

So – don’t do that.

Instead, do what builds trust. Tell people exactly what to expect, and then deliver that. Period. After all, that’s how you develop a track record or being credible and reliable. That way your motives are never in doubt. That way you get known for being not only a straight shooter, but a particularly good estimator.

Basically, tell the truth. It’s always a better policy.

How to Increase Trust in Organizations

Increasing Trust Within Your OrganizationI was grocery shopping Saturday. It was 2PM, 96 degrees out – pretty hot for New Jersey – and I was in the checkout line. The cashier had started sliding my purchases through the register, when suddenly I noticed a bag left over from the customer before me. She had left and gone to her car.

The woman doing the bagging noticed it at the same time. She grabbed the lady’s bag and dashed out into the heat. She was making pretty good time for a woman in her 60s, and we all could see her out the window as she finally caught up, handed over the bag, and started back.

Then the cashier suddenly exclaimed, “Omigosh, she left two other bags as well!” Looking quickly at me and the woman behind me in line, she said, “Will you two please excuse me for just a minute? I’ll be right back.” And she too took off after the forgetful lady, with two bags in tow. She was in her 20s, and made very good time.

It occurred to me I could slide a few groceries over the line and into my bag and escape without paying. (I don’t do such things, but the idea did show up in my mind). Then the elderly woman behind me in line said, “You know, I don’t mind one little bit waiting for someone who’s doing a good deed like that.”  Neither did I, I said, neither did I.

When the cashier and the bagging lady came back, we both complimented them, and they blushed a bit and said thank you. (I sent a complimentary email to ShopRite’s HQ later that night with the store number, employee name and cash register number, all of which were on the receipt).

So my question is: how do you get employees to behave like that? I mean generously, based on principle, willing to take certain risks, confident to act in the moment. How do you keep from getting sullen employees who talk about “career-limiting moves,” who won’t lift a hand or take a risk to help another?

How Do You Induce Values-based Behavior in an Organization?

Earlier that same day, I had the opportunity to briefly visit a Sears store, a Macy’s store, and a Bed Bath and Beyond unit. Sears was awful – employees keeping their distance from customers, 100 feet away, pretending not to notice. Macy’s was a little better, but still sullen, under-staffed, and radiating not-helpfulness.

BB&B was a huge contrast. Several employees, busy doing other things, asked me if they could help. I asked two for help, and they both went out of their way to do so.

How does this happen?

The standard answer in most businesses, I’m afraid, is to focus on the wrong things: typically  incentives, communications, and procedures.

The more I see of business, the more convinced I become that the single most powerful way to create values-based behavior is none of the above – it is to do it yourself, and to talk about it with others.

The Usual Suspects

Incentives appeal to the individual’s rational economic or ego-satisfying needs. Fine and dandy, but if you’re trying to incent selfless behavior, the concept of rewards is just a tad self-contradictory.

There is probably (I’m guessing) more money spent on communications than on any other “solution” to issues of trust, ethical behavior, and customer-focus. Companies love to pronounce their values to their customers, and reinforce them internally in posters, newsletters, and blogs. The problem is, impersonal companies communicating about personal relationships is some kind of category mistake.

And procedures? The whole point of values-based behavior is that the employee extrapolates from principles in the moment. Rehearsing and drilling doesn’t help extrapolate values, it replaces that process with rote memory.

Role Modeling

Think of how we learn from our parents. Think of the sports or public figures we admire (there are still a few). In all cases, we are influenced by what they do – not by what they say they will do, or did do, or wish they’d done.

When it comes to values, I suspect BB&B has leaders in their operations organization who both walk the talk, and talk it too. People who lead by example, and who are convinced that values like customer assistance are valid only if kept sharpened by use.

I suspect Angie the cashier at ShopRite was hired partly because she exhibited values. I suspect that the folks managing her store make a point of being helpful and customer-focused, and engage customers about values like that. I suspect it didn’t occur to her that she shouldn’t take the risk of leaving her cash drawer and my groceries unattended – because her leadership would have trusted their customers and done the same thing – and she knew it.

We have overdone the behavioral, incentives-based, needs-maximizing best practices model of human resources. We have under-estimated the human power of changing humans. After all, the business of relating to other people is personal.

The Tricky Relationship Between Auditing and Ethics

We should all do the right thing. Yet the wrong thing often gets done. Indeed, you can’t always trust everyone to do the right thing.

And so we have evolved enforcement mechanisms – laws, guidelines, agreements, protocols, commandments. Frequently, those mechanisms depend on some form of auditing – pop quizzes, random drug testing, probable cause. And videotaping.

Enforcement is typically put in place to augment trust, or to take over where trust can’t do the job alone. The implicit assumption is that by having some form of auditing in place, the net amount of ethical behavior will increase.

But what if it doesn’t work that way? What if auditing for enforcement destroys trust? Can the medicine be worse than the disease?

The Filmmaker’s Dilemma 

Kevin Breslin is a filmmaker and location scout for commercials in New York. From a New York Times article about him:

I used to be able walk into a building, talk to a guard downstairs and say: “You know, I’m here. I’m scouting a commercial. I need to get to the roof. I need a shot.” He’d say, “Ah, the building is closed.” I’d say, “I need two minutes,” hand the guy a $20 — and you’d be on the roof. You got the shots.

Now with surveillance cameras everywhere, no one can help you in any way even if they want to. Now it’s impossible. You have to call — speak to the building manager, speak to the real estate agent, speak to the public relations department, speak to this one. So, now you’ve got to make 40 calls just to do anything.

The cameras aren’t just auditing, they’re recording full-time. Their data isn’t a sample, it’s a complete survey. Their enforcement power is huge.  Yet so is the destruction of trust.

The results are lower social efficiency – and an atrophying of the trust muscles of a citizenry. Yet another possibility of ethical decision-making is taken away from the level at which the ethical issue arises, and replaced by a cold, bloodless policy. An opportunity to practice trust is lost.

The Convenience Store Manager’s Dilemma

I once did a consulting assignment for a convenience store chain. They had 150% store manager turnover, and wanted a better profile for recruiting. Recruiting, however, turned out not to be the problem.

The problem was that the chain gave every store manager a lie detector test every month. After being tested this way for months, clearly store managers were deciding that many of their peers were getting away with something, and proceeded to pocket store funds. Then they were caught, and terminated.

The lie detector tests were audits, imposed regularly and frequently. Their net effect was like the Heisenberg Principle – the testing for trustworthiness altered the level of trustworthiness itself.

The Leader’s Dilemma

Creating an environment that encourages ethical behavior is desirable – up to a point. Beyond that point, social engineering begins to negatively affect the very thing it was designed to help. So – how can a leader determine the right balance between personally driven trustworthy behavior and auditing for enforcement?

Here are three guidelines:

  1. Be a role model. Role modeling of all desirable behaviors by leaders is a good thing, but when it comes to trust, I think the importance doubles. Hypocrisy kills trust – but exemplifying it creates even  more trust. Live the values yourself.
  2. Use random sampling, not regular surveying. Bernie Madoff might have been caught earlier had spot auditing been practiced rightly. And the convenience store would have had less turnover if they didn’t remove all ethical decision-making power from the managers.
  3. To get trust, give it. One of the best ways to make people trustworthy is to trust them. Don’t engineer trust out of interpersonal situations – leave some room for humans to act humanly.

Why We Don’t Trust Companies Part IV: The Solution

Solving The PuzzleMy last three posts – here, and here, and here – were about why we don’t trust companies. To review the bidding, I’ve said it’s because:

  • Trust is predominantly personal in nature – a fact most companies don’t recognize
  • Corporate missions, motives and mindsets are all tainted by zero-sum, competitive ideologies
  • Trust requires risk, while companies abhor risk.

Stripped down – companies see trust as impersonal, ideologically suspect, and too risky.

Now, if I am right about that, then we would want to see solutions in the business world that recognize the personal nature of trust, incorporate trust-enhancing ideologies, and embrace risk-taking to enhance trust.

Surprise surprise – that’s not what we see.

The dialogue about corporate trust is consistently mis-framed. It is not companies that trust, or are trusted. It is the people in the companies who trust, or are trusted. The challenge is not to make companies trust or be trustworthy – it is to create corporate environments in which people can trust and be trusted.

In the trust game, the company is an agent, an enabler – not a primary actor.

The Usual Recommendations to Increase Corporate Trust

I spend a lot of time reading reports on how trust in business can be improved. Here are a few examples;

Believe me, there are hundreds more.

These are all reasonably good pieces of work (there are certainly worse). But even from these top-drawer sources, the top-line recommendations are bloodless, abstract, and cold – because they’re focused at the corporate level. (Curiously, the right answers in all four of these cases are in fact contained in the reports – they’re just buried deep.)

Typical topline recommendations look like these (taken from the sources above):

  • Increase adherence to ethical codes and standards
  • Create a set of values that define and clarify what your enterprise and its people are at root, and work to ensure that these values are adhered to consistently across your enterprise.
  • A well-defined, repeatable roadmap for the conversation…more transparency about fees and costs
  • Communicate frequently and honestly on the state of the business.

Again – there’s nothing wrong in these recommendations. But taken alone, they are sleep-inducing; they sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher’s Mwah, Mwah, Mwah.

Where is the personal? The belief system? The risk-taking? Where’s the people?

The Right Answer for Increasing Corporate Trust

Again, not that there’s anything wrong with the suggestions above, but they don’t get to the heart of the matter. Here are some recommendations that do.

1. Trust is personal – so lead by example.

Role model it. Everyone, not just the top leaders.  And to be sure what “it” is, identify hundreds of situations and the appropriate responses for each (not to memorize, but to ensure understanding). Talk about them – endlessly.  Get coaching. Do brainstorming sessions. Talk about what you’re doing with employees, and with customers. Identify key vocabulary terms you’ll use, and use them. Publicly praise and private counsel appropriate personal examples of trust-based interactions.

The way to get a trust-based company is not to fix the company – it’s to fix the people and the environment they live in so that the people can trust and be trusted in all their affairs.

2. Articulate and preach the trust ideology.

Reject zero-sum thinking. Think long-term relationships, not short-term transactions. Make transparency a default state in all conversations (except where illegal or harmful). Emphasize win-win solutions with customers, employees, and other stakeholders. Believe that trust relationships are more profitable over the medium and long-term, that they are complementary not opposed to corporate success.

3. Teach Social Risk-taking

People can’t learn to trust if they have no degrees of freedom to do so. People are more likely to be trustworthy if they are trusted. Human relationships are formed by the constant reciprocal taking of small risks; the result is long term risk mitigation.

There are personal relationship skills that drive trust. They can be taught, and the teaching of them gets to the heart of a trust-enhancing organization.

—————

The route to a high-trust organization is through its people. That route starts not with corporate policies per se, but with human interactions.

 

 

A Better New Year’s Resolution

iStock_000014342439XSmallI wrote a good blog post at this time six years ago, and haven’t improved on it yet. Here it is again.

Happy New Year.

—————–

My unscientific sampling says many people make New Years resolutions, but few follow through. Net result—unhappiness.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

You could, of course, just try harder, stiffen your resolve, etc. But you’ve been there, tried that.

You could also ditch the whole idea and just stop making resolutions. Avoid goal-failure by eliminating goal-setting. Effective, but at the cost of giving up on aspirations.

I heard another idea: replace the New Year’s Resolution List with a New Year’s Gratitude List. Here’s why it makes sense.

First, most resolutions are about self-improvement—this year I resolve to: quit smoking, lose weight, cut the gossip, drink less, exercise more, and so on.

All those resolutions are rooted in a dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs—or with oneself.

In other words: resolutions often have a component of dissatisfaction with self. For many, it isn’t just dissatisfaction—it’s self-hatred. And the stronger the loathing of self, the stronger the resolutions—and the more they hurt when they go unfulfilled. It can be a very vicious circle.

Second, happy people do better. This has some verification in science, and it’s a common point of view in religion and psychology—and in common sense.

People who are slightly optimistic do better in life. People who are happy are more attractive to other people. In a very real sense, you empower what you fear—and attract what you put out.

Ergo, replace resolutions with gratitude. The best way to improve oneself is paradoxical—start by being grateful for what you already have. That turns your aspirations from negative (fixing a bad situation) to positive (making a fine situation even better).

Gratitude forces our attention outwards, to others—a common recommendation of almost all spiritual programs.

Finally, gratitude calms us. We worry less. We don’t obsess. We attract others by our calm, which makes our lives connected and meaningful. And before long, we tend to smoke less, drink less, exercise more, gossip less, and so on. Which of course is what we thought we wanted in the first place.

But the real truth is—it wasn’t the resolutions we wanted in the first place. It was the peace that comes with gratitude. We mistook cause for effect.

Go for an attitude of gratitude. The rest are positive side-effects.

 

Butt-Kicked by the Universe

Oh man, did I do something stupid, embarrassing and untrustworthy today.

A colleague forwarded me a calendar invite originally sent by a client. I NEVER respond to an actual calendar invite as if it’s an email; I always respond to the actual invitation using the buttons “accept,” “reject,” or “tentative.”

But today, for reasons unknown only to whoever is in charge of the universe, I replied (I thought!!) to my colleague, regarding the client (Fred).

I wrote:

“…I’m so mad at Fred…seems like he hasn’t sent out all the materials we worked on last week.  I am trying not to be pissed.  I’m really frustrated. I’m trying to hold off getting too irate in case he did send stuff out…”

You guessed it. My response went straight to Fred.

He wrote back, “Hi Sarah, was this meant for me?”

That Gut-Punched Feeling

Ughh. As I had been writing that email, my gut was screaming at me: “You always say not to put in writing anything you wouldn’t be comfortable having the whole world read.”

You could say – I would – that the universe intervened because I had violated the “Inner Voice” rule.  The Inner Voice Rule is, “Say the things you’re thinking but don’t share.”  It’s where truth lies, and turbo-boosts the Intimacy component of the Trust Equation.

The Inner Voice Rule.

I groaned. Then I immediately wrote back to Fred:  “I am so embarrassed.  The email was meant for Julie, not you, and I’m sorry.  Are you somewhere I can call you?”  We spoke five minutes later.

I started: “Fred, I’m so sorry.  I knew as I was typing that email that I needed to pick up the phone and call you…I’m aware I have been avoiding a conversation with you.”  Fred was extra-gracious, acknowledging that he hadn’t met his commitments and that he understood where my frustration came from.

He then said, “And we’ve both been to Trusted Advisor programs,” which created a clearing for us to deal in an authentic way with the trust breakdown.  We worked through things; we both left the conversation having said what we needed to say, and feeling complete (and a commitment on my part to talk to Fred next time instead of complaining to my colleague).

He sent out the materials within 15 minutes.

The Universe Kicks Butt

I’m a bit fearful of calling myself a hypocrite on a blogpost destined for internet eternity. But if I’m real about it, what I salvaged from my mess du jour is that I talk a big game about clear speaking, using Inner Voice, and sharing constructive feedback – while the truth is, I’m woefully out of practice.  I choose to believe that the universe intervened today to give me a butt kick wake up call; to call me on being real and not a poser.

There, I said it.

So: what did I learn from the Universe today?

  • NEVER, EVER put in writing anything you wouldn’t want shared with the world
  • When what you have to say about another serves to diminish them, it’s time to either:

a) admit you’ve been a jerk and have a conversation with that person, or

b) own up and end the relationship.

  • The courage to have un-had conversations leads to growth, learning and deeper trust.
  • If we think of constructive feedback as “scary, bad, judgmental or otherwise” then we don’t share the most important stuff.  Then all that stuff builds up and – we send stupid emails.
  • If you make a mess – make it Priority One to clean it up immediately.

A Contingent Offer

It was a beautiful fall in Blacksburg…but I was quite nervous…my senior year in Mechanical Engineering at Virginia Tech was now underway and reality was setting in fast…I had to find a job.

I had racked up a massive $11,000 in loans for school from my Mom and Dad – I was expected to start paying it back right after graduation to help pay for my 5 younger siblings to go to college. On top of that, I was engaged to be married in July. I needed a job – I really, really needed a job.

I was nervous. Although the market for new engineering graduates was strong, I was unsure about my job prospects because…how do I say this delicately…I had not exactly distinguished myself academically.

There was not much I could do at this point to change my grades in Calculus or Thermodynamics…so I focused intensely on my job search.

I signed up for the usual campus interviews – but after the first round I was disappointed. I only received 2 invitations to visit plant sites for second round interviews.

My first visit to a company in West Virginia did not go well. A week later I received The Letter – Thanks but no thanks…dinged!! I was getting very nervous. I attended a “how to interview” session at the career center, where I learned I needed to sell myself and be confident – even though I was not.

On my trip to “Acme Chemical” in early November the interviews seemed to go much better – I was not that crazy about the company, or the job or the location….but I needed a job and was hopeful. In the meantime, my campus interviews had turned the corner – I had scored 4 more company visits after Christmas.

The Letter arrived from Acme…I opened it with caution – it was an offer! A very good offer – $17,800 a year! I was so excited….until I read further.

It was a “contingent offer” – contingent upon a position still being open at the time I decided to accept it. Huh??? I was quite confused. I called HR – they were going to hire 4 engineers and they made 7 offers. The first 4 to accept the offer got the jobs –and the other 3 would no longer have offers.

What?!! I had 4 upcoming interview trips with companies and locations I liked better than Acme. I did not want to accept this early offer and miss out on other potential choices. At the same time I really needed a job and $17,800 was a good offer. The job was OK, the location was not that bad…a bird in the hand; it was a real dilemma.

I decided to call Dad. At this point I had emerged from my “independent and confrontational teenage years.” But I could not say that Dad and I  were close; it was the first time that I remember turning to him for advice.

I explained my predicament.

Dad answered without hesitation, “Accept the job.”

When I started to explain that would preclude other options, 
he interrupted me.

 “No – it doesn’t.”

“What do you mean?”

“Accept the job – a contingent acceptance – contingent upon you not accepting another job someplace else.”

“Can I do that?”

“I don’t see why the hell not!”

“But what if they get angry and withdraw the offer?”

“Then I am not sure it is a place you want to work anyway.”

It was brilliant – my Dad was becoming smarter every day. I felt this huge burden had lifted.

First thing Monday morning I called up Acme and told them “I accept…” But when I added my conditions they were not happy. They said I was being “impertinent.” (I didn’t even know what that meant!)

They explained they did not accept my acceptance….they had recruited at the School for 10 years, and they were going to let the Dean know about my little stunt.

My cute plan had backfired; I was feeling sick again.

The next day I was summoned to the Dean’s office. I was fairly certain it was not because of my stellar academic performance.

The Dean was a scary man. He carried a permanent scowl on his face like Miss Gulch (Wicked Witch) in the Wizard of Oz.

“Mr. ____ – Acme has been recruiting here for years – I understand you accepted their offer contingent upon not accepting a job someplace else?”

“Yes sir, I did. I did not mean to be disrespectful but…”

“Excellent. They have no right pressuring my students. I let them know that either all 7 offers stand or they won’t be welcomed back.”

I walked out relieved and with a small measure of renewed confidence.

I ultimately had 4 job offers. I accepted a job someplace else and started calling my dad more often.