Faking It Doesn’t Make It

Remember Leave it to Beaver’s Eddie Haskell? Always nice to Mrs. Cleaver—but always working an angle. The unctuous, silver-tongued slickster—devious, always in it for himself.

Haskell played the role of evil in a morality tale—the black-hat guy of the adolescent crowd. When he got his come-uppance, Good triumphed (though of course we were titillated by his escapades on the way).

What Eddie Haskell did best was to fake sincerity. He couldn’t fool us, of course; though poor Mrs. Cleaver was a reliable sucker.

Haskell was TV’s tame version of Hollywood’s innocent; the rural rube with a pure heart, dazzled by the sophisticated city slicker/ hustler—until (s)he finds, as everyone had warned, that he’s a cad, a con, a hustler.

He was faking sincerity.

An Eddie Haskell phenomenon has been coalescing in business. Business is becoming adept at mouthing sincerities about relationships—but in service to itself, not to the nominal objects of those relationships—customers, suppliers, employees.

Have we succeeded in faking sincerity so well that we have fooled ourselves?

Some examples:

1. From an article by UC Berkely Business School professor Lynn Upshaw:

Marketers need to consider a new calculus: "return on marketing integrity"—that is, a new type of "ROMI"—which can lead to stronger business performance.

Traditional return on marketing investment is calculated using gross margin generated by marketing efforts (GM), minus the marketing investment (I), divided by that investment: ROMI = (GM – I) ÷ I. The calculation for return on marketing integrity is identical, except that investment is replaced with marketing integrity.

This language comes awfully close to suggesting that integrity is a virtue insofar as and to the extent it pays off on the bottom line.

 

2. From a Wall Street client seated next to me before my after-dinner talk on being a Trusted Advisor:

“Trusted Advisor? If it gets me greater share of customer wallet, I’m all for it.”

The implication: trust is a virtue—if you can make money on it.

3. From a posting by Steve Yastrow on Tom Peters’ weblog:

In an age of interchangeable products and easily duplicated services, customer relationships have become one of the most powerful competitive advantages available to a business—one of the best ways to keep the competition away from your customers.

I doubt Yastrow intends it—but the language can be read as suggesting that relationships are justified by their ability to competitively advantage a company. (Consider a parallel: "darling, the main reason I want to marry you is you’ll give me a competitive advantage in the business world").

 

4. Steven Covey, Jr., in an interview on branding, says

trust is a hard-edged, economic driver—a learnable and measurable skill that can give your business a competitive edge.

Covey doesn’t say the sole goal of trust is to provide a competitive edge; still, why does that phraseology come so easily to us? (And not just to Covey—I’ve said much the same myself on occasion).

 

5. From a Harvard Business School Publishing email advertising a seminar titled “Authenticity: Are you Delivering what Consumers Want?”

…your company must grasp, manage, and excel at rendering authenticity. Learn how to manage customers’ perception of authenticity by…

• Recognizing how businesses "fake it”
• Appealing to the five different genres of authenticity
• Charting how to be "true to self" and what you say you are
• Crafting and implementing business strategies for rendering authenticity

What does “manage customers’ perception of authenticity” mean? Is it the same as “be authentic?” And if not—isn’t it then inauthentic?

Is authenticity best “rendered” by “crafting and implementing business strategies?” Is authenticity-as-strategy the same as authenticity-as-values?

This is not just about a clash of values—the greedy vs. the needy. It’s deeper. It’s about two world-views of business.

One—the dominant ideology of the 19th and 20th centuries—says business is a Hobbesian place. The dominant relationship is competition—everyone against everyone, including you vs. your suppliers and your customers. The goal is to win, defined as sustainable competitive advantage, and measured by shareholder return on equity.

In this worldview, the role of relationships is as means to an end—winning.

In the other worldview, business is about interdependencies, linkages, networks. The dominant relationship is commercial collaboration. Those who prosper are those who play well with others.

By this worldview, relationships aren’t means to an end—relationships are the end. Successful businesses are the consequences, outcomes, byproducts of successful relationships.

The world is dragging us toward collaboration; but our belief systems are still rooted in competition.

The result shows in our language. We know the right words to say, but we can’t help sounding like Eddie Haskell, trying to fake sincerity.

After all, if your sole goal is to win, how can “relationships” possibly be sincere?

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