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Outsourcing Loyalty, and other Oxymorons

I am on vacation this week, and will be going back to the vault for some ‘oldies but goodies’ posts. I hope you enjoy them: I’ll be back in a week or so with new material.

Outsourcing loyalty. Think about the absurdity in that phrase.

Oh, we know what it means, all right. There are businesses whose specialty is executing frequent-customer programs. They handle strategy, research, program design, even fulfillment. It’s no different from any other outsourced business process.

But still. Think about the contortion of language implicit in combining those two words. Loyalty—that emotional quality that binds one person to another, to a clan, a country, or a set of ideals—can be mechanically crafted by a third party for hire. And we still call it loyalty.

Googling “outsource loyalty” turns up a few entries, like Ernex, which offers "a complete real-time points management solution for loyalty program or member-based loyalty databases." Cap Gemini, a major global IT firm, has a website that advertises its “loyalty factory.

Hey, why not? You can outsource confidants (they’re called shrinks). You can outsource sex (the oldest profession). You can outsource phone calls (“your call means a lot to us…please hang on the line”). Why not loyalty?

But in our rush to turn business functions into business processes, then modularize and outsource them, we occasionally overdo it. A major casualty is the faux language of relationships. “Loyalty” programs are but one example.

Another oxymoron is “human capital.” Note which word became the adjective, and which stayed the noun.

“Relationship capital,” its close cousin, goes it one better. It isn’t just people that are financially fungible. Ditto for the relationships between people. Long live love. If it pays, that is.

“Customer focus,” as a practical matter, is often oxymoronic. It amounts to “inspect, dissect and reject” so that you maximize customer profitability per unit of financial investment. Customer profitabilty to the seller, that is; not the customer’s own profitability. Vultures are focused in that sort of way. If you’re a customer, "customer focus" can feel like you’re in the crosshairs of somebody else’s scope.

How about you? Can you add to the list? Got any oxymorons about the human dimension in business? Share them here; enquiring minds want to know!

Markets, Relationships and Trust

Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational is one of several in the “Malcolm Gladwell” category of books.  Such books point out the counter-intuitive, and debunk the rational, linear, deductive explanations that we so often assign to social phenomena.

It’s an antidote to any professional (economists come to mind) who believe man is a rational, transacting, self-interest-maximizing calculator.

One of his most compelling points happens at the intersection of relationships and markets.  In his example, imagine a great Thanksgiving dinner at your mother in-law’s—all the fixin’s.  And then you offer to pay her, say $150, for the experience.  To your surprise, she feels insulted!

You are now persona non grata at your in-laws’.  As Ariely explains, you reacted to a social situation with a market response. 

What happens when social norms collide with market norms?  As Ariely says: “the social norm then goes away for a long time.”

Ariely channels Alfie Kohn, who 15 years ago in Punished by Rewards  pointed out the de-motivating effect of monetary rewards.  The intrinsic pleasure children took in games was destroyed when researchers paid the kids to play the same games. 

Extrinsic incentives work, said Kohn: they work to incent more extrinsic incentives.  But at the cost of destroying intrinsic motivation.

Ariely cites a day care center where parents occasionally came late to pick up their kids.  To reduce tardy pickups, a penalty was assessed.  Whereupon tardiness increased.  Parents were grateful for the “permission” to pay a fine rather than incur social guilt.

On the face of it, then, companies ought to use more social incentivizing.  Or should they? Companies built around devotion to shareholder value and metrics that devolve to financials are asking for trouble when they try to play an honest game of relationships. Then the social norms are gone, for a long time.

Markets do two great things: they tend to make things less costly or more efficient.  And, they require more transparency.

Take my blogpost of two days ago, A Case Study in Low Trust, about untrustworthy behavior in the financial planning sector.  The problem with industry associations like NAPFA is that, despite failing the public, they insist on concocting arguments to transparency.  Here’s a case where markets—in the sense of freely available information, and a reduction in personal relationships—is precisely what’s required.

Too many policy debates these days take place on the ideologically rigid dimensions. 

-in finance, “markets” vs. “relationship” is a useless debate; it depends
-in health care, it isn’t “markets” vs. “socialism;" it depends
-“government should be run like a business” vs. “government should be run for the people” is a red herring; it depends.

Where corruption exists we need markets and transparency.  Where children are educated, as Ariely suggests (and Gladwell and Kohn tend to agree), we need focus on relationships and intrinsic motivation. 

Trust is not automatically the province of either one–again, it depends.  Market-driven transparency  can increase our trust in financial planners.  More relationships can increase our trust of suppliers.  It depends.

How about your issue?  Is it better served by markets, or by relationships?
 

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.

The Trouble with Buying Processes

Big companies have a process for buying things. They define the specs, they shop the vendors, they use specialized purchasing departments to define procedures and processes.

They have similar processes for recruiting human capital (aka human beings). Define the specs, shop the vendors, use special processes.

And ditto for selling. Define targets, channels, measure hit rates, etc.

What these processes all have in common is a focus on the efficiency of the process—and not so much on the effectiveness of the result.

Purchasing managers, HR recruiters and sales managers alike would benefit from Malcolm Gladwell’s recent New Yorker piece title Most Likely to Succeed: How Do We Hire When We Can’t Tell Who’s Right for the Job?

Gladwell’s opening metaphor is about predicting the success of a college football quarterback in the pro game. Despite extraordinary efforts at analytical and statistical rigor—you just never quite seem to know.

His target subject is teaching—how difficult it is to predict the success of a teacher by focusing on any available statistical predictor.

Yet the value of getting it right is huge. Gladwell points to research that says a good teacher dwarfs the effect of any other factor on a child’s education. The US could overcome its middle-of-the-road global relative performance simply by substituting the bottom 6% of teachers for average teachers.

The problem is, you can’t predict success in teachers, anymore than you can in quarterbacks.

The solution, he says, is to stop focusing on accreditation and criteria. Instead, have the equivalent of apprenticeships, open admissions, tryouts open to all. The good ones prove themselves quickly, as do the bad ones. Find out who they are not by controlling input metrics, but by letting people jump into the water and seeing who can swim.

I suggest that the same problem exists in evaluating suppliers, recruits, and sales funnels. These are all deeply complex, human, messy relationship issues. Good customer, employee and supplier relationships make a huge difference.

But the prevailing business wisdom is that we can analyze and measure our way into defining the right relationships. Think of RFPs (requests for proposal) or recruiting specs.

The motivation behind select-by-spec and hire-by-numbers is complex. It’s part blind faith in “science.” It’s part fear-driven cover-your-butt desire to appear blameless. It’s part fear of interaction with other people.

But whatever, it’s hurting us. In the name of efficiency, many business processes have been employed to bring human relationships to a least common denominator level. The result has been low effectiveness.

Let people mix it up. Inefficiencies can be dwarfed by effectiveness. It’s as true in work as it is in the NFL and the classroom.

What Happens in the Global Financial Crisis Stays in the Globe

What’s the global financial crisis got to do with a fluff Hollywood summer date movie? A lot, it turns out.

In “What Happens in Vegas”  Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher separately go to Vegas on a whim, party hearty, and wake up together—to their mutual chagrin—married. Then they hit a slots jackpot.

Problem: how to split the money. They rapidly end up in court, where the judge sentences them to several months of—marriage. Cue the fights, which get nasty. But once they’ve had to get along together, they fall in love. Cue the violins.

Hold that thought. Flip the metaphor to Wall Street. From the Financial Times:

David Gergen, who heads the Center for Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School, said Monday’s vote marked a high-water mark of public distrust in US leadership.

His centre shows that, of the five least trusted institutions in the US, four were involved in the financial crisis – Congress, business, the presidency and the media. In 2005, 65 per cent of the US public said there was a crisis in the leadership, a figure that has now risen to 77 per cent.

“Over the last few years the trust between the public and the elites has completely collapsed,” said Mr Gergen. “The failure of the bail-out package is a direct result of this leadership vacuum – the failure of any of the players, not just President Bush, to explain to the public why this package was necessary.”

Trust is a multi-faceted thing (see Trust in Business, the Core Concepts). One of those things is the simple fact that trust can only exist in a relationship. Robinson Crusoe had no need of trust; and a competitive “relationship” is an oxymoron.

The business world—particularly the US, and particularly finance—has increasingly been defined by short time frames, expressed in transactions, with an absence of long term relationships, holistic perspectives, and commonality of interests, buoyed up by an increasingly tortured interpretation of Adam Smiths’ Invisible Hand.

Nobody was vested in the big picture. Nobody had an interest in the long term. Everybody was valuable to everyone else only insofar as they could be hustled and turned over to the next sucker before the music stopped.

Kind of like Ashton and Cameron in Vegas, whose lives also became petty, selfish and fear-based.

The dominant fact of today’s world is that we cannot afford any longer to pretend we live separately. The financial world is far more intertwined than the masters of the universe want to pretend. Worse, finance links to economics. We can still run, but we can no longer hide—from each other. Butterfly wings may not drive hurricanes, but the metaphor is actually understated in the business world.

Trust isn’t an outdated idea; it’s ever-more timely and critical. We cannot afford the childish self-infatuation that comes with ideologies of “competitive advantage,” wars-on-the-enemy-du jour metaphors, and the "courage of his conviction" of dumb-asses. While Southern California Republicans channel Ayn Rand and Democratic unionists re-fight the battles of the 60s in the US Congress, banks are failing in Europe.

And so on.

We all need to learn to play nicely in the sandbox, or we will all foul it together. Which of course is just what the judge (played by the deliciously-cast Dennis Miller) ordered Ashton and Cameron to do.

In the movies, it worked.

Where’s our real-world Dennis Miller? (Barney Frank’s trying hard to audition, but…).

We will not regain trust in our institutions, our selling, or our business relationships until we come to grips with the fact that we are flat-out stuck with each other. We all just need to get along. Because what happens on planet Earth stays on planet Earth.

Outsourcing Loyalty, and other Oxymorons

I am on vacation this week, and will be going back to the vault for some ‘oldies but goodies’ posts.  I hope you enjoy them: I’ll be back in a week or so with new material.

Outsourcing loyalty. Think about the absurdity in that phrase.

Oh, we know what it means, all right. There are businesses whose specialty is executing frequent-customer programs. They handle strategy, research, program design, even fulfillment. It’s no different from any other outsourced business process.

But still. Think about the contortion of language implicit in combining those two words. Loyalty—that emotional quality that binds one person to another, to a clan, a country, or a set of ideals—can be mechanically crafted by a third party for hire. And we still call it loyalty.

Googling “outsource loyalty” turns up a few entries, like Ernex, which offers "a complete real-time points management solution for loyalty program or member-based loyalty databases." Cap Gemini, a major global IT firm, has a website that advertises its “loyalty factory.

Hey, why not? You can outsource confidants (they’re called shrinks). You can outsource sex (the oldest profession). You can outsource phone calls (“your call means a lot to us…please hang on the line”). Why not loyalty?

But in our rush to turn business functions into business processes, then modularize and outsource them, we occasionally overdo it. A major casualty is the faux language of relationships. “Loyalty” programs are but one example.

Another oxymoron is “human capital.” Note which word became the adjective, and which stayed the noun.

“Relationship capital,” its close cousin, goes it one better. It isn’t just people that are financially fungible. Ditto for the relationships between people. Long live love. If it pays, that is.

“Customer focus,” as a practical matter, is often oxymoronic. It amounts to “inspect, dissect and reject” so that you maximize customer profitability per unit of financial investment. Customer profitabilty to the seller, that is; not the customer’s own profitability. Vultures are focused in that sort of way. If you’re a customer, "customer focus" can feel like you’re in the crosshairs of somebody else’s scope.

How about you? Can you add to the list? Got any oxymorons about the human dimension in business? Share them here; enquiring minds want to know!

 

 

Trust and Noah’s Bar Mitzvah

I’m asked frequently what organizations can do to increase their perceived trustworthiness in the market. Part of the answer is to increase trust within the organization itself; after all, why should a customer or supplier trust an organization whose employees don’t even trust each other?

Which is why it’s interesting to look at practices of high-trust organizations.

Which brings us to Noah G.

I was privileged to be a guest at Noah’s bar mitzvah this past weekend in San Francisco. It was a moving event for many reasons. And that’s part of the lesson.

Being “moved” is a bonding event, creating a shared experience. Shared significant experiences are a basis for understanding each other—if it’s significant for you, and I’ve been there too, then to that extent I “get” you.

The bar mitzvah—like other bonding experiences–enhances that sense of unity, cohesion and collaboration among a group.

The service refers to the group’s shared values—in this case, embodied in the Torah. Which is written and read in the identical language used about 3,500 years ago. The values are literally—physically—walked around the room for all to touch—again, literally and physically.

As an observer, for me the heart of the bar mitzvah service involved Noah being asked to describe the meaning of an ancient piece of text for today’s world. Think values-driven management. Think demanding that even 13-year-olds learn and share how time-tested values are applicable to today’s world.

The dimension of time, I think, is critical for trusting experiences. Without something common that bridges time, we have nothing but a sequence of transactions (a great number of “best practices” these days in business are focused on transactions without reference to a time-based relationship). Relationships by definition presume constancy over time.

In Noah’s case, the after- party featured a slide show of Noah in relationship over time—Noah with his brother, his parents, his cousins. And, strikingly, photos of Noah’s father at his own bar mitzvah—and Noah’s grandfather at his.

The service, being held on the Sabbath, contains the Kaddish—recognition of those who have passed on but are still part of the Relationship—specifically including those for whom no one any longer exists who can speak for them directly. (Does your company actively cultivate “alumni”—or do you force them to sign non-competes and “leave the building?”)

Did I mention the ceremony was moving? My own tradition is that of ‘God’s frozen people,’ as Garrison Keillor puts it. To hear parents speak openly in public of their love for their child feels shockingly, achingly personal to me—both as a child and as a parent.

I felt the same ages ago sitting in the choir loft next to my Irish Catholic girlfriend at her father’s funeral, as she played Danny Boy on the flute and the congregation wept openly with every note. Personal.  Real.  It has to be personally moving, because relationships are personal.

And paradoxically, that’s one of the most important parts of building trust in an organization. Trust may be encouraged institutionally, but it has to be built personally. If you’re not moved yourself, how can you expect others to be moved by you–to trust you?

Trust minus passion leaves only statistical probabilities; not the road to building a trusted organization.  We don’t trust organizations very much; we trust the people in them—or not. Organizations who would be trusted had better not fear to get real, to get personal.  Like the bar mitzvah.

 

From Financial Relationships to Financial Transactions, Losing Trust on the Way

The New York Times this Sunday has initiated an ambitious and comprehensive look at the financial crisis facing us. Gretchen Morgenson, a crack business writer, has not only her normal Sunday business page lead, but also the entire issue’s Main Section Front Page lead.

And rightly so. Count me among those who believe this is no ordinary recession; we’ll live to live again, but there has been huge financial misbehavior by all of us for a very long time; we’re going to have to pay the piper for some time to come.

Morgenson points out we doubled our mortgage debt in 7 years as a country; our savings rate—at 8% in 1968—is now 0.4%. And the biggest scorecard of all is the fall of the dollar, already precipitous, and likely to get worse.

One of the patterns that emerges is the conflict we have created in the world economy in the last two decades between efficiency and trust. It’s a major trust issue—one of social and political structure.

Here’s the idea.

The global financial system has gotten far more efficient by applying business process thinking “best practices.” Define processes so they can be outsourced to others, the thinking goes, who can then do those processes at a global level of scale, more cheaply.

That logic is what drives the outsourcing of payroll and benefits processing. It’s the same logic that drives mortgage lenders to sell loans to banks, and banks to package them to asset packagers.

It has in many ways worked: more capital became more available in more places to more people more quickly and at lower costs than had been the case 20 years ago.

Unfortunately, there was a side effectT—the substitution of short-term transactional fee income for longer term relational income sources (like interest).  And fee income has turned out to be the crack cocaine of the financial industry.

It isn’t just mortgages. It shows up in banks every time you get hit for $2 to withdraw $100 from an ATM not your own. It shows up in credit cards—in late fees and over-limit penalties, in huge rates for cash withdrawals. And of course if you refinance a mortgage, fees abound—enough to become the primary source of profitability for the refinancing institution.

Who cares about your damn loan when they can make money off of the act of taking out the loan, and more money out of selling it to someone else. Give ‘em a ten-year balloon loan at teaser rates. On Wall Street, the moral decline was captured with the phrase, “I’ll be gone, you’ll be gone—just do the deal.”  Gimme more crack—gimme the fee income, you can have the relationship and the loan.

So here’s the social trust issue.

One of the four Trust Principles (see my article “Trust: the Core Concepts” or my book Trust-based Selling) is the focus on relationships, not transactions; on the medium-to-long term, not just the short-term.

That idea is pretty simple and clear. Trust thrives in relationships, not in random encounters between strangers. Economic models that link entities—and people—allow trust to grow.

Economic models that structurally dissociate people—blind online bidding systems are an extreme case—are at best trust-neutral, and in many ways trust-destroying (in the case of blind online bidding, that is in fact the intent).

So we have a dilemma. The economics of outsourcing processes has indeed resulted in lower costs. It has also resulted in lower trust.

Can we have both? And if so, how?

I don’t have the full answer, of course. But I believe the answer is going to rely on two things:

  • The political will—in government and in business—to recognize that, in the long run and in the big picture, we are all inextricably linked, and we’d better behave as such. In other words, an ethos or common belief-set based not on competition, but on collaboration.
  • The insight that low cost alone does not drive value; that relationships, in fact, are the source of far greater value than the micro-process-here-now-self-aggrandizing instincts we have been propagating as “best practices.”

It ain’t going to be easy, though.

Mitigating Emotional Risk

Most service professionals share a distinguishing characteristic: they over-rate content mastery and under-rate personal connection. Professionals are less comfortable operating in the purely personal realm than they are in data-based, content-driven interactions. I have observed these patterns consistently throughout my career in professional services.

Nothing is more likely to cause an accountant, lawyer, actuary or consultant to break out sweating than the need to interact improvisationally one on one with a client without a clear agenda, in an area outside their zone of competence, with a potential sale on the line.

It feels, above all else, risky. Personally risky.

If you were to infer that professionals underrate personal skills because they are uncomfortable practicing them, I wouldn’t dissuade you. Here’s more evidence.

My online Trust Quotient self-assessment quiz has over 2500 entries so far. The quiz rates your own assessment of your credibility, reliability, intimacy, and self-orientation—the key components of the Trust Equation.

For professionals so far, the highest scores are for reliability; the lowest are for intimacy.

In other words: an under-rated and critical skill in professional services—the ability to form deep personal relationships—is, by participants’ own self-ratings, their area of greatest weakness.

In the seminar work I do with professionals, this is always evident. “Oh we couldn’t say that, that would be too direct. That might offend them. The client would be embarrassed if I did that. They might feel that’s unprofessional. I wouldn’t want them to think I was too emotional. That just isn’t done. That’s too risky.”

These people are professionals at mitigating risk—financial risk, professional risk, business process risk, sales risk, legal risk. Yet when it comes to mitigating emotional risk, they are often clueless.

There is no trust without risk. But pointing that out just makes professionals burrow even further into the hole of denial, claiming that their clients are robots who don’t really want their professionals to appear human.

What they need is a simple, formulaic tool for dealing with the perceived risk of increasing intimacy with other human beings. Hey, we could all use a little of that, right?

There is precisely such a tool, and I’m going to write about it in the next blog post. It’s called Name It and Claim It. It is a simple grammatical technique. It is a meta-tool, meaning it can be applied to whatever is causing you fear. It is easy to remember, and pretty easy to use.

There is no trust without risk. This tool mitigates emotional risk. Which means you can stop shutting down trust by no longer being excessively risk-averse.

Best of all, it works. Very well. Stay tuned for details, next post.

Software Programming and the Economics of Trust vs. Transactions

In a charming blogpost, Paul Duval says that developers should “Fire your best people and reward the lazy ones.”

As he explains, developer shops often consider “troubleshooters” to be among the best employees. They know where all the hard-coded quick fixes are, and they can spot them like lightning. Trouble is—those hard-coded fixes are impenetrable to other programmers.

Troubleshooters perpetuate impenetrable coding—because it’s faster, and perhaps because they are the beneficiaries of continued arcane language.
“Lazy” developers, by contrast, are those who can’t stand repetition. Every time they encounter a hard-coded arcane fix, they take the time to craft a generic solution that any future developer can understand.

One key fact: Duvals says that for every time a method is written, it’s read (and maintained) ten times—a 10:1 ratio. Suddenly, the “lazy” developer is the one reaping relationship-based economics for the employer; and it’s the “troubleshooter” who is perpetuating a repetitive, transaction-based high cost structure.

So it is that the world of software development is a microcosm of the broader world of business relationships—rewarding transactional behaviors in a non-transactional world.

We live in a world of incredible inter-dependence, connections, networks—and it’s moving ever-faster toward more, not less, of those connections. Yet we live by ideologies that focus on and reward transactions, not relationships.

• In software development, it’s a focus on how fast the problem can be solved—rather than on the systemic cost of solving the same problem over and over.

• In sales, it’s the dominance of linear “models” that begin with a lead and end with a close—rather than on lifetime and network-based models of business development in a sustained relationship environment.

• In investment banking, over the years it’s become about how to get the deal, rather than nurture the relationship.

• In commercial banking, it’s about transaction fees (e.g. overdraft charges), rather than about earnings based on assets under management.

• In mortgage banking and credit cards, it’s become about penalties charges (prepayment penalties and late penalties) rather than underlying economics.

• A major aspect of the subprime mortgage debacle has been the “transactionalization” of what used to be a relationship business. Mortgages have been on the ownership dimension—being sold repeatedly; on the risk dimension—stripping principle from interest; and on the time dimension—dealers in mortgage “products” increasingly get paid from transaction fees for moving on to the next step in the chain, rather than on the underlying interest paid.

• Private equity in its entirety is arguably an example of transactionalization of the corporation, though at the outset it introduced a needed jolt to stodgy bureaucracies. Of late, however, PE firms are increasingly finding earnings based on—you guessed it—transaction fees.

In all these arenas of business, we are seeing a structural challenge to trust. If you disrupt the relationship aspect of business in favor of approaches that are one-off, transactional, short-term in nature, you destroy the natural economics of trust.

Ironically, the long-term economics of trust far outweigh those of short-term transactionalism. But an ideology of get-in-get-out-fast has overwhelmed commonsense. The result is not only housing bubbles, but a paucity of social trust in business.