Posts

Who Are the Ultimate Trusted Advisors?

What profession do you think has the most ultimate trusted advisors per capita? Consultants? Doctors? Financial planners? I now know where my vote goes. PICU nurses.

A Child in Intensive Care

I spent the first ten days of 2011 coming from and going to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU). Our six-year old niece “Abigail” (not her real name) was critically ill (she is better now.) It was a once-in-a-lifetime scary 10 days for our family.

During this time I observed–and experienced–the PICU nurses as they did their jobs. Obviously, education, training and technical expertise is required to work in PICU. But what blew me away was the dedication, passion, commitment and ultimate customer service that everyone showed—to a person.

Their every action was executed with love and care. Each time they touched Abigail or did anything to adjust her equipment or medications, they told her what they were doing (though she was totally sedated): “Abigail, I’m going to suction you now, honey.” They showed the utmost respect for her as a patient and as a human being. It made me re-think what it means to be of service.

I emerged from this rough week with a fresh appreciation for what it means to be dedicated to clients and love what you do. I found myself wondering whether anything I had ever done could come even remotely close to what these PICU nurses do every day. I’m not trying to compare apples to oranges (e.g. I am an organizational performance consultant, not a nurse), but I think there are some apples-to-apples lessons to be learned here.

Applying PICU Lessons to Consultants

I live in Washington, DC, a town brimming with consultants. Just one search command reveals plenty of consulting firms claiming to be trusted advisors. But if you parse them using The Trust Equation–I wonder how many would match the kind of ratings these nurses get?

PICU nurses may be the ultimate trusted advisors. They are experienced, technically skilled and have a high degree of credibility. They have to be reliable; if they don’t show up on time to replenish a medicine the patient could die. In many ways they have to subvert their egos and have a low self-orientation to be of service to the patient.

In fact, could they do their jobs if they didn’t care? I concluded maybe they could execute the task-oriented aspects of their jobs without caring. But the love and care they put into their work, which drives the intimacy component in the Trust Equation, may be a critical part of the medicine and treatment for the most ill.

The Power of Care

Some studies show that the hormone Oxytocin (dubbed the “trust or bonding hormone”) is released with human touch and stimulates feelings of serenity, happiness and love, dampening fear and stress and nurturing trust and security. While our niece lay in a medically-induced coma for days, one of the nurses on the midnight shift took the time to carefully comb through Abigail’s long, tangled hair –and then put it into two braids.

When her mother awoke in the morning she was moved to tears to see that while she slept in the room in a rather uncomfortable chair, someone had shown her daughter the love and care that often only one’s mother can offer. How might this display of intimacy have contributed to Abigail’s healing process?

Lessons for Advisors

Abigail was hooked up to advanced machines and pumped full of life-saving medicine. She received world-class health care. But she also was cared for by perhaps the ultimate trusted advisors. We’ll never know the full power of the PICU antidote that brought Abigail back to full health but we might take a few lessons from them:

  • Know what your client needs and then deliver it
  • Communicate straightforwardly (never lie or sugar coat anything)
  • If necessary, under-promise and over-deliver
  • Allow yourself to bring humanity to what you do, knowing that this may be what makes the biggest difference
  • When you say you are going to do something, deliver on your word
  • Never, ever let your ego get in the way of doing your job.

What Costs More Than a $1,000 Per Hour Lawyer?

Beginning just three years ago, some large firm legal fees reached that amount – about $17/minute – providing fodder for legal bloggers, and Internet articles on a variety of topics, including new marketing opportunities and excessive fees for bankruptcy matters to name just a couple. Only senior lawyers in the largest firms actually charge that much, and that’s to large companies on non-commoditized work. What about the rest of us? What makes a service worth that much to us? On my daily walks with Sam, we have a lot of epiphanies. Here’s one we came up with just before a Nor’Easter looming on the horizon. And no, this isn’t a rant about lawyers and their fees.

This is about snowplowing. I can only talk about the Boston area. Here, snowplowing costs anywhere between $35-50 per 3 inches of snow per driveway (the rest of you can fill in your own numbers). The average time per driveway – 3-5 minutes.

Here’s what’s interesting to me. Why is a homeowner willing to pay about $10/minute to anyone with a snowplow, yet would complain about that rate for most other services. I applied the Trust Equation to this question.?

  • Credibility: We’d prefer they not wreck the lawn or dig up the driveway, but if they do, well, things happen. We do want them to actually clean up the snow though.
  • Reliability: Jackpot. We’re paying for them to show up. Fast, and often if needed. If they show up relatively on time, they’re worth it. If they don’t, they’re not. Simple as that.
  • Intimacy: No need to empathize with us or share. Just do what is a straightforward job.
  • Self-orientation: If they want to tell us how great they are, it’s fine–just do the job.

This is a transaction, so Intimacy and low Self-orientation just don’t matter. However, Reliability is so important that we’re willing to pay more per minute than just about any other service we get. Credibility is important only in that the job be done reasonably well.

This made us think–where else is Reliability and Credibility so important that we’re willing to pay extraordinarily high rates so we can get it? Here’s our very short list:

a. Ambulance services. This is way out of line on a per minute basis. We’re paying for the competency to be available when we need it. Imagine if the costs were less, and they were only available at certain times. We have to pay more so they’re ready when we need them.

b. Travel–last minute. When you have to get home fast, you’ll pay multiples of the regular cost. I was in Dallas, and was required to stay 4 hours later than my flight. My round trip was about $350. My return flight 8 hours later on the same day was $1800. I wasn’t happy but I was willing to pay it. While air travel is not incredibly reliable, it’s more reliable than alternatives to travel long distances. I knew I’d get home.

Conclusion? Time sensitive needs merit higher rates, particularly where there are limited resources (like snowplows during a storm, planes to a specific destination, ambulance services), knowing you can use the service and it’s reliable is worth whatever it costs up to a point. What that point is depends on our need at the time.

Accelerating Trust: Woo Woo before you Do Do (Part II)

Last week in Part I, I proposed a simple three-step approach to building trust quickly. I addressed the first two steps, which I suggested are the most important and least practiced (because they seem a little woo woo). Here’s the CliffsNotestm version:

1.     Mind your mindset. Take stock of the stories you’re carrying in your head—about trust-building, about the people you’re meeting with, about yourself. Be vigilant. Bust the myths.

2.     Set your intentions carefully. Be committed, not attached, to a specific outcome. Give people the psychic freedom to choose. Be someone around from whom they experience freedom, not pressure.

Today brings the next and last step:

3.     Prove you’re trustworthy. Take action. Show ‘em who you are, and who you aren’t. This is the step where the pragmatic, concrete, achievement-driven parts of us get to breathe a sigh of relief.

How do you prove it? Here’s a list, based on Chapter 22 of “The Trusted Advisor” which identifies the highest impact and fastest payback things you can do to build trust. I’ve organized it by the four variables of the Trust Equation and zero-ed in on actions that require moments, maybe hours, but certainly not days or months:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Credibility

·      Show you’ve done your homework

·      Take a point of view

·      Speak the truth, including ‘I don’t know’

·      Answer direct questions with direct answers

·      Express your passion for your subject

·      Combine your words with presence

Reliability

·      Make small promises and consistently follow through

·      Be on time

·      Use their terminology

·      Dress appropriately

Intimacy

·      Be willing to name the proverbial elephant in the room

·      Listen with empathy

·      Tell your client something you appreciate about him or her

·      Address your client by name

·      “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.” — (a quote from “Trust-Based Selling”)

Self-Orientation

·      Build a shared agenda

·      Practice ‘thinking out loud’ with your client

·      Give away ideas

·      Steer clear of “premature solutions” (courtesy of Neil Rackham, author of SPIN Selling)

·      Ask great questions, from a place of curiosity.

Remember that according to our research, trustworthiness requires good ‘scores’ on all four variables in the equation. Choose a combination of actions, based on your audience and your own strengths and weaknesses. And don’t forget Steps 1 and 2—the woo woo before you do do—because the choices you make and the impact you have in the realm of doing are directly tied to your mindsets and intentions.

Think trust takes time? Think again. Unlearning our old ways of being in relationships with others takes time. Trust—not so much.

How To Prove You’re Reliable

Trust takes time. It’s one of those things we say without examination. Turns out it’s largely a myth.

Credibility. Reliability. Intimacy. Self-orientation. These are the four factors in the Trust Equation. Of these, we usually say that only Reliability takes time. Reliability lives in the realm of action, and because of that, repeated, consistent, predictable actions over the passage of time are required to show reliability.

But even that, on closer examination, isn’t always true.

On a recent trip I had a chance to see that Reliability can be demonstrated in a moment or two and needn’t always take time to prove. It was a taxi driver (why is it always taxi drivers who teach us so much?) who brought this point home.

A colleague and I were in Washington delivering a workshop and staying at a hotel “just across the parking lot” from the corporate center where the training was being held. Unfortunately, it was pouring rain, the parking lot was several football fields across and there were half a dozen different buildings to choose from. We knocked on the window of a waiting cab and asked if the driver would take us such a short distance, got an affirmative yes, and jumped in. And given the address, he knew exactly which building was our destination.

During the few minutes it took to get to the other building, the driver had a (hands-free) cell conversation with someone who had clearly ridden with him often and was booking an airport trip for the following day. When we got out and offered to pay, he wouldn’t take any fare but gave us his business card instead and suggested that we call him for our return trips out of Washington.

When we walked in the door, it turned out we had to go to yet another nearby address; this time an employee gave us a lift. To top it off, getting home had gotten a little more complicated: one of us was going to the airport, another to Union Station, both at different times and we weren’t 100% sure just where we needed to be picked up.

But when we were ready to organize our trips home, of course we called this driver. He’d already demonstrated his reliability. How?

It didn’t hurt that we were predisposed to like thim when he volunteered to run us across the football fields. It proved he wasn’t hungry for money or trying to take advantage of a couple of people who would have paid plenty to stay dry.

We heard him talking to someone who was clearly a long-time client. Must be reliable if a frequent traveler from the Washington area counted on him to help her make her flights on time. A big "R" there.

Finally, the business card. It suggested that he was serious about his work and made it easy for us to find him when we were ready to go.

Indeed, he found us at the new building at the right time, took my colleague to the airport and made it back in plenty of time to pick me up and get me to my train. 

All of which reminded me: even Reliability doesn’t always take time.

Becoming trusted is less about logging more hours—and more about the quality of our relationships.

Are You as Credible as You Think? Probably Not.

There are lots of ways to build trust with others (four, by our count) and Credibility is a big one. In our Trust Quotient research, Credibility shows up as second only to Reliability as the most favored way to build trust. (‘Most favored’ doesn’t mean ‘most effective,’ but that’s another blog, another day.) 

This makes sense, given the emphasis that most business people naturally place on increasing trustworthiness by demonstrating credentials, experience, and know-how.

The risk is that we stop there or—even worse—spend too much time there. Picture the March of 1,000 Slides.

There’s more to Credibility than meets the eye.

Three Dimensions of Credibility

When thinking Credibility, we mostly think words, as in what you say and how you say it. That means that having information, perspectives, opinions, and recommendations are all important—especially for people in professional services whose very existence depends on high quality advice-giving.

But there’s more. Speaking the truth matters too. A lot. As does delivering your message in a way that makes it easy for others to understand and relate to.

Top Ten List of Ways to Build Credibility

Here’s a Top 10 list of tried-and-true Credibility builders, categorized by Credibility’s three main dimensions.

Feature your expertise and credentials:

1.    Be diligent about researching your customer;

2.    Know about industry trends and information, as well as business news;

3.    Write about your areas of expertise—articles, blogs, white papers;

4.    Host events that bring key stakeholders together.

Improve your delivery:

5.    Use metaphors and stories to illustrate your point;

6.    Practice your delivery so you are clear … and clearly relaxed;

7.    Combine your words with presence—a firm handshake, eye contact (when culturally appropriate), a confident air.

Demonstrate your truthfulness:

8.    Offer your point of view when you have one;

9.    Respond to direct questions with direct answers;

10.   Be willing to tell a hard truth when it’s the right thing to do—including “I don’t know.”

 And as a bonus:

11.   Never ever lie. (This includes tiny little white lies and lies by omission.)

This last category, truthfulness, gets at one of the paradoxes of trustworthiness: The thing we’re most afraid to say is often what will build the most trust.

By the way, our clients tell us the truth-telling part pretty much applies to all cultures. Even in Asian countries, where saving face is paramount, the Trusted Advisor’s dilemma is generally less about whether to tell the truth and more about how to deliver the truth in a respectful and culturally-appropriate way.  

Credibility-Building Can Happen Lightning Fast

This expanded view of Credibility is good news for anyone new to a profession or new to a relationship. This part of trust–building your Credibility–doesn’t have to take time; being refreshingly honest can build trust in an instant.

Most clients and customers are so used to spin they will immediately take note. So you can actually leave the PowerPoint deck back at the office (or bring it as a leave-behind) and focus on engaging in a genuine, transparent, and honest conversation. Heck, you might even build some Intimacy in the process.

Take Stock and Take Action

Feeling stuck in a particular relationship? Do a credibility check. Start with the honesty dimension—it’s the least comfortable and highest payback. Ask yourself what you’re thinking and not saying, or saying to some but not to all.

 Then do something about it. You’ll be glad you did.

An Easy Way to Increase Your Trust Quotient

ChainiStock_000002955050Small.jpgI was on the plane yesterday from New York to Seattle.  It’s a breakfast flight.  The menu has three options: French toast, omelette, or cereal with banana.

The woman next to me—healthy, casually but not inexpensively dressed, a bag full of intellectual reading material—I peg as a clear cereal-banana candidate. She does not disappoint.

When they bring her plate, it’s sugar-covered cereal—with two sample-sized boxes of raisins. No banana. Her disappointment is palpable, though not enough to make her rude.

“What happened to the banana?” she plaintively asked. The flight attendant shrugged her shoulders with that tilted-head fake smile, and said, “Sorry, that’s all they send, so that’s all we can give.”

I told her I felt her pain. “It’s not the banana per se,” she mused. “Though I do think they’re far better than raisins on cereal.  It’s just that they promised—it said so right on the menu, that I’d get a banana. And I didn’t.  If they’d said raisins, I’d still have chosen the cereal. But they promised bananas. And then didn’t deliver.”

The Trust Equation

Trust doesn’t just happen. It is the result of one party trusting, and the other being trustworthy. You can get better at trusting, and you can get better at being trustworthy. The second is less risky, and generally easier (though in the end you need to do both to increase trust).

So let’s talk trustworthiness: and let’s talk The Trust Equation.

You can break down trustworthiness into four components: Credibility, Reliability, Intimacy, and Self-orientation. I’ve talked elsewhere about the components—how they work, which is the most powerful, frequent, etc.

For this post, let’s just stick with which is easiest.

The Easiest Ways to Improve Your Trust Quotient

Improving credibility can take a long time; gaining credentials, earning degrees, publishing, getting references, learning presentations and speaking.

Lowering your self-orientation is a life’s work—it’s hugely powerful to be able to focus on others in times of stress, but easy? Not that one.

Intimacy can actually be gained quickly: for example, learning to comment on another’s evident feelings at a moment in time. But most people find that feels risky. So, easy? Well, maybe not.

Arguably the easiest trust equation component to improve is reliability. Say what you’re going to do—and then do it. Just do it.

If you print that you’ll serve bananas—then have them to serve. If you might ever have to say yes we have no bananas, then never say it in the first place. Nobody, but nobody, wants to hear your excuses for no bananas. We just want the bananas. You promised.

Low reliability is a form of lying; lying made worse because it’s a lie of action, not just of words.

The great news is, it’s not all that hard to fix. It doesn’t take years to develop a track record. No shrinks required. And it doesn’t require all that much in the way of emotional risk.

Just say what you’ll do, and do what you say. How hard can that be, eh?

 

Note: You can take your own Trust Quotient, or TQ, by going to the TrustQuotient page.  And, starting Friday, having hit 10,000 takers of the test, we’re adding a new feature.  The core trust quotient part of the assessment test will remain free, but we’re introducing a new Trust Styles option: there are 6 distinct trust styles, each with differing characteristics, strengths and weaknesses.  We’ll charge extra for that option.  Check back with us in a day or two to explore this exciting new option.
 

Trust in the Online Dating World

The realm of romance is a source of intriguing metaphors for trust. Do people really want reliability in a romantic partner? Or is a little unpredictability a good thing? Other than the obvious, what’s the difference between romantic relationships and business relationships?

And, today’s subject—how about truth-telling in the dating world? Do you want someone who tells it like it is? Or do you want them to pull their punches once in a while?

Truth in dating: is it a good thing?

Cut to the NY Times His 50 First Dates (or in her case, 3).

Looking For a Woman He Could Trust to Tell the Truth

Poor Ron James. He joined JDate the month he was divorced, and spent the next year and a half looking for Ms. Wonderful.  Along the way, he found the relationship of Online Dating and The Truth to be problematic. To begin with, a lot of people on JDate—explicitly aimed at Jewish singles, partly as a counter to intermarriage—weren’t Jewish at all. And of course, that was just the beginning.

Over that year and a half, he said, there were women he met who lied about their age, posted photos that were 10 years old, misrepresented their jobs and pretended to be more successful than they were. “A lot of the photos didn’t look like them,” he said. “I learned to watch out for sunglasses.”

Then he met Sheryl.

At Starbucks, Mr. James was struck by Ms. Daija’s looks. Her JDate photo was taken swimming, with no makeup.
“You look exactly like your picture,” he said.
“Is that a good or bad thing?” she asked.
“That’s a very good thing,” Mr. James said. The hour flew.

Cue the violins. They married this past January.

Is Trust in Romance a Good Thing?

I was once told by a Match.com date that I was the only 5’11” man she’d met who actually turned out to be 5’11”.  That was also a good thing.  But I met many women who lied about their age, and justified it because–"otherwise, they’d screen me out."  (Which I had kinda thought was the point of having screens.  And yes, I know, we men are pigs, etc.  And yes, we lie too.)

Is the truth generally a good thing? Do we want trust in romance? Or not?

As usual, the answer is, it depends. And the real question is—on what?

Think about these trust statements:

  • I trust that my partner will be faithful—and if not, I don’t want to know about it
  • I want my partner to tell me the truth–unless it’s hurtful
  • I want to depend on my partner—but not so much as to be boring
  • I want my partner to care about me—but not to be dependent on me.

Romantic relationships are one area where we demand both truth-telling of the most intimate nature—but also the ability to hold our tongue, keep a bit of a secret, to once in a while play the Jack Nicholson role (channeling “you can’t handle the truth!”).  In the trust quotient, it’s the low self-orientation factor.

That’s what Ron James seems to have concluded:

“Every day when I leave for work, she says, ‘Drive safely,’ ” Mr. James said. “It warms my heart.”
“Does it really?” Ms. Daija asked.
“That anyone cares,” Mr. James said.

It’s generally not a good thing to subordinate the truth to other values. But caring? Well, that may be the exception that proves the rule.