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The Business Case for Trust

Be honest. When you think of growth and profitability, is trust the first thing you think of? I doubt it.

The things that often come to mind when we talk about a successful practice are much more likely to sound likesustainable competitive advantage, hardball, you get what you negotiate, be number one or two in your market, first mover advantage, lowest cost producer, or share of wallet. But trust?

Usually we think of trust as an element that is nice to have, something associated with genteel behaviors which we can afford when things are going well but which have to take a back seat when push comes to shove. However, for those in the consultative professions or other complex intangible businesses—nothing could be farther from the truth.

What A True Trust Relationship Looks Like

A lot of what passes for trust isn’t. Trust isn’t high client satisfaction ratings—it isn’t even “client delight.” It’s not loyalty, as measured by retention rates. And it certainly isn’t being “client-focused,” because a great deal of client focus is done solely for the sake of such things as increasing the seller’s profitability and share of wallet.

Trust is personal, not institutional; it’s emotional, not just rational. Above all, it has to do with the firm’s intent. Is your intent to help the client, or is it to make money by helping the client? Your client knows the difference.

In one study of 2514 buyers by Bill Brooks and Tom Travesano (You’re Working Too Hard To Make The Sale, Irwin Professional Publishing, 1995), 94% of buyers who bought on the basis of needs said they would “certainly” consider buying from another provider.

And 91% of benefits-based buyers said they would “probably” do so. But in stark contrast, 99% of those who bought on the basis of wants said they would “absolutely not” consider buying elsewhere. That’s a dramatic difference – and it’s the kind of difference trust makes.

Howard Schwartz was the head of the financial services practice at a consulting firm, when he got a call from his counterpart at McKinsey. “One of our clients has urgent need of a project. We have tried twice and failed to deliver satisfactorily. This work has to get done – would you folks do it?”

Howard couldn’t believe it—a front door invitation to a McKinsey client. He took the job and his team did great work. But when he asked the client to consider doing more work with them, the client said “Thanks very much, great job, but we would never leave the firm that was big enough to bring you in. We know they’ll always do what’s right for us.” “And,” Howard said, “I couldn’t blame them a bit.”

The Economics Of Trust-Based Relationships

What happens when you get 99% declarations of absolute loyalty–when clients say they’ll “never” leave you on principle? The economics are massive.

A Harvard Business Review article (Collaboration Rules by Philip Evans and Bob Wolf , 2005) by BCG suggests that the US GDP is comprised of roughly 50% transaction costs and that the primary strategy for reducing those costs is trust. 50% of an entire economy is pretty big.

Now, on a micro-level, consider what happens when a client really trusts you. Your advice is taken; your insights are sought. Decision processes are fast-tracked. The costs of auditing, legal, and tracking disappear.

Your recommendations are taken at face value. The likelihood of RFPs is greatly reduced. You get asked in at earlier stages of issues. Disagreements are sorted out in furtherance of a long term good. Information is shared between professional and client, and points of view are welcomed rather than suspected.

The payables clerk gets your checks out on time, and you’re upgraded to preferred provider status so “on time” means what it says. Pricing is accepted as “fair.”

Finally, client loyalty based on trust is far higher and stronger than loyalty based merely on things like business processes or pricing. Mechanically, this raises the firm’s profitability through reduced sales costs and higher margins. But, more importantly, it makes the firm far more effective in helping its client.

The Client Benefits Of Trust

What about the benefits to the client? Economic benefits are even greater and come at three levels. First, the direct costs per transaction with a trusted provider are lower.

Second, when a provider understands client needs, that supplier is likely to make more appropriate suggestions, to better anticipate emerging needs and to make better recommendations. Those benefits are indirect, but probably outweigh first level benefits.

The highest client payoff of all comes from the ability to trust immediately and completely the advice of a talented outside expert without spending any time or resources on tweaking, critiquing, hedging checking, auditing or second-guessing. At this level, professionals are as dependable as our most-valuable employees, yet with the added benefits of expertise and objectivity that come from being an outsider.

With that confidence in the pocket, a firm can afford to fast-track processes, make far faster decisions, and take bold actions without fear. The benefits go past mere cost reduction, and instead towards achieving significant revenue and strategic enhancements.

The business case for trust ultimately rests far more on effectiveness than on efficiency. A trust-based client relationship enables far more effectiveness in the marketplace for both parties than do conventional relationships built on negotiations, contracts, and other indicators of arms-length treatment built on self-interest alone.

The Economic Paradox

It’s tempting to ask, “If all that’s true, why isn’t everyone doing it?” The answer is, because most of us have a really difficult time being trustworthy.

If a client trusts their provider in the way described above, the provider will be highly profitable and high-growth. But, if the firm sets out to be highly profitable and high-growth by means of being trusted, it will not work. Intentions matter and intentions are critical to being trusted.

The only way to be trusted in the way I’m speaking of is to be worthy of trust—to be trustworthy. The critical element to being trustworthy is to have the client’s best interests at heart all the time. And that goes to intent.

To intend to place the client’s interests first raises some radical implications. For example:

  • The purpose of a sales call is not to get the sale, but instead to help the client;
  • Your focus should be on work that needs doing, not on work that you can do;
  • Your ultimate strategic goals should be client service, not competitive advantage;
  • You should share, not hide, your economics with your client, because transparency fosters trust;
  • You should write your proposals sitting next to your client.

The paradox is: If you are willing to let go of your own short-term, self-oriented goals, you will achieve those goals. Your influence is greatest when you’re not trying to influence. Your profit is highest when your goal is not profitability by client service.

Barriers To Trust

Can it be done? Absolutely. Many successful individual professionals know the lessons of trust very well. But at the firm level, we have been seduced by the “reigning belief systems” of business: in particular, the ideas that business is about competition, and that ever-further refinement of measurements, particularly around client relationships, helps the economics.

Just because you can run division-level client profitability studies every week doesn’t mean you should do it. Just because you can calculate client share of wallet and hit rate on sales opportunities doesn’t mean you should focus on it. Those efforts turn clients into objects, means to our own ends.

Too many firms are focused too much on short-term measures and competitive definitions of success. We need to remember that the best short-term performance comes from executing on a long-term plan or set of principles.

Trust is the goal. The powerful economics of trust are merely a byproduct.

This post first appeared on RainToday.com

Willful, Wishful Blindness: Trust and the Real Learning from the BBC Crisis

The UK press is screaming ‘blue murder’ about the recent turn of events in the BBC:

  • ‘How to restore trust in the BBC’
  • ‘You don’t trust us – and maybe you never will’
  • ‘Trust lost, hard to regain!’

A crisis for the BBC? Certainly. But a “complete loss of trust” is a wild exaggeration. Still, there is one troubling problem at the heart of things, and the BBC must get at it: a willful and wishful discomfort with facing truth.  Vital for any organization, truth-facing is especially so for a news outfit.

The Apparent Problem

The problem in recent weeks has been in one part of the vast BBC operation – its flagship current affairs programme, ‘Newsnight’. There has been real incompetence and mismanagement, and people are rightly angry and critical. But this is an organisation that has real pedigree and a brand that is deeply respected and trusted the world over for the quality and integrity of its daily product.

Deeply held trust, reinforced over many years, simply does not disappear in one moment with one incident.  The BBC will take the steps to right the ship around ‘Newsnight’ and move on.

To recap quickly:

It turns out that one of the BBC’s leading (and well loved, but now dead) entertainers in the last quarter of the 20th century, Sir (!) Jimmy Savile, was for many years a serial and horrific abuser of many young and vulnerable people who came under his influence. It was extensive. It went on a long time. He was never stopped.

Then, ‘Newsnight’ did a poor job of investigating and communicating about the Savile case.  Compounding the error, ‘Newsnight’ wrongly accused a senior politician of serious sexual abuse in another situation. The newly appointed Director General of the BBC – George Entwhistle – resigned after just a few months in the job. Indignation, blue murder – loss of trust! – pour forth through all the media channels.

Here’s what caused the hullaballoo:

  •  Sheer incompetence – “ Newsnight’s journalism would have disgraced a student newspaper,” wrote one commenter
  • Over-bureaucratic, over-layered management, with diffuse accountability
  • Poor crisis management
  • A public primed to be cynical because of other recent scandals (not just NewsCorp)
  • A tone-deaf full year ‘pay-off’ of £495k to the resigning DG who had only been in the job for a few months
  • Hugely toxic ‘hatred’ of the BBC in some political and media circles that is easily stirred and spoiling for any fight
  • A shift in the dynamics of trust regarding media output. Restraint, rigour, caution, consideration of consequences – these apparently no longer engender trust. With the impact of the social media, trust today means sharing everything you know; transparency replaces judgment.

If that’s all there were, this would be just another scandal, albeit very public. But there is another, deeper level of concern.

Willful, Wishful Denial

What is much less certain is whether the BBC can change a culture that was willfully – perhaps wishfully? – blind to the horrible sexual abuse that took place around some of its programmes for young people. In one of the hospitals where Savile got away with all this, one interlocutor has recently said, ‘ We did wonder whether something was going wrong. But Savile simply pulled in too many funds for anyone to want to do something about it.’

This is a culture that suborns, induces, and nurtures moral blindness.

Margaret Heffernan talks about this in her recent book Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril’ (Walker and Company, 2011). She says:

We are all susceptible to willful blindness, ignoring truths about ourselves, each other and the way we live, that threaten our sense of identity and security…We all succumb to the human tendency to prefer people like ourselves, to readily accept information that confirms our sense of ourselves, and discredit data that doesn’t fit our dominant ideologies. And when people are tired, busy and distracted, it’s clear that the mind falls back on stereotypes and received wisdom.

Think News Corporation, Enron, Lehman Brothers (‘The CEO, Richard Fuld, organised his life to ensure that he never encountered employees unexpectedly’), Bear Stearns (‘The CEO chose not to implement a form of risk analysis that might have revealed how much debt the bank actually carried’) and the Catholic Church (‘When first confronted with the fact of child-abusing priests, the Church chose first of all to take out insurance’).

Heffernan argues that the root cause of our willful blindness is our human instinct to obey authority. ‘Research into conformity shows that most of us would rather give a wrong answer than jeopardise belonging to a group.’

It’s the Culture, Stupid

This is where the really fundamental work lies for the BBC – reshaping a culture that is less prone to willful blindness, and more driven by its values of independence and integrity. This kind of work is not easy.  So perhaps some of Heffernan’s prescriptions might come in handy along the way:

  • Become more aware of our biases
  • Overturn corporate cultures that reward long working hours
  • Actively seek out dissenters in our circle of friends and colleagues
  • Ensure that the powerful surround themselves with independent thinkers and critical allies who have the freedom and moral courage to tell them the truth
  • Re-examine the role of obedience and compliance
  • Teach critical thinking.

This is not the stuff of MBA programs. These are not issues to be solved by technocrats, or lawyers, or business process experts. They are the simple stuff of creating an ethics-friendly culture. Simple, of course, doesn’t mean easy.  But it is – let’s not forget – still simple. Seek the right thing, talk about it, and walk the talk.

An Unconventional Client Retention Strategy

Most people usually don’t think of empathy as having much business value. In fact, you might think if you start empathizing with your clients, you’ll lose your edge; you’ll appear “soft;” you’ll lose business. Here’s a compelling story* about a global firm that turned that conventional wisdom on its ear and transformed a big loss into a big win.

The News No One Wants to Hear

Once upon a time, a Midwestern U.S. office of a global accounting firm was informed by one of its major clients that the audit work they usually did would be going out to bid. The partners were shocked. “We hadn’t seen it coming,” one partner said, “and they were very clear that this was final.” As a nicety, the client gave them the opportunity to bid.

They brainstormed about why the client could possibly be unhappy with them. What had they done to get the boot? What might have been said at the meeting that resulted in this decision?

Once they had a pretty good idea what the issues could have been, they did something dramatic.

Sometimes Not Risking is Very Risky

Instead of using their 90-minute time slot to do a conventional presentation, four of their partners acted out a skit for the four client executives. They role-played those very execs having that decisive meeting.

They said things like, “Well, those audit folks just haven’t showed us that they have what it takes.” “That’s right, they haven’t been proactive enough.” They humbly and genuinely gave voice to the critical thoughts they imagined the client was thinking.

Unexpected Returns

“We were prepared to get yanked out of there in two minutes,” one partner said. “And, in fact, after five minutes, we stopped and asked them if they wanted us to stop. But they were fascinated; they asked us to keep going. And we did, for nearly an hour. We just kept talking—as if we were the client—about the things that we had done wrong and should have done better. And the client listened.”

Here’s the extraordinary ending to the story: the client rescinded their decision to put the work out to bid, and the firm got the job back. Why? Because they had been able to prove they understood their client’s concerns—in an honest and effective demonstration of empathy. They showed they had finally been listening. As a result, they won the right to try again.

The Business Value of Empathy

Seeing things from the clients’ perspective requires more than just taking good notes, muttering “I understand” from time to time, or periodically pausing to summarize the content of their communications. It means taking the time to tune into the tone, mood, and emotion—the music—as well as the words. It means reflecting it all back accurately and frequently. It means differentiating yourself by not just being the smart ones, but the ones who really get it—not just during the tough times, but all the time.

Bring empathy to the table from the get-go and your chances of getting a nasty unexpected surprise diminish greatly. Pull out all the empathy stops when things go awry and you dramatically improve the odds that you at least salvage the relationship, if not the contract.

Add empathy to your business toolbox and see what it does to help you gain and retain clients for the long haul.

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*This and other compelling stories can be found in The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook: A Comprehensive Toolkit for Leading with Trust

Responding to RFPs – Joint Blogpost with Babette Ten Haken

[This jointly-written blogpost appears also on Babette Ten Haken’s blog, Sales Aerobics for Engineers]

Many Requests for Proposal (RFPs) are well written, and play an important role in the intelligent procurement processes of well-run companies. We both know that to be true, yet sometimes we have to wonder: Why is it that we see so many of the other kind? Is it lack of knowledge on the part of the RFP writer? An inability to alter processes that might have worked in the past?

You know the kind we’re talking about: RFP’s that are written to avoid talking to salespeople, that assume the only relevant variable is price, that are motivated by a fear that salespeople will gang up and collude against the buyer if it becomes known there’s a purchase afoot.  These types of RFPs are written from a defensive position, rather than as a confident and aggressive approach to creating mutually beneficial business relationships and outcomes.

We’ve both written about RFPs before (Charlie in Open Letter to Clients: Why You Should Drop RFPs; Babette in Do You Mean Business?  In this post we want to address how to respond to such RFPs.

Remember: There are good reasons for creating as well as responding to RFPs. Any hurt feelings you might have are irrelevant to your proper reaction. Strive for an objective, reasonable tone, devoid of blaming. That will help the central point you want to make.

A Sample Response

You might consider something like this as a starting draft:

Dear ___ :

I hope this finds you well, etc.

I wasn’t sure how to respond to your RFP regarding objectives, agenda and costs. Here’s why:

• In our initial call, I shared with you a list of objectives that past clients achieved through us.  I was trying to help you defineyour own objectives, rather than presume to tell you what your objective should be.

• We also discussed several alternative program designs, to help you craft your own agenda, rather than us simply proposing one for you.

Basically, I was trying to collaborate on a customized design rather than to sell a standardized product.

What I read into your RFP is that you’d prefer not to engage in a design discussion, but rather go straight to bid.  There is of course nothing wrong with that, and it’s completely your decision.  At the same time, I find that usually means one of two things:

1.     The customer really isn’t interested in customizing, preferring a standardized product; or

2.     The vendor decision has been pretty much made (and we’re not it).

Again, there’s nothing wrong with either one of those. But in either case, it’s hard on our end to justify investing the extra time. We have a mild preference for customized products; more importantly, we fear misunderstandings from purchases based on incomplete understandings.

Please don’t hear anything critical or complaining about this; nobody’s wrong, no feelings are hurt.  I just want to be clear and not leave conversations uncomfortable or unfinished.  I hope I’m not offending by being very candid and direct in this email; my intent is to make it OK for us to be truthful with each other.

Best wishes….

That was a real-life letter, by the way.

If you’re thinking, “that sounds way too direct,” ask yourself how many sales hours you spend requesting people to allow you to respond to one of these cattle-call documents, vs. the time you spend with prospective customers? Because that’s the price you’re paying for an inability to directly confront the issue.

Your goal is to reduce your responses to RFPs whose sole goal is price. That means you need to rethink your customer acquisition strategy too.

Understand whether your relationship with your customer merits strong consideration, or whether you feel you’ve already been placed in the “also-ran” category. If you believe your thought leadership and industry, product or platform expertise is genuinely of value to them, then this is why you give yourself permission to reply directly. Respond from a position of  confidence and knowledge.

What if It Doesn’t Work?

If you are right, they will see it your way and ask you to talk further. If they don’t ask you to talk further, it is because:

a.     It was price-driven anyway, in which case you just saved a lot of time, or

b.     You were wrong, and they actually don’t care about your expertise, in which case you saved a lot of time (and got something to think about), or

c.     You offended them.

If you’re concerned about the last possibility, then we urge you to write a better letter, because you’re still preparing to waste a lot of time.

Meantime, you might want to know the actual response to the real letter above:

LOL! The next steps are in our court.  We need to really look at the links you sent us and come up with a draft of what we would like to see and then get back to you.  I will certainly email/call you if we have any questions along the way. You are still very much in the running.

Was that a worthwhile letter? When was the last time you could have written such a letter? What will you do when the opportunity next presents itself?

 

Find the Fear and Swim Upstream to Trust

Fear is the root negative human emotion. Scratch the surface of other negative feelings, and you will find fear at the core.

Fear Drives Behavior

If you accept this description of fear, it means you can roadmap people’s emotions. It also means you can diagnose your own.

Fear is the main driver of dysfunctional human behavior. When you see people being passive aggressive, secretive, avoiding, combative, resentful, backstabbing, gossiping, or otherwise misbehaving, teach yourself to ask, “What are they afraid of?” This drives good consulting and coaching.

Fear is a major driver of organization behavior. A culture that uses negative norms (think “that’s a career limiting move”) to enforce compliance is an organization that is fear-based. Learn to notice negative norms, so you can  envision alternatives.

Fear motivates much buying behavior. B2B marketers are taught to “find the pain point.” B2C marketers know the desire to join the in crowd is trumped by the fear of being in the out crowd; “you smell” out-shouts “you can smell nice.”

Fear plays a huge role in politics, as the daily papers demonstrate daily.

In all these cases, fear is the enemy of trust. And trust is the antidote to fear.

Trust Drives Relationship

At root, fear is the fear of a bad relationship—an Other who will hurt us. The effect is to keep us out of relationship.

Trust is the hope of a good relationship. It inclines us to seek relationship with an Other, so that we can gain the benefits of relationship.

You create self-trust by facing and overcoming your own fears. You create trust with Others by trusting them – by being the one willing to first face the fear.

You create interpersonal trust by taking a risk, encouraging the Other to reciprocate. You create organizational trust by creating an environment that encourages emotional risk-taking, dissipating fear.

Trust in politics comes from uniting, not from dividing. Trust in government comes more from principled policies and sharp enforcement than from finely detailed procedures, prohibitions and protocols.

Trust in a culture comes about by ten thousand daily acts of etiquette, courtesy, and generosity, each taken with no calculated return on investment aforethought – and each returned in the same spirit.

Trust in all these relationships rests on an ability to directly confront and speak the truth to each other.  Not speaking truth is the functional equivalent of lying; it feeds fear and alienation, and is the first step to trust-rot.

(Thanks to Seth Godin for jogging my brain on this one)

Butt-Kicked by the Universe

Oh man, did I do something stupid, embarrassing and untrustworthy today.

A colleague forwarded me a calendar invite originally sent by a client. I NEVER respond to an actual calendar invite as if it’s an email; I always respond to the actual invitation using the buttons “accept,” “reject,” or “tentative.”

But today, for reasons unknown only to whoever is in charge of the universe, I replied (I thought!!) to my colleague, regarding the client (Fred).

I wrote:

“…I’m so mad at Fred…seems like he hasn’t sent out all the materials we worked on last week.  I am trying not to be pissed.  I’m really frustrated. I’m trying to hold off getting too irate in case he did send stuff out…”

You guessed it. My response went straight to Fred.

He wrote back, “Hi Sarah, was this meant for me?”

That Gut-Punched Feeling

Ughh. As I had been writing that email, my gut was screaming at me: “You always say not to put in writing anything you wouldn’t be comfortable having the whole world read.”

You could say – I would – that the universe intervened because I had violated the “Inner Voice” rule.  The Inner Voice Rule is, “Say the things you’re thinking but don’t share.”  It’s where truth lies, and turbo-boosts the Intimacy component of the Trust Equation.

The Inner Voice Rule.

I groaned. Then I immediately wrote back to Fred:  “I am so embarrassed.  The email was meant for Julie, not you, and I’m sorry.  Are you somewhere I can call you?”  We spoke five minutes later.

I started: “Fred, I’m so sorry.  I knew as I was typing that email that I needed to pick up the phone and call you…I’m aware I have been avoiding a conversation with you.”  Fred was extra-gracious, acknowledging that he hadn’t met his commitments and that he understood where my frustration came from.

He then said, “And we’ve both been to Trusted Advisor programs,” which created a clearing for us to deal in an authentic way with the trust breakdown.  We worked through things; we both left the conversation having said what we needed to say, and feeling complete (and a commitment on my part to talk to Fred next time instead of complaining to my colleague).

He sent out the materials within 15 minutes.

The Universe Kicks Butt

I’m a bit fearful of calling myself a hypocrite on a blogpost destined for internet eternity. But if I’m real about it, what I salvaged from my mess du jour is that I talk a big game about clear speaking, using Inner Voice, and sharing constructive feedback – while the truth is, I’m woefully out of practice.  I choose to believe that the universe intervened today to give me a butt kick wake up call; to call me on being real and not a poser.

There, I said it.

So: what did I learn from the Universe today?

  • NEVER, EVER put in writing anything you wouldn’t want shared with the world
  • When what you have to say about another serves to diminish them, it’s time to either:

a) admit you’ve been a jerk and have a conversation with that person, or

b) own up and end the relationship.

  • The courage to have un-had conversations leads to growth, learning and deeper trust.
  • If we think of constructive feedback as “scary, bad, judgmental or otherwise” then we don’t share the most important stuff.  Then all that stuff builds up and – we send stupid emails.
  • If you make a mess – make it Priority One to clean it up immediately.

A Contingent Offer

It was a beautiful fall in Blacksburg…but I was quite nervous…my senior year in Mechanical Engineering at Virginia Tech was now underway and reality was setting in fast…I had to find a job.

I had racked up a massive $11,000 in loans for school from my Mom and Dad – I was expected to start paying it back right after graduation to help pay for my 5 younger siblings to go to college. On top of that, I was engaged to be married in July. I needed a job – I really, really needed a job.

I was nervous. Although the market for new engineering graduates was strong, I was unsure about my job prospects because…how do I say this delicately…I had not exactly distinguished myself academically.

There was not much I could do at this point to change my grades in Calculus or Thermodynamics…so I focused intensely on my job search.

I signed up for the usual campus interviews – but after the first round I was disappointed. I only received 2 invitations to visit plant sites for second round interviews.

My first visit to a company in West Virginia did not go well. A week later I received The Letter – Thanks but no thanks…dinged!! I was getting very nervous. I attended a “how to interview” session at the career center, where I learned I needed to sell myself and be confident – even though I was not.

On my trip to “Acme Chemical” in early November the interviews seemed to go much better – I was not that crazy about the company, or the job or the location….but I needed a job and was hopeful. In the meantime, my campus interviews had turned the corner – I had scored 4 more company visits after Christmas.

The Letter arrived from Acme…I opened it with caution – it was an offer! A very good offer – $17,800 a year! I was so excited….until I read further.

It was a “contingent offer” – contingent upon a position still being open at the time I decided to accept it. Huh??? I was quite confused. I called HR – they were going to hire 4 engineers and they made 7 offers. The first 4 to accept the offer got the jobs –and the other 3 would no longer have offers.

What?!! I had 4 upcoming interview trips with companies and locations I liked better than Acme. I did not want to accept this early offer and miss out on other potential choices. At the same time I really needed a job and $17,800 was a good offer. The job was OK, the location was not that bad…a bird in the hand; it was a real dilemma.

I decided to call Dad. At this point I had emerged from my “independent and confrontational teenage years.” But I could not say that Dad and I  were close; it was the first time that I remember turning to him for advice.

I explained my predicament.

Dad answered without hesitation, “Accept the job.”

When I started to explain that would preclude other options, 
he interrupted me.

 “No – it doesn’t.”

“What do you mean?”

“Accept the job – a contingent acceptance – contingent upon you not accepting another job someplace else.”

“Can I do that?”

“I don’t see why the hell not!”

“But what if they get angry and withdraw the offer?”

“Then I am not sure it is a place you want to work anyway.”

It was brilliant – my Dad was becoming smarter every day. I felt this huge burden had lifted.

First thing Monday morning I called up Acme and told them “I accept…” But when I added my conditions they were not happy. They said I was being “impertinent.” (I didn’t even know what that meant!)

They explained they did not accept my acceptance….they had recruited at the School for 10 years, and they were going to let the Dean know about my little stunt.

My cute plan had backfired; I was feeling sick again.

The next day I was summoned to the Dean’s office. I was fairly certain it was not because of my stellar academic performance.

The Dean was a scary man. He carried a permanent scowl on his face like Miss Gulch (Wicked Witch) in the Wizard of Oz.

“Mr. ____ – Acme has been recruiting here for years – I understand you accepted their offer contingent upon not accepting a job someplace else?”

“Yes sir, I did. I did not mean to be disrespectful but…”

“Excellent. They have no right pressuring my students. I let them know that either all 7 offers stand or they won’t be welcomed back.”

I walked out relieved and with a small measure of renewed confidence.

I ultimately had 4 job offers. I accepted a job someplace else and started calling my dad more often.

Real People, Real Trust: Our Magnificent Seven

Over the past year, I’ve offered an insider view into the challenges, successes, and make-it-or-break-it moments of seven men and women who are making their mark by leading with trust—every day. In case you missed any of them, or want a fresh dose of practical advice (not to mention inspiration), here’s a recap.

  •  “I asked him what would make him feel like we addressed the situation to his satisfaction.” Learn how Chip Grizzard’s nonprofit marketing and fundraising agency retained a long-term client even after mistiming their direct mail campaign.
  • “I have never had someone say, ‘I wish you hadn’t told me that.’” Find out how Anna Dutton, Sales Operations Director, finds the courage at her educational tech company to be genuine, tell the truth, and say things that others might not agree with.
  • “My life philosophy is there’s plenty of everything—customers, money, everything.” Take a tip from entrepreneur and former bed and breakfast owner John Dunn on collaboration…and learn how he joined forces with other B&Bs.

The themes across these stories: transparency, humility, courage, and true customer focus.

Many thanks, once again, to these magnificent role models.

Story Time: Innovation, Trust, and the Freedom to Fail

Our Story Time series brings you real, personal examples from business life that shed light on specific ways to lead with trust. Our last story proved that he who eats with chopsticks wins. Today’s shows how trust can impact innovation, productivity, and staff retention.

A New Anthology

When it comes to trust-building, stories are a powerful tool for both learning and change. Our new book, The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook: A Comprehensive Toolkit for Leading with Trust (Wiley, October 2011), contains a multitude of stories. Told by and about people we know, these stories illustrate the fundamental attitudes, truths, and principles of trustworthiness.

Today’s story is excerpted from our chapter on making the case for trust. It vividly demonstrates how providing the freedom to fail, take risks, and build on others’ ideas increases a team’s ability to innovate.

From the Front Lines: A Trust-Based Business Unit

In 2005, Ross Smith became Director of an 85-person software test team within Microsoft. His team had great technical skills, passion, and excitement, but felt underutilized and unchallenged. Ross set out to improve innovation and productivity. Exploring options, they ran across a University of British Columbia study by John F. Helliwell and Haifang Huang that equated the impact of high organizational trust to significant pay raises in terms of creating job satisfaction.

The team suddenly realized that innovation required freedom to fail, risk taking, building on others’ ideas—all behaviors grounded in high trust. That cognitive snap, that a high-trust organization would address underutilization and latent talent, was the beginning of the solution.

In a high-trust organization, individuals could apply their skills, education, and experience at their own discretion. They could take risks and change processes themselves because managers would trust them. The question was this: how to do it?

Ross asked the team to identify behaviors they felt influenced trust, positively or negatively. They realized that trust was subjective, situational, and very individual, and there was no single behavioral answer. As a result, the team put together a detailed playbook describing simple principles with discussion about how to implement.

They also modeled risk-taking and trust-building by using games to approach problems; everyone was allowed to play, experiment, and fail.

Microsoft is a heavy user of metrics, for Ross’s team as well as throughout the company. The first noticeable difference was a higher-than-normal level of retention. After two and a half years, other things started to change dramatically—new test tools and new techniques were developed, and a high level of collaboration and partnership was working. Productivity numbers started to rise. As the project finished, the team was rated at or near the top across virtually every Microsoft productivity metric.

When Ross and several others from the original team moved to another division, they set out to introduce the trust-building ideas and practices which had worked so well before. Once again, they saw a high retention rate, a broader application of talent, and higher productivity numbers.

The metrics followed the changes in mind-set and behavior—not the other way around.

—Ross Smith (Microsoft), as told to Charles H. Green

Find out more about Ross’s experiments in management innovation and trust, or read his blog on productivity games.

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Read more stories about trust:

Trust Tip Video: The Single Biggest Sin in Sales

A lot of things can go wrong in sales – and often do. But there’s probably one thing that stands over all the other as the Ur-error of selling. This particular error is baked so deep into our behavior that you might call it the “original sin” of selling.

In this week’s Trust Tip video, I examine what that error is, and why it’s such an egregious mistake. Fortunately, the solution is not that hard – as long as you remember to use it.

If you like the Trust Tip Video series and you like our occasional eBooks, why not subscribe to make sure you get both? Every week we send you selected high-quality content.  To subscribe, click here, or go to http://bit.ly/trust-subscribe