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Is Selling Too Hard? Maybe You’re Doing It Wrong

The Financial Trust PuzzleMost salespeople love athletic metaphors. For example, consider these well-known maxims:

  • No pain, no gain
  • The harder you try to hit the ball, the worse you do.

Note – these two platitudes express precisely opposing points of view. So – which is the right answer? Is it effort – or form? Is it grit – or ease?

Many sales pundits will tell you that an essential ingredient in selling—perhaps the essential ingredient—is effort. Gumption, grit, hustle, sweat—whatever the word, the image it conveys is that success in selling is tough. No pain, no gain.

This view posits selling as being like football: the team that exerts the most effort is the team that wins.

And there is a lot of truth in that viewpoint.

But consider another truth. Think about hitting a golf ball. As anyone who’s tried can attest, the quality of your golf shot is in inverse proportion to your effort. That pleasing “thwock” of a well-struck iron almost never comes from trying hard.

Instead, the “trick” in golf is not how hard you swing—it’s how smooth, relaxed, and “at ease” your swing is. If you’re swinging too hard, you’re almost certainly doing it wrong.

And there’s a lot of truth in that viewpoint as well.

But here’s the thing – most dichotomies like this are false. Selling isn’t only like football, or like golf. It’s both – in different ways. But that’s a different article. This article is about just one side—the golf side, if you will, where if you’re working too hard at selling – you’re doing it wrong.

Adam Smith, Competition, and Selling

Blame it on Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, if you will. The Scottish moral philosopher and economist famously claimed that by the self-oriented struggling of the butcher and the baker, the “invisible hand” of the market makes itself known by balancing out all for the greater good. Out of individual selfishness grows the maximum collective good.

While Smith has been unfairly characterized as arguing against regulation and in favor of unfettered free markets, there’s no question that his powerful formulation rhymes with competition—individuals seeking their own betterment. Perhaps ever since, business has been full of metaphors from war and sports. And nowhere are those metaphors more prevalent than in sales.

Take just one sport alone: pitch, curve ball, hitting cleanup, bottom of the ninth, pinch hit, get our signals lined up, strike out, bases loaded, don’t swing at the first pitch, home field advantage, double play, we’re on the scoreboard, leaving men on base, pop-up, foul ball, home run hitter, shut-out, and so on.

Here’s the thing about sports metaphors: they’re all about competition. Real Madrid vs. Barca. Yankees vs. Red Sox. All Blacks vs. Wallabies. Seller vs. competitor.

And—most of all—seller vs. buyer.

Selling without Competition

It’s hard for most people to even conceive of selling without that competitive aspect between buyer and seller. Isn’t the point to get the sale? Isn’t closing the end of the sales process? If a competitor got the job, wouldn’t that be a loss? And why would you spend time on a “prospect” if the odds looked too low for a sale?

When we think this way, we spend an awful lot of energy. It’s hard work—particularly because much of it is spent trying to persuade customers to do what we (sellers) want them to do. And getting other people to do what we want them to do is never easy (if you have a teenager and/or a spouse, you know this well).

There is another way. It consists in simply and basically changing the entire approach to selling.

The first approach is the traditional, competitive, zero-sum-thinking, buyer vs. seller—the age-old dance that to this day gives selling a faint (or not-so-faint) bad name. It is one-sided, seller-driven, and greedy.

Social media haven’t made this approach to selling go away—they have empowered it. Just look at your inbox, spam filters, LinkedIn requests, Instagram feeds, Twitter hustles, and pop-up ads on the Internet.

And boy do you have to work hard to sell that way.

The second approach is different. The fundamental distinction is that you’re working with the buyer, not against the buyer. Your interests are 100% aligned, not 63%. If you do business by relentlessly helping your customers do what’s right for them, selling gets remarkably easier.

You don’t have to think about what to share and what not to. You don’t have to control others. You don’t have to white-knuckle meetings and phone calls because there are no bad outcomes.

Selling this way works very well for one fundamental reason: all people (including buyers) want to deal with sellers they can trust—sellers who are honest, forthright, long-term driven, and customer-focused. All people (including buyers) prefer not to deal with sellers who are in it for themselves, and constantly in denial about it.

This is the golf part of selling: the part where if you lighten up, relax the muscles, let it flow, you end up with superior results. And there’s a whole lot of truth to that view. If you’re working too hard, you’re not doing it right.

Integrity: What’s Up With That?

Like trust, integrity is something we all talk about, meaning many different things, but always assuming that everyone else means just what we do.  That leads to some vagueness and confusion. But a careful examination of how we use the words in common language is useful.

Integrity and the Dictionary

Merriam Webster says it’s “the quality of being honest and fair,” and/or “the state of being complete or whole.”

If you’re into derivations of words (as I am), then it’s the second of these definitions that rings true. The root of “integrity” is Latin, integer.  That suggests the heart of the matter (integral), and an entirety. “Integer” also has the sense of a non-fractional number, i.e. whole, not fragmented, complete.

In manufacturing, we have the idea of “surface integrity,” the effect that a machined surface has on the performance of the product in question: integrity here means keeping a package of specified performance levels intact. Similarly, a high-integrity steel beam is one that will not break or otherwise become compromised within certain parameters of stress.

Related also to this theme of wholeness is the idea of transparency, of things being whole, complete, not hidden – in this sense, we have high integrity to the extent we appear the same way to all people. Think of the phrase “two-faced” as an example of someone without integrity. (For a somewhat different and nuanced take on this issue in cyberspace, see @danahboyd on Mark Zuckerberg and multiple online identities).

Sometimes when we say someone has integrity, we mean they act consistently, in accord with principles. We say someone has high integrity when they stick to their guns, even in the face of resistance or difficulty.

Which raises an interesting question: where’s the line between integrity and obstinacy? For that matter, can a politician who believes passionately in the art of compromise ever be considered to have high integrity?

Then there’s that other common use of integrity that has a moral overtone – honorable, honest, upright, virtuous, and decent. Some of it has to do with truth-telling; but some of it has to do with pursuing a moral code.

Yet that raises another interesting question: can a gang member or a mafioso be considered to have integrity? Can an Occupy person ever consider a Wall Streeter to have integrity? Or vice versa? There may be honor among thieves, but can there be integrity?

Integrity – Your Choice?

So which is it?  Does integrity mean you tell the truth? Does it mean you operate from values? Does it mean you always keep your word? Does it mean you live a moral life? Does it mean your life is an open book?

Let’s be clear: there is no “right” answer. Words like “integrity” mean whatever we choose to make them mean; there is no objective “meaning” that exists in a way that can be arbitrated.

But that makes it even more important that we be clear about what we do mean. It just helps in communication.

For my part, I’m going to use “integrity” mainly to mean whole, complete, transparent, evident-to-all, untainted, what-you-see-is-what-you-get.

For other common meanings of “integrity,” I’m going to stick with synonyms like credible or honest; or moral and upright; or consistent.

What do you mean when you think of integrity?

This post first appeared on TrustMatters.

Integrity: What’s Up With That?

 

Integrity, like trust, is something we all talk about, meaning many different things – but always assuming that everyone else means precisely the same that we do.  That leads to vagueness and confusion at best – and angered accusations at worst. Particularly in this time of elections, a careful examination of how we use the words in common language is useful.

Integrity and the Dictionary

Merriam Webster says it’s “the quality of being honest and fair,” and/or “the state of being complete or whole.”

If you’re into derivations of words (as I am), then it’s the second of these definitions that rings true. The root of “integrity” is Latin, integer.  That suggests the heart of the matter (integral), and an entirety. “Integer” also has the sense of a non-fractional number, i.e. whole, not fragmented, complete.

In manufacturing, we have the idea of “surface integrity,” the effect that a machined surface has on the performance of the product in question: integrity here means keeping a package of specified performance levels intact. Similarly, a high-integrity steel beam is one that will not break or otherwise become compromised within certain parameters of stress.

Related also to this theme of wholeness is the idea of transparency, of things being whole, complete, not hidden – in this sense, we have high integrity to the extent we appear the same way to all people. Think of the phrase “two-faced” as an example of someone without integrity. (For a somewhat different and nuanced take on this issue in cyberspace, see @danahboyd on Mark Zuckerberg and multiple online identities).

Sometimes when we say someone has integrity, we mean they act consistently, in accord with principles. We say someone has high integrity when they stick to their guns, even in the face of resistance or difficulty.

Which raises an interesting question: where’s the line between integrity and obstinacy? For that matter, can a politician who believes passionately in the art of compromise ever be considered to have high integrity?

Then there’s that other common use of integrity that has a moral overtone – honorable, honest, upright, virtuous, and decent. Some of it has to do with truth-telling; but some of it has to do with pursuing a moral code.

Yet that raises another interesting question: can a gang member or a mafioso be considered to have integrity? Can an Occupy person ever consider a Wall Streeter to have integrity? Or vice versa? There may be honor among thieves, but can there be integrity?

Integrity – Your Choice?

So which is it?  Does integrity mean you tell the truth? Does it mean you operate from values? Does it mean you always keep your word? Does it mean you live a moral life? Does it mean your life is an open book?

Let’s be clear: there is no “right” answer. Words like “integrity” mean whatever we choose to make them mean; there is no objective “meaning” that exists in a way that can be arbitrated.

But that makes it even more important that we be clear about what we do mean. It just helps in communication.

For my part, I’m going to use “integrity” mainly to mean whole, complete, transparent, evident-to-all, untainted, what-you-see-is-what-you-get.

For other common meanings of “integrity,” I’m going to stick with synonyms like credible or honest; or moral and upright; or consistent.

What do you mean when you think of integrity?

The VW Trust Sinkhole: It’s Worse Than You Think

copyright Nate Osborne 2013A. The Volkswagen Emissions Scandal.

Q. What do you get when you assign German engineering the task of developing a high-performance trust-and-ethics violation?

If you don’t know the basics of the VW emissions scandal, read up on it here. The basics: on the diesel engine models it sent to the EPA for US emissions testing, VW installed software to automatically  reduce emissions, then move back to high performance and high emissions after it was done being tested.

There are lots of issues this scandal raises; for example, the depressing fact that the majority of letters-to-the-editor in the Wall Street Journal regarding the its (excellent) coverage are complaints about the ineptitude of the EPA, rather than the venality of VW.

There are certainly interesting issues about the relative harm caused by this scandal vs. others.  Will more creatures be harmed by 40x stated emissions from 11 million cars than were harmed by the BP spill in the Gulf? Will VW’s 35% hit in the stock market be more expensive than damages caused by the systematic rigging of LIBOR rates? Will the hit to German engineering and branding exceed that to the oil industry of the Exxon Valdez?

Yeah yeah, maybe. But what I want to focus on is the scope and nature of the trust violation that Volkswagen engineered here – and to argue that it’s much worse most other violations, including the LIBOR scandal. Its only close competitor in venality is Enron.

The Scale of the Violation

In in industry that has a history of thumbing its nose at regulation and buying off (aka lobbying) regulatory efforts, this stands out. Software has long been available to tweak performance; but to have a company that aspired to being number one in the world to make it automated enough to install across millions of vehicles, designed specifically to intuit a regulatory testing environment, requires a level of coordination and group effort that goes way beyond an individual.

This was not a case of individual malfeasance with a few willing bad actors, like LIBOR or Bernie Madoff. This was not a case of a series of close calls that went wrong, a la BP or Barings. This, like Enron, was a coordinated case of several people in roles of leadership who clearly knew they were doing something illegal, and were doing it on a large scale.

Winterkorn himself can’t plead technical ignorance, a la Carly Fiorina; unlike her, he was not a marketing guy. In fact, before becoming CEO in 2007, he was the top executive in charge of “technical development,” encompassing engineering and innovation. Clean diesel was a strategic imperative, and something he knew a lot about. Ignorance won’t be easy for him to claim.

The Depth of the Venality

VW management had been denying there was a problem for going on three years. In 2014, VW insisted the disparities were due to technical issues, and renewed the claims as recently as early last month (August).

And that’s not all. Even after coming clean, VW pleaded with regulators to get its 2016 models certified, “claiming it had swelling inventories that it needed to get to showrooms.” Way to show contrition.

That’s not all either. Now-former-CEO Winterkorn finally did the right thing today, September 23, by resigning; why he did not do so immediately on September 18, can only be explained by a view that this scandal is only a PR problem, to be ‘managed’ like any other business issue. Way to show a commitment to ethical behavior.

And that’s not all. VW’s cheating directly contradicted its stated advertising, that “those old diesel realities [stinky, smoky, sluggish] no longer apply.” Way to shoot your strategic message in the foot.

In short: this involved a lot of people, doing a lot of complicated malfeasance, over an extended period of time, denying flatly what were doing, claiming that they were in favor of what they were actually harming, and demonstrating a callous disregard for national governments, their legal regulators, and their used-to-be-brand-loyal customers.

It’s like their famous ad of a few years ago, The Force: except how we find out that we were the kid, and VW management was controlling the engine all along.

 

This seems to me the leading candidate for Worst Trust Fiasco of the Century (so far). Any other nominations?

Lost Wallets, Trust, and Honesty

I lost my wallet.

Somewhere between a golf driving range and a supermarket, in a 30-minute period, it went missing. I turned things upside down, retraced my paths, left notes with wanting-to-be-helpful staff.

I monitored accounts for three days; no bank charges, no credit card hits, so I held off canceling the cards, calling the DMV etc. I shudder at the thought of replacing it all.

At dinner on day three, the sheriff’s department calls; I meet the officer at a gas station. All the cards are there, as well as the original $140 in cash intact. He says, “Good thing you left your number at the driving range, that made it easy to confirm it was you.”

I say, “I know you can’t take a reward, but how about the guy who turned it in?” The cop says, “That’s between you and him; here’s his name and phone number.”

I meet the good samaritan the next day – let’s call him Ishmael. Why did Ishmael do it? He gave the Kantian reason; “If it was me, I’d hope someone would turn it in.” I offer him $100 reward; he demurs; I insist; he graciously accepts.

But my big question: why did he wait three days? Had it laid unfound for so long? Was it a struggle with his own conscience?  Enquiring minds wanted to know.

His answer: “I didn’t feel right turning it in to the proprietor at the driving range; I guess I just didn’t know if I could trust him. I meant to call the police, but I worked late the next day, and wasn’t sure who to call at the police. But my girlfriend, she cleans houses; one of her clients is a cop. She asked him who to contact, and he said, ‘call this number.’ So she gave it to me, and I called, and now you have your wallet. I’m glad.”

Whom Can You Trust?

Clearly, Ishmael turned out to be highly trustworthy. But let’s note a few other trust decisions along the way.

Ishmael trusted a cop – note he didn’t trust ’the cops,’ but he did trust one cop. He trusted his girlfriend’s due diligence to find out which one. I wonder how Ishmael would answer an Edelman Trust Barometer survey asking if he trusted the police?

Ishmael didn’t trust the driving range proprietor. I initially didn’t either, though I met a second driving range employee on day two whom I trusted more.

The police didn’t have to trust anyone in this case. Their role was limited to being trustworthy – or not. In this case, they were. One cop gave a correct phone number; the other responded. He checked out the information, made the phone calls, and most obviously the wallet didn’t ‘disappear’ while in his custody. I would add he was pleasant, and also expressed the Kantian view when I apologized for keeping him waiting a bit – “Hey, no worries, I know how worried I’d be if it was my wallet.”

What about the bank? I trusted the bank’s systems in two ways. First, I trusted that any use of my debit or credit cards or withdrawal from my checking account would show up quickly, and I’d find out about it online.

But second, I ‘trusted’ that the bank wouldn’t trust me very far – at the first hint of a suspicious charge, or at my first suggestion of it, I knew the bank would drop the iron curtain on all my accounts. (US laws limit the liability of individuals in such cases, so banks will pull the trigger quickly on a false positive). So, I could afford to wait a bit.

And, I had some sort of trust in Ishmael – without even knowing who he was, or even that he existed. The clue was the lack of activity in my accounts. I figured either the wallet was still in my possession, or it had been stripped of cash by an addict and dumped (or, by a Kantian addict who had then put the cashless wallet in the mail – hey it used to happen that way in the 70s with cabdriver theft in NY).

Or, there was some Ishmael out there. But what was he waiting for? I confess I didn’t have an answer to that.

Past Lost Wallets

There is a pattern here.  Actually, two patterns. One is that clearly I have an issue with losing things. I’ve lost my wallet once before, in Copenhagen.  I’ve also managed to leave my MacBook Air computer on the plane – not just once, but twice.  The first was at O’Hare; the second, in Charlotte.

So yes, clearly I’ve got an issue with carelessness. But there are other things to note here as well, even though this is all anecdotal.

In the first wallet case, it was returned within the hour by a taxi driver. This was calmly and confidently predicted, both by my client and by the hotel; it’s the norm in Denmark, not even worth commenting on, they said. But you know, I’ve heard many stories about the same even in New York.

And in the airline cases, it all came down to individuals, taking personal responsibility far outside the system.

How Can We Trust Institutions?

The quick answer is, institutional trust is by its nature shallow. I can trust Chase bank’s systems (or not), but if I need something truly out of the ordinary, I’d better find a real person. Trust of the type that returns wallets is an individual thing – or, as the case of Denmark points out, a cultural thing.

It is a kind of misnomer to use the word ‘trust’ in the sense of ‘I trust an institution.’ But that doesn’t mean institutions have no role in trust. They have a huge role. The role is to establish an environment within which people can behave in trusting and trustworthy manners.

That is non-trivial. In fact, it’s vital. An organization that fosters bureaucracy, suspicion, and conformity is not going to attract, and certainly not sustain, trust-operating people.  By contrast, an organization that celebrates trusting and being trusted among its people will greatly influence the amount of trust that is created.

And our job, as we go about our daily lives, is to be open about when other people might surprise us – and, hopefully, to do the Kantian thing ourselves when the opportunity presents.

 

Integrity: What’s Up With That?

Can You Roll The Dice On IntegrityLike trust, integrity is something we all talk about, meaning many different things, but always assuming that everyone else means just what we do.  That leads to some vagueness and confusion. But a careful examination of how we use the words in common language is useful.

Integrity and the Dictionary

Merriam Webster says it’s “the quality of being honest and fair,” and/or “the state of being complete or whole.”

If you’re into derivations of words (as I am), then it’s the second of these definitions that rings true. The root of “integrity” is Latin, integer.  That suggests the heart of the matter (integral), and an entirety. “Integer” also has the sense of a non-fractional number, i.e. whole, not fragmented, complete.

In manufacturing, we have the idea of “surface integrity,” the effect that a machined surface has on the performance of the product in question: integrity here means keeping a package of specified performance levels intact. Similarly, a high-integrity steel beam is one that will not break or otherwise become compromised within certain parameters of stress.

Related also to this theme of wholeness is the idea of transparency, of things being whole, complete, not hidden – in this sense, we have high integrity to the extent we appear the same way to all people. Think of the phrase “two-faced” as an example of someone without integrity. (For a somewhat different and nuanced take on this issue in cyberspace, see @danahboyd on Mark Zuckerberg and multiple online identities).

Sometimes when we say someone has integrity, we mean they act consistently, in accord with principles. We say someone has high integrity when they stick to their guns, even in the face of resistance or difficulty.

Which raises an interesting question: where’s the line between integrity and obstinacy? For that matter, can a politician who believes passionately in the art of compromise ever be considered to have high integrity?

Then there’s that other common use of integrity that has a moral overtone – honorable, honest, upright, virtuous, and decent. Some of it has to do with truth-telling; but some of it has to do with pursuing a moral code.

Yet that raises another interesting question: can a gang member or a mafioso be considered to have integrity? Can an Occupy person ever consider a Wall Streeter to have integrity? Or vice versa? There may be honor among thieves, but can there be integrity?

Integrity – Your Choice?

So which is it?  Does integrity mean you tell the truth? Does it mean you operate from values? Does it mean you always keep your word? Does it mean you live a moral life? Does it mean your life is an open book?

Let’s be clear: there is no “right” answer. Words like “integrity” mean whatever we choose to make them mean; there is no objective “meaning” that exists in a way that can be arbitrated.

But that makes it even more important that we be clear about what we do mean. It just helps in communication.

For my part, I’m going to use “integrity” mainly to mean whole, complete, transparent, evident-to-all, untainted, what-you-see-is-what-you-get.

For other common meanings of “integrity,” I’m going to stick with synonyms like credible or honest; or moral and upright; or consistent.

What do you mean when you think of integrity?

Trust Inc.: Strategies for Building the Trust Asset – Chapter 1

Trust Inc coverThis is an abridged version of the opening chapter – “The Business Case for Trust” – of the just-published  Trust, Inc.: Strategies for Building Your Company’s Most Value Asset. 

The book is a collection of 30-plus articles by diverse authors on trust in business. Edited by Barbara Kimmel of Trust Across America, the book covers issues ranging from measuring trust, diagnosing its presence or absence, managing trust and increasing trustworthiness, to improving people, companies, industries and societies.

Barbara and I co-authored the opening chapter. Other authors in the book include names like Steven M.R. Covey Jr., Ken Blanchard, James Kouzes and Barry Posner, Peter Firestein (investor relations), Laura Rittenhouse (financial candor), Jim Gregory (branding), and Linda Locke (reputation). And more.

Have a taste of the book, below. And click through here to see a complete table of contents and authors list. Whatever your interest in business in trust, you’ll find something here the addresses it.

The Business Case for Trust

by Barbara Brooks Kimmel and Charles H. Green: from Chapter 1 of Trust, Inc.,publisher Next Decade, November 2013.

Trustworthiness — once exemplified by a simple firm handshake — is a business value that has suffered erosion. We see this in how the public has grown increasingly cynical about corporate behavior—with good reason.

The PR firm Edelman found in a recent “Trust Barometer” survey that trust, transparency, and honest business practices influence corporate reputation more than the quality of products and services or financial performance. And yet, scandals and bad behavior continue to pile up.

Our view is that a company seriously interested in its reputation must increasingly focus not just on “business performance” as it is traditionally understood, but on being seen as trustworthy too.

We believe there is an important, material business case for trust. This doesn’t mean that trust isn’t or shouldn’t be justified on moral or societal grounds. Of course it should. But trust makes for good business as well. This essay will put forth the business case for trust by exploring the gap between low- and high-trust organizations’ performance. We will also offer a framework for assessing corporate trustworthiness, and point the way toward strategies for creating a trust-enhancing business model.

First, let’s look at the costs of low trust.

How low trust affects stakeholder outcomes

Low Trust in Society

Business operates in a social context; because of that, low trust in society-at-large costs business. Indirect examples include the TSA airport security program ($5.3 billion, not to mention the impact on tens of millions of business travelers), and the criminal justice system ($167 billion in 2004). Both of these examples are funded by taxes on individuals and business.

Businesses also shoulder direct tangible losses from crime ($105 billion), where they are often the victims.

A more obvious social cost for business is the cost of regulation. Economist Clyde Wayne Crews releases an annual report entitled “The Ten Thousand Commandments” that tallies federal regulations and their costs. In 2010, the federal government spent $55.4 billion dollars funding federal agencies and enforcing existing regulation. In 2013, The Washington Post reported that “the federal government imposed an estimated $216 billion in regulatory costs on the economy (in 2012), nearly double its previous record.”

Doing business in a low-trust environment is costly. Whether or not you believe that companies can, or should directly impact social conditions, one thing is clear. In aggregate, business bears a lot of weight for the cost of low-trust in our society.

Low Trust in Business Practices

Social costs on business, however, are just the tip of the iceberg. Far bigger costs are exacted by simple business practices. Consider the
need for detailed financial audits. The Big 4 accounting firms’ aggregate global revenue is $110 billion5, of which about one quarter is made up of audits in the U.S.

Consider lawyers: there are over 1.2 million licensed attorneys in the United States, more per capita than in 28 of 29 countries (Greece being the 29th). The cost of the tort litigation system alone in the United States is over $250 billion—or 2% of GDP. It’s estimated that tort reform in health care alone could trim medical costs by 27 percent.

All these are examples of transaction costs: costs we incur to protect or gain (we hope) larger economies of scale, markets, or hierarchies. Transaction costs add no value to the economy per se; they just foster favorable market conditions so that other economic factors (e.g. markets, scale economies) can add value.

But there comes a point at which the addition of more non-value-adding transaction costs ceases to be positive and becomes burdensome. It’s clear to us today that we are well past this point. A Harvard Business Review article from 8 years ago (Collaboration Rules by Philip Evans and Bob Wolf, July 2005) suggests that nearly 50% of the U.S. non-governmental GDP was, as of 2005, comprised of transaction costs. Imagine the impact of redirecting even a small proportion of these monies to value-adding actions.

Their research goes on to say that, in such an economy, the most productive investments are often not those that increase scale or volume, but those that reduce transaction costs. And the most viable strategy for reducing massive transaction costs? Trust.

Low Trust and Employee Disengagement

Disengagement occurs when people put in just enough effort to avoid getting fired but don’t contribute their talent, creativity, energy or passion. In economic terms, they under-perform. Gallup’s research places 71 percent of U.S. workers as either not engaged or actively disengaged. The price tag of disengagement is $350 billion a year. That roughly approximates the annual combined revenue of Apple, General Motors and General Electric.

According to The Economist, 84 percent of senior leaders say disengaged employees are considered one of the biggest threats facing their business. However, only 12 percent of them reported doing anything about this problem.

What does disengagement have to do with trust? Everything. In a Deloitte LLP ethics and workplace survey, the top three reasons given for employees planning to seek a new job were:

  • A loss of trust in their employer based on decisions made during the Great Recession (48 percent);
  • A lack of transparency in leadership communication (46 percent); and
  • Being treated unfairly or unethically by employers over the last 18 to 24 months (40 percent).

A lack of trust in the employer is at the heart of each of these reasons. To the extent that plans to find a new job are a proxy for disengagement, the case is clear. Lack of trust drives away employees.

In discussing the survey, Deloitte LLP Board Chairman Sharon Allen notes:

Regardless of the economic environment, business leaders should be mindful of the significant impact that trust in the workplace and transparent communication can have on talent management and retention strategies. By establishing a values-based culture, organizations can cultivate the trust necessary to reduce turnover and mitigate unethical behavior.

The survey also provides some interesting data on the business case for organizational trust. When asked to rate the top two items most positively affected when an employee trusts his or her employer, employed U.S. adults made the following top rankings:

  • Morale (55%);
  • Team building and collaboration (39%);
  • Productivity and profitability (36%);
  • Ethical decision making (35%); and
  • Willingness to stay with the company (32%).

As Mary Gentile eloquently states later in this book, “Very often the most visible, most costly challenges to the public trust in business are fairly predictable: deceptive marketing practices; falsified earnings reporting; failure in safety compliance; lack of consistency in employee relations; and so on.”

In other words, the ability to manage the costs of low trust –whether arising from society, from business practices, or from management practices—is to a great extent within the control of the corporation. And yet, it is largely not being done—with sadly predictable results.

Continue reading:
How high trust improves stakeholder outcomes
A framework for assessing trustworthiness
Trustworthiness in Action

Expense Sheets and Cultures of Trust

Business travelers know the taxi expense fiddle. You ask the taxi driver for a receipt. He winks at you and gives you a blank form, implying you can fill it in later, and who’s to say how much that ride cost, wink-wink, nudge-nudge.

How honest are you about the number you write down? How honest do you think others are? Do you think it varies by occupation? By income level? By geography? Would a college professor from Ohio State be less, or more, honest than an associate at a New York private equity firm?

Does the typical response look different in Beijing than in New York? What about Paris? Or Buenos Aires?

What are the cultures of trust? And what drives them?

Chinese Receipts and American Rentals

In China, street vendors hawk fake receipts for sale, as if they were DVDs or watches or fast food.   An American instinctively thinks, “How corrupt!” And yes, it is.

The news is also rife with stories of massive graft in Chinese government, with mid-level officials buying Mercedes and expensive wines. We also hear horror stories emanating from China about food safety.

Clearly China has a problem with trust in government and business. We in the West can comfortably turn up our noses and tell ourselves that at least our trust issues are far more evolved.

Or are they? Consider the NY private equity partner and lawyer who engaged a broker to find a scarce rental in the Hamptons.  When the broker found them one, they brazenly approached the owner to cut out the middleman broker.

Consider the Big Company which, when charged with violating their self-advertised objectivity, independence and integrity came up with the novel defense that hey, nobody believes that crap anyway, so don’t hold us to it.

Leaving aside whether those kinds of violations are more “evolved,” they surely are different in kind. What are those differences?  What are the kinds?

Cultures of Trust

We often talk about trust in business as if it were a single, universal trait. It is not. Francis Fukuyama, in his seminal book Trust, wrote well about this. In China, the level of trust is very high within extended family relationships – but quite low outside it. The reasons are linked to China’s historical development.

By contrast, French society has a great deal of confidence in centralized, bureaucratic institutions, e.g. the Ecole Polytechnique, or wine labeling.  Trust in Japan is high within the island-bound nation/culture of Japan itself, but much lower when it comes to gaijin. In southern Italy and Eastern Europe, trust is often more tribal.  And so forth.

What is the culture of trust in the US, particularly in business? Given the nation’s short and melting-pot  based history, it’s not driven by a common culture or religion. Instead, there are two ideologies that play a particular role in determining the nature of trust in the US: freedom and capitalism.

The “brand” of the US has always pitched freedom as front and center, and not just religious freedom. For countless millions, it has meant freedom to make it economically, through the fruits of your own labor, if not for you then for your kids.

Closely linked to that is our view of capitalism. While of course there are nuances, the main view of business throughout our history has been a belief that the pursuit of individual good ends up benefiting society as a whole. Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand has been a welcome metaphor for US business over the years.

There are a whole lot of things to admire about that ideology; the US can point to its own economy as Exhibit A. But it does mean we look at trust in a  slightly different way than do Chinese, or Russians, or Chileans.

In particular, we look at it like rules in a game.

The rules of the game are clear, but they can change. We generally don’t like rules, but admit that some are necessary. We have referees to help interpret and enforce those rules. Occasionally, the refs get over-matched, and social change results (though usually not before some disaster makes it politically unavoidable).

The main rule is, stay within the rules. All else is fair game, until and unless the rules change.

That kind of ideology makes trust a little more conditional in the US than elsewhere. And there is good and bad in that as well. The good part is that Americans can move with the times, adjust, be flexible about issues of trust when the need arises. The rules of trust may change, but the game itself keeps its integrity.

The American trust problem arises, I think, when we stop treating business as a game. And we have. Etiquette is out. Simple agreements are so last-century – now they need hedging with counter-parties. And handshake deals? Last millennium.

The rules become exogenous to the game, seen as a hindrance, and only one rule survives– survival of the fittest. That’s where we’ve gotten to, and the results are ugly. The doctrine of competitive strategy says, at its heart, that relationships are a cruel myth – the only thing that matters is sustainable competitive advantage, over your customers, your employees, and everyone else.

We’ve marinated in that solitary stew long enough. In an increasingly inter-dependent world, the view of every-man-for-himself is a recipe for a circular firing squad.

A New Business Ideology?

Are things changing? Does Capitalism 2.0 require Adam Smith 2.0, or something even more radical? I’ll talk about that in an upcoming post.

Unconscious (Ethical) Incompetence: The Curious Case of SAC Capital Advisors

Should Have Seen That ComingNoel Burch is credited with formulating the Four Stages of Competence model. It describes the psychological states involved in a progression of competence, as in:

1. Unconscious Incompetence
2. Conscious Incompetence
3. Conscious Competence
4. Unconscious Competence

The model has always struck me as one of those so-obvious ideas (like spreadsheets) that the miracle is no one ever thought of it before. It just makes sense.

It is usually applied to the mastery of skills, expertise, or knowledge. It is equally interesting, however, to apply it to the concept of moral development in people and in organizations. Which brings us to the curious case of SAC Capital Advisors.

SAC Capital: The Contradiction

Last week, SAC Capital Advisors was indicted by a Federal Grand Jury in New York for insider trading. The firm pleaded not guilty, and of course nothing I say here should be construed as an opinion on the merits (and my legal credentials are zip-squat anyway).

In reporting on the story, New York Times financial reporter James B. Stewart highlights an interesting question:

According to SAC Capital Advisors, the wildly successful hedge fund now accused of systematic crime, the firm not only has “a strong culture of compliance” intended to “deter insider trading,” as the firm put it recently, but may also have one of the most rigorous and “cutting edge” hedge fund compliance programs in the country.
The firm said it spends “tens of millions of dollars,” on compliance, “deploys some of the most aggressive communications and trading surveillance in the hedge fund industry,” has hired big-name lawyers like Peter Nussbaum and Steven Kessler to oversee compliance, and has a staff of “no fewer than 38 full-time compliance personnel.
Which sets up the question: What were they doing?

What indeed.

Two Scenarios for Going Bad

Let me suggest a continuum of answers to that question, with the two extremes reflected in the following two purely hypothetical internal conversations at SAC following the indictment:

Version A: “Can you believe our bad luck? Just when everything was going so great, some flunky up and blows the whistle on the greatest inside deal since Teapot Dome. It was perfect! I guess it was too good to be true, something had to go wrong some day and we’d get found out.  Well, let’s fight the hell out of it and see what we can still walk away with.”

 

Version B: “Can you believe our bad luck? We take compliance seriously around here, nobody spends on compliance like we do, we’ve got the best systems in the business, the best programs, the best communications and the best lawyers to make sure we’re squeaky clean, and – a couple of lousy bad apples come in and ruin it. Not only for us, but for our clients as well. If they only knew the opportunities we pass up… For crying out loud, when is enough; blood from a stone. We are over-regulated to a T already, how much more compliant can you get?”

I don’t know about you, but I’d put money on the B end of the continuum. What looks like clear malfeasance from the outside all too often looks like business as nearly usual on the inside, with shrill grenades of  misunderstanding being lobbed in from the outside. Whether it’s SAC, Enron, WorldComm, or the generals in charge of preventing rape in the military, most frogs sitting in the water don’t notice the temperature rising to a boil.

Which raises the ethics conundrum – Scenario B is a form of Unconscious Ethical Incompetence. The doers of badness do not recognize that it is badness they are doing. Indeed, they often see it as goodness.

In the Four Stages model, unconscious incompetence is the first step in the process. That heightens the contradiction, because the evil-doers in such cases think they are actually at the opposite end of the scale – having already internalized the right behaviors so that they are unconsciously competent. Nothing could be more wrongheaded and insulting, they think, than to suggest they are actually at the bottom of the scale!

Hence the reaction – not guilt, or even remorse, but pained indignation. Moi?  Nous?  Surely you jest.

You Can’t Depersonalize Trust and Ethics

Cases of this sort highlight a vicious circle in managing for trust. Violations of trust are met with new processes or procedures for preventing it in future. Since so much of business is about processes and metrics, this is seen as a perfectly normal response.

However, by turning trust and ethical issues into issues of process, they are robbed of their context in a relationship, and therefore stripped of their human quality. The predictable result of this is to lower the internal standards of conscience and social behavior, which then leads to more violations. And on, and on.

This is the substitution of quantitative, transactional, impersonal focus for qualitative, relationship-based, human phenomena. Unless checked, it only gets worse. Financial services is only one of the most obvious industries in which this happens. You can see it in pharma, in many sales organizations, even in academia.

Unfortunately, most outside consultative solutions to institutional trust issues tend to focus primarily on traditional change management factors – incentives, structures, communications (or culture, which I tend to see as the result of all the other things). But those traditional change management factors, which work so well when introducing quality or customer focus initiatives, have limited range when it comes to issues of trust and ethics. In fact – they make it worse, by implicitly suggesting the issues are ones of incentives, structure and communication.

What is sorely needed is something that sounds too old-fashioned – personal role-modeling of character-based behavior by leaders. Personal actions at the most minute level – comments, reactions, shading of language, confidence of decisions, personal displays of integrity in the moment. These are the things that employees notice, absorb, and emulate.

Former SEC Chairman Harvey Pitt had done some consulting for SAC. He told reporter Stewart that he “Came away from his visit to the firm unimpressed. ‘My sense was that it was a check-the-box mentality, not a serious commitment,'” he said.

Whether he was right or wrong about SAC, the distinction is powerful. As Mr. Pitt also said, “When it comes to compliance, you have to live, eat, breathe and drink it. It has to be embedded in a firm’s DNA.”

And the route to the firm’s DNA (metaphorically) goes straight through that of the leaders (literally).

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.