Posts

25 Warning Signs You Have a Low-Trust Organization: Part 3 of 5

Low-trust organizations can be spotted in many ways.  This is third in a series of five. In this one, we explore warning signs from leadership. Previous and future posts address warning signs from:

  • Employees
  • Teams
  • Leadership (today’s post)
  • Products and Services
  • Clients and Customers

Leadership Warning Signs of a Low-Trust Organization

Look at the leadership in your organization. Does it have some of the following characteristics? If you’re a leader yourself, think hard, you might be contributing to a low-trust organization. These issues all arise from leadership choices, after all.

1. The Cult of the Corner Office thrives.

  • Do you have corner offices that are not conference rooms? Do they come with extra appointments, more square footage, better desks? Are there criteria for who gets them? You may have an issue.
  • If you have sanctified real estate, the odds are you have other visible symbols of class status and rank. With one exception, class systems detract from trusted relationships in an organization.
  • The exception: you’re intentionally running a business that connects meritocracy and materialism. Some trading operations fit that description. But you’re not likely to confuse them with high trust environments anyway.

2. The highest performer is a values-offender.

  • Name the 2-3 smartest, highest-bonus, most successful persons in your organization.  Does at least one of them get there by thumbing his or her nose at your avowed corporate values? Then you have a problem.
  • Values mean nothing if they are not enforced. Very few values statements have exceptions clauses (“…unless you can make a really profitable sale..”). What part of “team player,” “integrity,” or “client-focused” do you think rhymes with not showing up at team events, obfuscation, or self-aggrandizing?
  • Nothing shoots holes in values statements like blatant hypocrisy.

3. Blame is an art form.

  • Blame is the opposite of responsibility. If leadership means anything, it means taking responsibility. If the first words out of leaders’ mouths in the face of difficulty are to blame the situation or another person, what you have is the absence of leadership.
  • Don’t confuse an explanation with an excuse. Explanations are important; they help us know what to do differently next time. They do not, however, let anyone off the hook. Leaders can’t be let off the hook; that’s part of the definition of leadership.
  • Blame and its twin “inability to confront” corrode trust. They both try to disconnect responsibility from the truth. Leaders don’t do that.

4. “Need to know” is your catchphrase – and you’re not in the military.

  • The military, and military contractors, legitimately operate on a “need to know” basis. Not too many others do. It’s an easy rationalization that leads to low trust.
  • If I say you don’t need to know something (outside the military), it means you can’t be trusted with the information. Maybe you’re incompetent, maybe you’re a blabbermouth, maybe you’ll misinterpret it; there can be many reasons for low trust. But they’re all low trust.
  • If I don’t understand or accept why I have no need to know, then I will resent you telling me. Resentment leads to all kinds of avenues, none of them good, and all of them low-trust at heart. Need-to-know erodes trust.
  • None of them above is any different because it’s a policy: a policy to withhold the truth systemically just means you have a systemic approach to withholding the truth. Now you have a whole organization that is untrusting.

5. The need to “have a positive outlook” trumps the need to tell the truth.

  • Many a leader has said, “We need to keep people’s morale up, make sure they hear this the right way, don’t let them get depressed.” That way lies trouble. Because the truth has a way of getting out.
    • Most people in most situations would prefer to hear the truth, to make up their own minds. They don’t trust people who assume they know better.  Remember Colonel Jessup in A Few Good Men, yelling, “The truth! You can’t handle the truth!” Don’t be that guy.

In the next post, we’ll explore 5 ways in which products and services can indicate a low-trust organization.

Trust Tip Video: Get Off Your “S”

We want our clients and partners to trust us and so we often focus on what we can do better to appear, and to be, more trustworthy. But even more than doing certain things, we have to stop doing one thing in particular.

We need to get off of our habitual Self-Orientation. As my colleague, Andrea Howe, says we need to Get Off Our S.

What does that mean, and how do you do it? That’s the subject of this one-minute Trust Tip.

For more information about Self-Orientation, try this article on The Trust Equation.

If you like the Trust Tip Video series, and you like our occasional eBooks, why not subscribe to make sure you get both? Every 2-4 weeks we send you selected high-quality content. We mailed out our latest eBook just yesterday with another scheduled in two weeks.

To subscribe, click here, or got to http://bit.ly/trust-subscribe.

It’s all about Tools that Work–For Your Work.

25 Warning Signs You Have a Low-Trust Organization: Part 2 of 5

It’s not impossible to find a high-trust team in a low-trust organization – we’ve seen a few – but not too many. For the most part, low-trust organizations are made up of low-trust teams.

This is the second in a series of five, totaling 25 warnings signs in:

Team Warning Signs of a Low-Trust Organization

Look around the teams in your environment. Do they have some of these characteristics? Then you might be a member of a low-trust organization.

1. A low-trust team isn’t productive.

  • It misses milestones. It doesn’t deliver on time, or on spec. The team doesn’t do what it says it will do. The team is unreliable.
  • It produces mediocre work. It settles for what looks to be low risk, getting the lowest common denominator. It chokes off innovation in the name of risk, often masking jealousy and NIH (not invented here) Syndrome.
  • It fails to achieve its goals. Goal failure is more than milestone failure writ large. It speaks to a failure of common purpose and common commitment.

2. Low-trust teams typically form sub-groups and cliques within them.

  • There are flurries of private emails and hushed conversations. This is sub-team bonding, not even tribal – it is transient, shallow, and superficial – Mean Girls bonding.
  • Team members are guarded in their communications. They are concerned someone else might hear, and that would be in principle a bad thing. It’s the ‘in principle’ part that’s worrisome.
  • Information is hoarded as a source of political power, rather than shared to create greater team power and organizational success.

3. Low-trust teams are less than the sum of their parts.

  • A great team – even a just pretty good team – can accomplish so much more than simply the sum of its parts. But a low-trust team can’t.
  • They choke off innovation and personal growth – things that happen organically even in a neutral, social organization. A low-trust team isn’t benign, it’s toxic.
  • People are massively influenced by those around them – a group of low-trust people can bring even a strong team player down to their level of low trust.
  • If the team is bureaucratically protected from competition, it will have low turnover among a core group and high turnover from the occasional newcomer. If the team is in a competitive environment, it will show high turnover everywhere. No one likes staying.

4. A low trust team is addicted to faux team-ness, happy talk, not real team walk.

  • We can’t prove this, but we sometimes wonder if the presence of those motivational posters isn’t negatively correlated with team behavior (or is that just us being cynical?)
  • Lip service is the coin of the realm, because to be honest would be to acknowledge the existence of low trust. Honesty is what distinguishes a merely critical team from a low-trust team; the latter is disengaged.
  • The opposite of low-trust teams isn’t competitive, meritocratic teams; it is teams who know enough to wish they were trust-based, and try to pretend to appear so.
  • There is frequently a high-performer, one who achieves great results but does not follow the values. This manifest unfairness results in resentment among the rest of the team.

5. A low-trust team has trouble collaborating.

  • Low-trust teams are likely to prefer individual compensation schemes; they don’t believe in, or trust, the ability of the team to do well for them, preferring to fend for themselves.
  • Collaboration drives innovation; but low-trust teams exalt solo work, thus buying into the “solo inventor” myth of innovation.

If teams in your ecosphere look like this, you may be hanging around a low-trust organization.

For some ideas on how to improve trust, see Three Strategies to Improve Business’s Trust.

In the next post we’ll explore Five Warning Signs in Leadership that suggest a low-trust organization.

 

Story Time: How One Conversation Changed Everything

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 told a tale of risky business. Today’s anecdote zeroes in on the importance of being willing to interrupt the status quo.

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 shifting from tactics to strategy. It demonstrates how simple it can be to dramatically alter the nature of a working relationship, and pave the way for delivering far greater value.

From the Front Lines: Upping the Ante

Sarah Agan tells us about the conversation that changed everything with her client, John.

“I had just joined a new consulting firm and was asked to take over as the engagement manager for a project that I soon learned was in dire straits. My client John was happy—he was responsible for a high-priority government-wide initiative with the potential to catapult his career, he had a high-end strategy firm by his side (that was us), and he was getting everything he thought he wanted—a well-documented plan identifying key investments required to guard against terrorist attacks.

“The problem was this: my team was very unhappy. Imagine a group of super-bright, creative, energized young graduates, well-trained in strategy development and execution, assigned to a high-visibility project, sitting in a windowless conference room formatting Excel spreadsheets. It was a troubled project that everyone in my firm had heard about and no one wanted to work on.

“While it was tempting to step in and make a dramatic move, I bided my time. I focused first on developing my relationship with John, understanding his interests and priorities. In several of our initial meetings he made reference to our team as his ‘administrative support.’ At first, I just filed it away. He was happy with the arrangement. He had no idea what he could or should expect from us.

“I also made a point to find out more about how our company had ended up in this predicament. We had fallen into the trap of being seduced by a lucrative long-term contract, doing whatever it took to keep the funding coming.

“One day when John referred to us again as his ‘administrative support,’ I decided it was time to speak up.

“I don’t recall being particularly nervous at the time. I just spoke from the heart: ‘John, this is at least the third time I’ve heard you refer to us as your administrative support. If that’s what you truly feel you need, let us help you find someone who does this as a core competency at a fraction of what you are paying us. If you’re interested in doing things more strategically, I’d love to have that conversation.’

“From that moment, everything shifted. The nature of all our conversations changed. The team began to bring ideas to the table, like helping John host a national workshop—with representatives from across the government, academia, and private industry—so that John could engage all his stakeholders in a way that they would have some ownership for the nationwide plan. It was an extraordinary workshop John’s successor is still talking about years later.

“Now we were positioned to deliver the kind of value we were truly capable of. The project that no one wanted to be on became a project people wanted to be part of.

“The biggest lesson for me in all of this was the importance of being willing to interrupt the status quo and say what had been left unsaid for too long in order to focus on what really mattered to John. Looking back, it was a pretty risky move. It was also the right one. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

—Sarah Agan

What’s been left unsaid for too long in one of your relationships?

++++++

Read more stories about trust:

——————————————————————————————-

Many Trusted Advisor programs now offer CPE credits.  Please call Tracey DelCamp for more information at 856-981-5268–or drop us a note @ info@trustedadvisor.com.

 

25 Warning Signs You Have a Low-Trust Organization: Part 1 of 5

Low-trust organizations are petri dishes for low growth, profitability, and ultimately survival. Yet the signals are easy to ignore.

The canaries in the low-trust coal mine fall into five groups: we’ll devote one blog post to each of:

  • Employees (today’s post)
  • Teams
  • Leadership
  • Products and Services
  • Clients and Customers

Employee Warning Signs of a Low-Trust Organization

Look around your offices. Do you see the following five signs? Then you might be a member of a low-trust organization.

1. The copy room bulletin board has those round smiley cartoon figures laughing and rolling on the floor saying, “You want it WHEN?!”

    • Humor is revealing. This particular cartoon pokes fun at the internal customer. Allegedly. When is it a good idea to make jokes about the customer?
    • What it really indicates is insecurity on the part of the copy room staff. What it really says is, “Please don’t blame me, I feel un-validated around here. And besides, all I want is to follow simple rules that I don’t have to think about, why are you making my life so miserable with all your requests?”
    • And when you see those cartoons, it isn’t just about the copy room. They’re a canary in the company mine. It means you’ve got insecure employees reporting to people who can’t give clear feedback, and a culture of entitlement. Good luck trying to get things done around that place.

2. People email others on the same floor way more than they talk to each other.

    • Sure, email provides an invaluable record of communication. And yes, it’s efficient. And no, I’m not going to say you have to be more empathetic and caring in all your relationships – that’s your call.
    • But email is for transactions. An organization that kids itself that it can reduce all decisions to transactions is an organization that can’t tell forests from trees.
    • Interactions that are overweighted into transactions become poor at executing  strategies (despite their attention to detail), because strategies require frequent strategic-level thinking.
    • A culture that over-celebrates impersonal transactions is likely to be non-innovative, because innovation thrives on the trust that allows people to challenge each others’ ideas.

3. Blame stalks the halls.

    • One of the worst sayings is, “No one ever got fired for hiring [IBM, McKinsey, etc].” It may not be bad for IBM or McKinsey, but it means that business decisions are being made by employees based on personal risk-aversion, rather than on the organizational good. That makes for some very bad decisions.
    • Behind blame lies fear. Employees driven by fear will never properly value risk. They will avoid people and decisions based on their personal fears; this avoidance increases inefficiencies and lowers innovation. Ironically, it ultimately also raises risk.
    • Blame is captivity, as Phil McGee says. When blame reigns, you can’t tell who’s responsible. When you’ve got no responsibility, accountability is meaningless. Blame leads to ineffectiveness; and that means you can’t make decisions, respond to markets, or do positive things.

4. People talk about each other.

    • People talking frequently about each other suggests gossip, which usually means talking behind people’s backs. This signals an inability to confront real issues. This means politics replaces truth telling.
    • Ask someone where they work in an organization. At a great company, it might be “in bubble memory technology.” Or, “in the semiconductor division, in R&D.” In a low-trust organization, the answer will be, “In Robinson’s group.”
    • The cult of leadership is just another cult. Steve Jobs may have been revered (or not), but he knew the desired obsession was not about personality, but the business. Celebrate, but don’t idolize.

5. People complain.

    • Complaining is wrong because it is wishing, not doing. If you didn’t win the lottery, you’ve no business complaining if you didn’t buy a ticket.
    • And if you bought a ticket and are complaining about the odds, you don’t understand the lottery.
    • If you bought a ticket, understand the odds, and are still complaining, you have no sense of your obligation in this organization, which is to do something about it. Go make a better lottery.
    • Complainers suck out the air in the room. They are self-oriented, they drag down productivity, and slow results. If you don’t get rid of them, it’s probably because you’re fearful (see #3, above).

These employee behaviors are warning signals of low trust in an organization. Low trust threatens your economics, innovation, speed to market, cost position, overhead structure, employee turnover, and customer indifference or worse – and a whole lot more.

For some ideas on how to improve trust, see Three Strategies to Improve Business’s Trust.

In the next post we’ll explore Five Warning Signs in Teams that suggest a low-trust organization.

Trust Tip Video: Say “I Don’t Know”

It’s one of the most common problems we all face in business – in sales, in customer relationships, in working with teams.  You’re in the hot seat, on the spot: someone asks you a tough question – and you’re really not sure of the answer.

What do you do?

That’s the subject of my Trust-Tip Video of the week.

My advice probably won’t surprise you – Say You Don’t Know. But you might not expect some of the reasons.

(If you have trouble seeing the video, click here)

If you like the video series, and if you like our occasional eBooks, why not subscribe to make sure you get both? Every 2-4 weeks we send you selected high-quality content.  Another eBook mailing is scheduled for next week.

To subscribe, click here, or go to http://bit.ly/trust-subscribe

It’s all about Tools that Work – For Your Work.

Don’t Always Exceed Expectations: Trust Tips Video

You probably know the common advice, “Always exceed expectations.” It sounds like a trust-creating move – but it’s not. In fact, it’s a trust-destroyer.

Learn more in the Trust-Tip Video below.

New Video Trust-Tips Series

Announcing the Trust Tips video series – weekly one-minute, high-octane pieces of value. Let me know how you like it.

(if you have trouble seeing the video, click here)

Subscription

If you like the video series, if you like our occasional eBooks, why not subscribe to receive them via email? Every 2-4 weeks we send you selected high-quality material.

To subscribe, click here, or go to  http://bit.ly/trust-subscribe.

It’s all about Tools that Work – For Your Work.

 

 

Books We Trust: The Decision to Trust by Bob Hurley

This is the eighth in a series called Books We Trust.

The Decision to Trust is one of the best books written in recent years on trust; it is a major contribution to the subject.

Author Bob Hurley teaches at Fordham and Columbia, so it’s no surprise that the book is solidly rooted in the extensive academic work on trust. Perhaps more surprising is that the book is also intensely practical, based on his years of consulting and research work with significant companies.

I sat down recently with Bob at his decidedly un-Lincoln Center-ish Fordham offices near Lincoln Center.

Capitalism: Back to the Future

Charlie Green: Let’s get one thing clear: you’re not doing double-duty as Basketball Hall of Fame high school coach Bob Hurley over in Jersey City – are you?

Bob Hurley: No, but I’m a fan, so I’m flattered by the confusion.

Charlie: OK, that’s out of the way. This is a wonderful book, Bob, clearly the result of years of research.

Bob: Decades, actually. I started as an accountant, then got an MBA and did consumer marketing. Eventually I realized I really wanted to be a teacher. I ended up at Columbia, where I studied under Morton Deutsch, the founder of the field of conflict resolution and a brilliant psychologist.

Today, I teach various courses in leadership and management at Fordham, and I teach executive education at Columbia

Charlie: Let’s jump right to the book. The heart of it, and I think the genius of it, is your idea of approaching trust from the point of view of a decision. A decision to trust is a largely psychological decision by the trustor, which is affected by the trustor’s own propensity to trust, and by the trustor’s view of the trustworthiness of the trustee in the particular situation.

Tell us the power of approaching things that way?

Bob: Well most people especially business people understand decision-making. When we frame the issue of trust as a decision we can help people not only understand about trust but also understand how to help others make a choice to trust vs. be suspicious. We do this by helping trustees understand how to be trustworthy in the eyes of others. This not only makes the model grounded in research in psychology, but also very practical.

It turns out that this approach also it allows you to make sense of trust from an interpersonal, group and organizational perspective. It may have a psychological locus at the heart of it, but it also allows for intelligent discussion about social environments and institutional behaviors.

Charlie: Would you list the ten factors please, as a teaser to get readers to click through and buy your book?

Bob: Sure. The first three factors are trustor-related: the level of risk tolerance, the trustor’s level of psychological adjustment, and the power position of the trustor all affect their likelihood to put themselves at knowing risk of another, which is how I think of the decision to trust.

The other seven factors are situational: They are security, similarity, alignment of interests, the level of perceived benevolent concern, capability, predictability and integrity, and communication. Some of those are about the trustee’s character as perceived by the trustor – some are about the trustor’s perception of the situation.

Charlie: You can then use this model to test, rate, rank, diagnose, consult and so forth, right? It’s a powerful tool for consultation and management.

Bob: Exactly, and it’s been widely tested over the years in thousands of situations. I started out testing it in exec ed programs; I wrote up a version of it in an HBR article, which led to more consulting and more testing.  It’s extremely workable, in addition to being well-grounded in the trust research literature.

Charlie: What are some of the problems to which you’ve applied the model?

Bob: There’s quite a range, from making better individual decisions, to leadership, to more effective team organization, even to culture change and trust repair. The model describes the failures of organizations like the Catholic Church’s problems with priestly sexual abuse, and the DaimlerChrysler debacle.

Charlie: You’re quite clear about the need to address trust issues systemically, aren’t you?

Bob: I think so. Personal trust is critical, but culture trumps personality. If we don’t get leaders to start to high trust create cultures and systems, we won’t get there. You can’t just change individuals and stop there.

For trust to get better in the trust-challenged world we live in, we have to get better at all three dimensions; trustors have to get better at making better trust decisions, trustees have to become more trustworthy, and we have to make our organizational cultures, systems and processes more trustworthy .

Charlie: David Gebler, in the field of ethics, makes much the same point: most ethical lapses are not due to moral failure on the part of individuals, but to an environment that is insufficiently supportive of ethical behavior.

Bob: Makes sense to me, and I would add that we need to go well beyond ethics to understand what makes people and companies trustworthy. Just because a person is ethical does not mean people will or should trust them!

Charlie: Let’s talk about one particular application of the Decision to Trust Model (DTM), that of leadership and management. First of all, what’s your take on how our ideas of “leadership” have evolved over the years?

Bob: I would say that the science behind leadership has evolved from trait theory to focus more on relationship, the need for flexibility and agility, EQ and the importance of self awareness and authenticity. When I teach leadership I tell people that the generic version of leadership is not terribly helpful to you.

The real challenge is finding out given who you are, what form of leadership can you manifest. We do not need to all become Winston Churchill! Trust fits into this notion of leader-follower relationship and authenticity. Bill George at Harvard has done a great job adding to this notion.

Charlie: Interesting.  And how does the DTM play out here? How can a leader use it practically?

Bob: Given that we know what makes people decide to trust, we can start by manifesting these “signals” of trustworthiness. Behaviors like aligning stakeholders interests, demonstrating benevolence and not opportunism, articulating values and ensuring value congruence and perhaps most importantly communicating with openness, transparency; and don’t forget listening with empathy and being approachable. These things can be taught but we have not focused on them enough!

Charlie: What’s your take on how our capitalist system has turned into such a low-trust system. It clearly wasn’t always this way; what has happened?

Bob: We need to re-define capitalism. It has been a great creator of wealth but it needs to evolve. As the global financial crisis showed us in spades, many business leaders have become opportunists focused on short-term greed. We need to grow a generation of integrative stewards who bring stakeholders together in moving the enterprise forward and focus on the long term. We need more incentive for capital to take a long-term view. Managing our businesses for the next quarter and our country for the next election is a prescription for disaster when we are competing with companies and nations that have 10, 20 and100 year plans!

Charlie: I think your model has another virtue, which is it’s useful even in application to our political system – no small feat in a polarized world. Is that right?

Bob: Political marketing is essential about getting people to doubt your opponent and trust you. Since Bush Senior’s win against Dukakis, this has been done using the same tricks used in marketing soda or soap. There is an emphasis on appearing trustworthy, while not actually being trustworthy.

We are mostly to blame because we take short cuts in assessing trustworthiness and at some level we do not want to hear the truth. We need systemic reform in politics; we need to “get the money out” as a first step (create alignment of interests). After that, term limits, and strict rules limiting lobbying.

We need to stop talking about big or small government, and starting talking about effective or ineffective government. I talk about this in the book. The major reason people do not trust government in the US is that they see the system as incompetent and wasteful. 

Charlie: Bob, thanks so much for spending time with me, and congratulations again on the book. It truly is a milestone in the literature on trust, in my humble opinion, and I hope it gets all the attention it deserves, which is a ton.

Bob: You’re welcome, it’s been a pleasure.

 

 

The Twelve Steps of Business Relationships

Rarely will you see someone fail in business who has thoroughly followed these simple suggestions. Those who do fail are typically people who are incapable of being honest – with their colleagues, their customers and their partners.

Other problems may temporarily deflect you, but the ability to be rigorously honest will prove immeasurably beneficial in all your business relationships.

Twelve Steps of Business Relationships

Step 1. Accept that you have no power over people, that all your attempts at control have failed. Trying to get other people to do what you want them to do is doomed to failure, no matter how good your intentions, how right your cause, or how much benefit it would bring the other.

People just wanna be free. Go with it.

Step 2. Recognize that by yourself, you can’t succeed. Your success will inevitably be tied up in the success of other people. Not only are you not driving the bus, you are just another passenger.

Step 3. Resolve that you’re going to stop trying to drive the bus, that you’ll start doing things to help other people, that you’ll focus on getting the group to succeed. When things don’t go your way, remember “your way” is what got you into this mess. Repeat steps 1 and 2.

Step 4. Make a list of all the stupid, controlling, selfish things you do to others. Be specific about whom you do them to, and what harm it does to them. Stop at ten people.

Now add to the list a few good things you do. You are, after all, worthwhile.

Step 5. Go share your list with someone you trust. Listen to what they have to say about it and learn from what they have to say. Don’t waste time arguing with them.

Step 6. Get yourself ready to stop behaving in those old ways. Think about it for a while. Make a list of the new things you’ll do. Envision yourself responding in new ways; rehearse new “lines.”

Hint: your list should probably include listening. Also, listening.

Step 7. Pick a time of your own choosing to begin the change. It could be right now, it could be next week, but not next summer. Write that date in your calendar. When it comes, step out of your old ways and start working the new.

Step 8. Think about the customers, co-workers, peers and partners you might have tried to control and what you did to them. Think of what you might have done better and plan to do better next time.

Step 9. Go back to the customers, co-workers and partners you’ve tried to control, and tell them you realize what you have done. Acknowledge your responsibility in those situations, and tell them specifically how you plan to behave differently in future.

Hint: Don’t do this if it causes upset or harm to the other person. And don’t confuse this with trying to get them to forgive you – see Step 1, above.

Step 10. At each day’s end, do a mental run-through of how you did in your new approach. Note where you fell short and what you could have done better.

Then let it go and get a good night’s sleep.

Step 11. Create a little mantra for yourself, to remind you that your job is to help others, not yourself. Get out of the instance, secure in the idea that better relationships will float all transaction boats.

Step 12. Having recognized how to apply these principles to your business affairs, give it a shot at home and in the rest of your life.  You saw that one coming, right?

 

Don’t Manage My Expectations

It’s received wisdom by now that you should manage expectations. How could you argue with that? Nobody likes to be surprised on the downside. But as with many platitudes, the devil is in the details. And there are a few devils lurking out there in expectations-management land.

Always Exceeding Expectations

Exhibit 1 is the mantra to always under-promise and over-deliver, perhaps as a way to achieve customer delight. The problem is, if you consistently under-promise and over-deliver, you are – in an important sense – lying. You are deliberately telling your customer (or whomever) one thing, and then doing another. How else to describe that form of managing expectations?

The downside is that, over time, it destroys your credibility. Whether it’s stock analysts looking at your quarterly guidance, or employees expecting you to top last year’s ‘surprise’ holiday bonus, once you say one thing and do another, the only expectation you’ve ‘managed’ is the expectation that your future behavior will resemble what it was – an under-promise – not what you said it would be.

And so the party you’re trying to influence makes their own mental adjustment to counter-balance your expected over-delivery– negating your attempt at ‘management.’ Except that another degree of uncertainty is added on each end.

Managing Attitudes

There’s no question that a good attitude helps with life. Measured optimism, a propensity to trust, a positive outlook – all these increase the odds of positive interactions with others. Whether you expect ill or good of another person, that’s probably what you’ll get.

But what if an entire generation is raised the Lake Wobegon way, believing they’re all above average? What if self-help affirmations are of dubious benefit because on some level we don’t believe what we’re trying to tell ourselves? What if corporate and political spin get so bad that they destroy our trust in the very institutions and people who are seeking to manage our expectations?

Attempts at managing attitude are utlmately seen as patronizing. Whether it’s “don’t get your hopes up,” or “you should feel really good about this,” we resent others doing our feeling for us. We want the right to determine our own reactions, therefore our own attitudes.

Managing Expectations the Right Way

It is true that bad surprises are not a good thing. It’s also true that expectations aligned with reality (or slightly more optimistic) are preferable to living in a fantasy world. The problem is not with the noun ‘expectations.’ It comes with the verb – it matters who does the ‘managing.’

I want to manage my own expectations. You can help me by telling me the truth. That means six things:

  1. Be transparent. Get way past just not lying to me. Tell me all the truth you have access to. Make it a policy to give me access to data-without-interpretation.
  2. Prove to me – over and over– that I can depend on you. Promise me lots of little deadlines and meet every one of them – precisely, on the money, not ‘over-performing.’ Do exactly what you said you would do.
  3. Trust me. Share things about yourself with me that I could misuse against you, take risks on me that allow me to over-perform. Because then I have a chance to prove to you how competent and trustworthy I am.
  4. Respect me. Give me the data and let me make up my own mind how I feel about it. Don’t spin me, don’t tell me how I should feel.
  5. Be straight with me. If you do see my expectations careening out of control, and you think I’m about to make a serious error, then pull me aside and tell me straight; don’t sugar-coat it.
  6. Hold me accountable. Call me on my bullshit; confront me when I fail to deliver on time; be forthright with me when I let you down. And let me know that you expect me to do the same.

The best way to manage my expectations is to treat me like an adult. That’s my truth anyway; what about you?