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Operating Transparently

Transparency is one of the Four Trust Principles for creating trust-based organizations. The other three are other-focus, collaboration, and a medium-to-long term perspective (aka relationships over transactions). Here’s the business case for transparency.

The article Is Transparency Always the Best Policy? first appeared a few years ago in Harvardbusiness.org. The article is about Paul Levy, President and CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and the answer to the blog’s question, based on this sample of one, would appear to be a resounding ‘yes.’

In matters great and small, Levy has simply made it an operating practice to behave transparently. His great results may surprise many, but they make a great deal of common sense.

If you are transparent about your activities, you are saying you have nothing to hide. If you have nothing to hide, then people trust what you do.

If you are transparent about what you say, then you don’t risk saying one thing to one person and another to another. You don’t appear to be two-faced; you appear to have integrity—you say the same thing to all persons. (And, it’s a lot easier to remember what you said if there’s only one version).

If you are transparent about what you think, then people can observe your thinking, and see that you are not editing what you say. They feel you are available to them, that you are not segmenting them off.

If you are not transparent in your actions, your words, and your thoughts, then people wonder about your motives. Why are you doing what you’re doing?

What is it you really mean when you say something? And what are you really thinking when you’re thinking?

Suspicion about motives colors every aspect of trust—it affects your credibility, your perceived reliability, and the degree to which people confide in you. The antidote to a bad case of suspicion is transparency. It’s as true in the financial and regulatory world, in the world of negotiation, and in the world of accounting, as it is interpersonally.

So Why Aren’t We All Transparent?

With all the obvious advantages that transparency conveys—why aren’t we all more transparent more often?

There are a thousand answers, varying in particular, but with some common threads in general. At the root of it, I think, is fear.

Fear that others will take advantage of us. Fear that we will be misunderstood, or shamed. Fear that others will see the true inner “me” and thus steal the faux power we foolishly think we maintain by being opaque.

Transparency is both a result of lowered fear, and a cause of lowering fear. Sharing information with another encourages another to share with us. Disclosing information within a company—as Paul Levy did so frequently—begets teamwork and lowers suspicion.

The willingness to be transparent in negotiation helps the other party figure out what it is that you want—so the paradoxical result of taking a risk is that you increase the odds of getting what you want.

Transparency is an invitation to collaboration and connection. It lowers fear, it increases trust.

It feels like taking a risk, but it’s really risk-mitigation in disguise.

Operating transparently isn’t just a hospital procedure.

To Live Outside the Law You Must be Honest

Years ago, O best beloved, there lived a musician, both popular and influential. His name was Bob Dylan. Some of you may remember.

Dylan’s lyrics grace the lists of most popular lyrics of all time, including my favorite, “the ghost of electricity howls in the bones of her face…” from Visions of Johanna.

But some lines were more than just poetically evocative – they also hinted at serious truths. One such line was today’s title: “To live outside the law, you must be honest.” The lyric is from Absolutely Sweet Marie, from (IMHO) his greatest album, Blonde on Blonde, recorded in New York and Nashville in 1966. As with all Dylan songs, who knows what the artist meant, he’s not talking – but here’s what I take it to mean.

It’s easy to color within the lines. It’s easy to paint by numbers, fill in the check boxes, meet the specs and follow the regulations. In short, to follow the law. But when it comes to issues like trust and ethics, balancing social responsibility and profits, navigating between government demands and consumer demands – it’s not enough.

It’s tempting, taunting, tantalizing, to look to the law (or corporate guidelines, or regulations) for guidance when faced with a difficult issue in client relationships, customer satisfaction, or ethical issues. It’s also a copout.

Issues of ethics and trust demand a higher order of resolution. When faced with a client demanding to know the truth about some matter, how much truth do you share? The ‘law’ will clearly tell you what truths not to tell; and if you want to argue from omission, what truths are therefore not restrained. But your client – or your constituencies, or your legacy – isn’t going to be satisfied, in part because all you’re doing is citing ‘the law;’ you’re not taking any responsibility.

Being Honest, Being Principled

In this situation, I’m equating “be honest” with “be principled.” Principles apply to more than just honesty, but honesty will do fine as a stand-in for other principles. The point is – you’d better have something more than chapter and verse at hand to satisfy a demand for trust or fairness, whether from clients, employees or society at large. The statement “but it was legal” doesn’t cut any mustard in the higher courts of human interaction.

If you’re looking to be trusted, compliance is de minimis; by itself,  even inflammatory. “Sorry, that’s the law” is only slightly more satisfying than “Sorry, that’s our policy,” or, “Sorry, that’s not how we do things around here.”

Instead, you need principles – rooted in human nature and human relationships. Principles like service to others, or collaboration, or transparency, or don’t treat others as means to your ends. It’s principles like these that provide better guidance to tough decisions. (It’s also principles, that in the long run, must undergird the law itself for the law to be seen as legitimate.)

Your client wants to know what principles are driving you to be opaque and malleable about your pricing. Passat owners and VW dealers want to know what principles, if any, justify the slow drip of revelations about accountability. Apple shareholders and customers are very much vested in wanting to know the principles behind Tim Cook’s position on security – and the government makes its case best when it challenges Apple on principle grounds, e.g. arguing that the real motive is brand enhancement.

Living Outside the Law

To “live outside the law” doesn’t mean you’re a criminal – but in Dylan’s meaning, it does mean you’re an outlaw. You operate in part outside the narrow proscriptions of the law; you find affirmation by others of your actions by grounding them in broader principles.

That’s ultimately what makes others trust you. We live our daily lives by universal principles that others recognize as legitimate as well. We don’t trust people whose ‘ethics’ amount to rote checkbox compliance. We trust those who come from someplace deep, a place where connection to others and relationships with them are bedrock. People who feel their principles and are confident enough in them to re-compute them in every situation, as if for the first time.

If you’re going to live outside the law – and you should – you’d best be honest.

 

Riding the Shark: Vanquishing Fear in Selling, Part 4 of 4: Shark-proof Your Selling

Shark ProofingThis is the final post in a four-part series on Fear in Selling.  In the first part, I talked about the importance of dealing with fear in sales. In the second part, I wrote about the four types of fear.  In the third part I talked about fending off the sharks of fear. In this last part I talk about Shark-proofing your market – how to banish fear permanently.

The Sharks of Fear: Beyond Shark Repellent

There are Four Sharks of Fear:

1. Execution Fear. “I might mess up in doing this sale; I might not do it right.”
2. Competence Fear. “I might not know how to do this sale right; I may not even know I don’t know.”
3. Outcome Fear. “I might not get the deal at all – everything I wanted to happen won’t happen.”
4. Shame-based Fear. “They’re not going to like me or respect me anymore; and they’re probably right.”

While each can be dealt with tactically (see part 3), fear is a classic case where an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.  So – how do you conduct your selling life in ways that keep the Sharks of Fear permanently at bay?

It can be done.

Five Keys to Vanquishing the Sharks of Fear in Selling

First, let’s be clear where the solution does not lie. It is not in your sales process. You won’t find the key in sales management, and you won’t get there by tweaking your value proposition.

Instead, it consists of constantly applying five principles, or values, to every aspect of your selling life.  And here they are.

1. Always Sit on the Same Side of the Table. You are on the same team as your customer. Your interests are allied. There is no such thing as win-lose or lose-win, there is only win-win or part on friendly terms. You are not playing a zero-sum game, you are looking for a mutually beneficial relationship.

Don’t speak, write or think anything that posits you vs. your customer – your proper seat is on the same side of the table as your customer.

2. The Customer Gets Theirs First. The way to a successful partnership is not by insisting on 50-50 from the outset and at every step of the way. It comes from being gracious, putting the customer’s needs first, offering up some value, taking some risks, and listening before talking. The single best behavioral tool you can employ for this principle is – listen empathetically, long, and well. The result is that, when it’s your turn, you will be listened to in the same way.

Yes, a trust-based partnership has to work for both of you; but you get there by being willing to first focus on the customer’s needs, not your own.

3. Play the Long Game. The most powerful force in selling is the natural human tendency to return good for good, and bad for bad. Again – the most powerful force. Time, though of this way, is your friend, because time lets you develop relationships, not transactions. The more you develop relationships, the more your transactions will have context; and it’s a context of mutual courtesy, obligation and goodwill.

Don’t think of the sales process as a transaction, to be repeated. Think of it as a relationship, with ongoing interactions, but with a permanence all its own. And remember – the way you behave is the way you will be treated in turn. You empower what you fear; and you get back what you put out.

4. Keep No Secrets.  Transparency is to fear as a cross is to vampires. If you have no secrets, then there can be no surprises. If you don’t know something, say so. If you have information, share it. If you’re the best for the job, say so and say why. And if you’re not, say so as well – and that will be a lot more believable. Be the same person at all times to all people.

There are three exceptions, of course. Don’t give away trade secrets; don’t do anything illegal; and don’t hurt someone. Other than that, deal strictly in the Truth in all your affairs, and no one can or will fault you.  (And if you think giving away all your information will empower your competitors, think again – they can never replicate your relationships).

5. Lead With Your Chin. The thing that triggers trust, allows you to play the long game, and encourages collaborative reciprocal behavior is to be the one to take the first risk. Never mind what Ronald Reagan said – there is no trust without risk. If you want to create trust, you must lead with risk-taking.

Talk price early, not late. Admit your shortcomings up front. Give away samples – especially if you’re in an intangible services business. Have a point of view. Go out on a limb. Invest a little time, rather than checking your sales efficiency watch every minute. Dare to empathize.

 

That’s it. If you conduct your sales life by those principles, about 90% of customers will return your behavior in kind. The other 10%? Leave them to your competitors. Life is too short. And be assured, they won’t do as well as you and the 90% anyway.

Day 3 of 5: Trust-based Business Development in a Recession: Principle 2, Collaboration

Monday we announced a five-day blogpost on developing business in a recession based on each of the Four Trust Principles.

Trust is paradoxical; as is the best approach to recessionary times.

Yesterday we offered ideas based on Trust Principle 1, Client Focus. Today we highlight Principle 2, Collaboration.

If trust is important to business development generally, it is particularly important in a recession. Collaboration is one of the four Trust Principles because:

Collaboration with existing clients cuts business development costs—selling to existing clients is far less expensive than selling new business.

Collaboration with others—including even competitors—offers scale economies.

Collaboration allows reconfiguration—of markets, production, services.

Most importantly, collaboration is inherently about relationships—and not about competition. In a recession, that’s the message you want to send—now is the time to strengthen relationships. You’ll reap the benefits later.

How to do it? Here are 14 ideas to prime the pump. Please: add your own. Let’s collaborate on generating a great list.

1. If you’re a consultant of any type: write your next proposal seated next to your client. Bring all your backup records, rent a conference room, and collaboratively proceed to write a joint proposal. Rather than deal with issues after the proposal has been written and sent and it shows up as a disagreement in the final sales meeting—raise it in joint meeting.

2. If you’re a speaker or trainer, put together a speaking tour, or a combined webinar, of like-minded people–including those you used to think of as competitors. 

3. Does your company outsource key processes? Is the recession causing strains in the relationship? Have an offsite meeting with key leaders of each firm, with the agenda of “where can we collaborate more, and argue with each other less?”

4. Answer the question the customer asked you: not the one you wanted to answer. The customer is not your competitor–collaborate with the customer by talking straight.

5. If you’re a B2B manufacturing salesperson, call a key customer. Suggest the two firms sit down together offsite for a day and discuss “what could we do better together to make things cheaper, faster, or more profitable for both of us?” Be prepared to share your manufacturing process, costs, and profit margins, so you can figure it out together.

6. If you’re a professional services provider, sit down with your client and see which portion of your services could be performed more cost effectively by the client, or how your costs could be reduced. For example, if preliminary research needs to be done, ask if the client has someone who could do it, and get approval to rely on it, or use it as a base. If you charge for materials, let the client make the copies and produce the the books. When you travel for the client offer to use the client’s travel service if the client can get a better price on travel.

7. If you’re professional services firm with underemployed staff, offer to swap similarly underemployed staff with a client. Both will gain valuable perspective and experience without being taken off critical work. The employees involved will feel grateful and challenged. And the linkages between the firms will be strengthened. None of which would easily happen in good economic times.

8. If you’re in a business where sales are large and take time, then at the next sales presentation meeting, have a client individual co-present with you. And make a point of it, saying “working collaboratively with you is what we believe in, and it’s even more important in tough times like these.” Actions speak louder than words.

9. If you’re in a functional department of a large company (HR, legal, IT), identify 3-4 of the same departments in other large companies in your geographic area. Create a collaborative work group across the companies that meets (within bounds of legal agendas) to share best practices and work opportunities.  

10. Give your receivables clerk a budget to buy flowers or chocolates for the payables clerk at your most important customers for Valentine’s day (you’ve still got a few days).

11. If you’re in sales or customer relationship management, go find who, if anyone, is handling innovation for your firm. Ask them if they would like to collaborate on that innovation work with Customer A, Customer B and Customer C?

12. Ditto in reverse. Ask your key customer whether anyone is handling innovation in their firm—and if they would appreciate the chance to work with your innovation people.

13. Look over your professional services providers. Is there anyone with whom you can work a barter arrangement? (Remember to check with your accountant on the tax issues, even if you don’t want to be appointed by the President).

14. If you’re in sales, go talk to your customers’ salespeople.  Share best practices and success stories; also share horror stories about how each organization treats salespeople from other companies (including how theirs treat you). You will gain perspective and insight about your customer’s company, and they may even put in a good word for you with their company’s buyers.

There’s our list. How about you? In the spirit of collaboration, please add an idea of your own. We want to hear from you.