How Smart People Get Stupid

Exhibit A. Google conducted a multi-year, multi-million dollar study called Project Aristotle to determine just what distinguishes successful teams from unsuccessful ones. Tons of data were examined, decades of research studied, multiple hypotheses explored.

The answer? Drum roll: successful team members display more sensitivity toward their colleagues, e.g. granting them equal talk time.

THAT’S IT!

If you find that a stunningly unsurprising flash of the obvious, you don’t understand how things work in business these days. Here’s the reaction of one Googler to that study:

“‘Just having data that proves to people that these things are worth paying attention to sometimes is the most important step in getting them to actually pay attention…I had research telling me that it was O.K. to follow my gut,’’ she said. ‘‘So that’s what I did. The data helped me feel safe enough to do what I thought was right.’’

I’m not picking on Google; they are not unique. (And they are, indeed, really smart). But let me restate what Exhibit A is really telling us:

Millions of years of evolution have brought humans incredibly complex and exquisitely tuned neurological systems, capable of instantly intuiting not just friend vs. foe, but parsing a spectacularly wide array of emotional messages being sent out by our fellow humans.

Yet the smartest of the smart among us have determined that you can’t trust that system – unless it’s backed up by years of technological research that couldn’t have been done even just ten years ago.  Fortunately, we have now been given permission by that research to ‘trust your gut.’

It’s a wonder the human race stumbled along without that study for so many years.

 

Exhibit B. We recently got a plaintive email from a genuinely perplexed  client.

He said:

I hear constantly that being authentic is crucial. But it’s hard to get a clear grasp on the idea. It’s especially hard to figure out how I can know (instead of just feeling or believing) that I am authentic – much less know that someone else is.

Absent knowing we’re authentic, can’t anyone believing they’re authentic just claim to be so? How could anyone prove otherwise?  And since we can’t really know authenticity, doesn’t that also mean we can’t measure it, so we can’t compare it across people or time or situations?

Hasn’t someone come up with a way of getting at authenticity by way of knowing, rather than feeling or believing? I’m struggling to know how I can know I’m authentic. I hope this makes some sense.

This person’s pain is real, and deep; I don’t want to appear insensitive by citing it as a cautionary example, we can all relate to the sentiment. Yet, contrary to their hope, the query makes no good sense at all. Instead, it represents the abandonment of commonsense.

Authenticity – to pick that particular example – speaks to an alignment of beliefs and feelings with the cognitive functions that our writer called “knowing.”  When we run across someone who accesses solely their cognitive talents, we don’t think of them as authentic – we think of them as Sheldon Cooper. They are inauthentic because they are presenting not their full selves, but only their frontal cortexes to others.

“Authentic” is what we feel instantly in our pre- and sub-conscious instinctive feelings about other people. It is the same kind of feeling we get when we jump away from the speeding car, recoil at the sight of a snake, or feel our hearts tug when a puppy wags its tail at us.

An Outbreak of Reductionism

This is hardly the first outbreak of hyper-rationalization. In the social sciences it has a name – physics envy. It is particularly virulent today in neuroscience, where some, having locating certain emotions in particular areas of the brain, claim to have “explained” those emotions. Description is by far the narrowest form of explanation – it’s more akin to translation.

But the disease affects business as well. We have no trouble smiling at the naiveté of Frederick Taylor and his stopwatch, measuring people like machines. Yet we are every bit as mechanical and naive today.

Today, it is an article of faith in many of our most successful companies that “management” is a matter of decomposing goals into a series of cascading behaviors which, properly measured and carefully matched to incentives, produce an internally consistent, humming machine. All you need is a dashboard, which is easily available in the form of widgets.

The manifestation of this belief system (codified in “if you can’t measure it you can’t manage it”) is the enormous investment in training, goal-setting, reporting, progress discussion, and performance reviews – all of them non-direct value-adding processes.  All of them are built around a behavioral view of meaningfulness, a pyramid view of behaviors, and a system for metrics and incentives.

Every training department knows to use the Skinnerian language (“attendees will learn the behaviors associated with mastering the skills of XYZ…and will be rated regularly thereafter on a four-point scale of Early, Maturing, Mature, and Master.”)

Petrification by Metrification

This is precisely the technique used decades ago by Harold Geneen, who believed in rolling up data from all his subsidiaries and managing by the numbers. Except Geneen was measuring profit margins, inventory turns and capital costs. (And it turned out it was Geneen’s outsized personality, not his system, that made it work).

Today’s managers are applying the Geneen model to manage things like trust, authenticity, ethics and vulnerability – with the same tools they apply to measuring click-through rates. There is a huge mismatch. Entire organizations – and not just Left-coast tech companies – are being managed by cascading goals and KPIs, each firm with its own acronym for the process.

This continued reduction of higher order human functions to behavioral minutiae, coupled with the rats-and-cheese-in-the-maze approach to incentives, succeeds only in hollowing out those functions. Try this thought experiment: How do you incent unselfishness?

In the words of ex-consultant and CEO Jim McCurry, all this leads to “petrification by metrification.”  You don’t get the genuine article, but a fossilized replica. It may look real, but it’s checkbox stuff.

Scaling the Soft Skills

George Burns once said, “The most important thing in life is sincerity; if you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”

Ironically, the management teams who try to apply Big Data techniques to rich, basic human interactions are swimming upstream. The right way to scale soft skills and sensitivity not only looks different than the way you incent car  salespeople, but it’s a lot cheaper and faster. It has to do with leading with values, engineering conversations, and role-modeling.

But that’s fodder for another blogpost.

 

 

 

DON’T Always Exceed Expectations

Like most people, I enjoy a good positive surprise. Whether that’s something as simple as getting an unexpected discount at the grocery store, snagging a last-minute table at a popular restaurant, or being surprised by having the driver in front of me pay for my toll – it’s all good.

But when it comes to business – good old fashioned straight-forward honesty can do more for building your reliability than can exceeding expectations. How’s that? Read on.

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Many of us go around repeating a mantra that we think is self-evidently correct: Under-promise and over-deliver, we say. Always exceed expectations.

There is a website ExceedAllExpectations. Another website, HowTo.gov, tells governmental agencies they ought to incent (suborn?) performance beyond expectations. And as you well know, it’s a common mantra in business.

Well – not so fast.

Why Always Exceeding Expectations is a Bad Idea

Think this through. If you intentionally exceed a customer’s expectations, then you intentionally misled your customer about what to expect in the first place. In plain English – you lied. And if you make that a habit – as in “consistently exceed expectations” – then you’re a habitual liar.

Think that’s too strong? Think it through the next step. When a customer habitually gets more than they were promised, what’s such a customer to think?  That’s easy – they’ll think that you’re constantly sandbagging the quote to make yourself look good. And they will naturally start to bargain with you about the expected results and/or the price.

When you make a habit of exceeding expectations, you are training your customers. You are training them to expect you to under-promise and over-deliver. And they are not dumb, they learn quickly.

You have trained them to doubt you, to suspect your motives, and to disbelieve what you tell them in the future.

Proof from the Market

In a recent issue of my newsletter TrustedAdvice, I included a link to a video clip about this idea. (By the way, if you’d like to get TrustedAdvice via email, click here to subscribe).

Within minutes, I heard from two readers, with very interesting comments.

From Reader 1
I have learned this time and time again, but I want to please my clients, so I repeatedly try to exceed client expectations – only to find the clients coming back and demanding more and more.  The fact is, I set myself up for failure, as you cannot give more than 100%. I end up getting frustrated because then clients generally speaking don’t appreciate it when you do give them 100%, they just expect more and more of you and your time.

and Reader 2 adds another wrinkle
My company has exceeding expectations built into its DNA, a by-product of yours truly (though I am so much better now than I used to be). It has created more damage than you’d ever think. Not just in terms of clients expecting more for less, but in a shop that can never truly feel good about itself just for doing a good job, always feeling we could/should have done more.

“Always exceed expectations,” despite frequently coming from good motives, actually succeeds in destroying trust, with customers and employees alike.

So – don’t do that.

Instead, do what builds trust. Tell people exactly what to expect, and then deliver that. Period. After all, that’s how you develop a track record or being credible and reliable. That way your motives are never in doubt. That way you get known for being not only a straight shooter, but a particularly good estimator.

Basically, tell the truth. It’s always a better policy.

This post first appeared in Trust Matters. 

How to Increase Trust in Organizations

I was grocery shopping one Saturday. It was 2PM, 96 degrees out – pretty hot for New Jersey – and I was in the checkout line. The cashier had started sliding my purchases through the register, when suddenly I noticed a bag left over from the customer before me. She had left and gone to her car.

The woman doing the bagging noticed it at the same time. She grabbed the lady’s bag and dashed out into the heat. She was making pretty good time for a woman in her 60s, and we all could see her out the window as she finally caught up, handed over the bag, and started back.

Then the cashier suddenly exclaimed, “Omigosh, she left two other bags as well!” Looking quickly at me and the woman behind me in line, she said, “Will you two please excuse me for just a minute? I’ll be right back.” And she too took off after the forgetful lady, with two bags in tow. She was in her 20s, and made very good time.

It occurred to me I could slide a few groceries over the line and into my bag and escape without paying. (I don’t do such things, but the idea did show up in my mind). Then the elderly woman behind me in line said, “You know, I don’t mind one little bit waiting for someone who’s doing a good deed like that.”  Neither did I, I said, neither did I.

When the cashier and the bagging lady came back, we both complimented them, and they blushed a bit and said thank you. (I sent a complimentary email to ShopRite’s HQ later that night with the store number, employee name and cash register number, all of which were on the receipt).

So my question is: how do you get employees to behave like that? I mean generously, based on principle, willing to take certain risks, confident to act in the moment. How do you keep from getting sullen employees who talk about “career-limiting moves,” who won’t lift a hand or take a risk to help another?

How Do You Induce Values-based Behavior in an Organization?

Earlier that same day, I had the opportunity to briefly visit a Sears store, a Macy’s store, and a Bed Bath and Beyond unit. Sears was awful – employees keeping their distance from customers, 100 feet away, pretending not to notice. Macy’s was a little better, but still sullen, under-staffed, and radiating not-helpfulness.

BB&B was a huge contrast. Several employees, busy doing other things, asked me if they could help. I asked two for help, and they both went out of their way to do so.

How does this happen?

The standard answer in most businesses, I’m afraid, is to focus on the wrong things: typically  incentives, communications, and procedures.

The more I see of business, the more convinced I become that the single most powerful way to create values-based behavior is none of the above – it is to do it yourself, and to talk about it with others.

The Usual Suspects

Incentives appeal to the individual’s rational economic or ego-satisfying needs. Fine and dandy, but if you’re trying to incent selfless behavior, the concept of rewards is just a tad self-contradictory.

There is probably (I’m guessing) more money spent on communications than on any other “solution” to issues of trust, ethical behavior, and customer-focus. Companies love to pronounce their values to their customers, and reinforce them internally in posters, newsletters, and blogs. The problem is, impersonal companies communicating about personal relationships is some kind of category mistake.

And procedures? The whole point of values-based behavior is that the employee extrapolates from principles in the moment. Rehearsing and drilling doesn’t help extrapolate values, it replaces that process with rote memory.

Role Modeling

Think of how we learn from our parents. Think of the sports or public figures we admire (there are still a few). In all cases, we are influenced by what they do – not by what they say they will do, or did do, or wish they’d done.

When it comes to values, I suspect BB&B has leaders in their operations organization who both walk the talk, and talk it too. People who lead by example, and who are convinced that values like customer assistance are valid only if kept sharpened by use.

I suspect Angie the cashier at ShopRite was hired partly because she exhibited values. I suspect that the folks managing her store make a point of being helpful and customer-focused, and engage customers about values like that. I suspect it didn’t occur to her that she shouldn’t take the risk of leaving her cash drawer and my groceries unattended – because her leadership would have trusted their customers and done the same thing – and she knew it.

We have overdone the behavioral, incentives-based, needs-maximizing best practices model of human resources. We have under-estimated the human power of changing humans. After all, the business of relating to other people is personal.

This post was originally published on TrustMatters.

Trust, Lying and Apologies – the Brian Williams Case

UPDATE 9:30PM Feb 10: Since this post was first written, NBC News has suspended Brian Williams for 6 months. This will only heighten the buzz around something really not all that important (except to Wiliams, of  course).  He has become the gossip du jour, and I don’t see anyone achieving escape velocity beyond the obsession with “what should be done about him.”

That is SO the wrong question. The real question – and the one this blogpost originally set out to address – is “what are the learnings for all of us who find ourselves in positions of trust: what threatens our perceived trustworthiness? How do we keep trust?  And, can we recover trust lost – and how?”

That question is relevant to nearly everyone reading this blog. The question of whither Brian Williams will occupy magazine covers and water cooler chit chat for 10 days max, before Bruce Jenner knocks him off the hashtag list. But when that happens – what will we have learned from it? What will you have learned from it?

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Original post Feb 8: The fate of US newscaster Brian Williams is still unknown at this writing. The facts as they are emerging suggest that truth was stretched, it was stretched by Williams, and it was not a blinding surprise to a lot of news insiders.

I’ll leave it to others to talk about ethics, or to predict Williams’ fate. But it does offer a teachable moment about human frailties, about apologies, and in particular how to recover – and how not to recover – from trust disasters.

Human Memory is Not Binary

Williams went from correctly recalling past events in the far past, to revising them more recently. While some people do consciously lie, it is much more common that we deceive ourselves, through a process of constant repetition of a story.

I can relate to this personally. I used someone else’s case study to round out a trio of cases I had created (I wrote the first two). Over years of using them, I somehow came to believe I had written all three. When confronted dramatically in a class session by none other than the real case author, I was at first righteously indignant. How dare you accuse me of plagiarism?  Yet over the course of the next 12 hours, I began to recall, and realized to my horror that that was exactly what I had done. And I had to completely eat my earlier words, taking full responsibility.

Just this past week, I wrote a sharply worded email to someone who had inappropriately used some intellectual property of mine on Slideshare, without attribution. He wrote back quickly in a tone of annoyance, disingenuously saying it wasn’t important and was aimed at a higher goal.  I wrote back even more sharply.

Less than 24 hours later, I received another email from the person, this time very clearly acknowledging the transgression, accepting full responsibility, and offering not only a correction but a form of restitution. I gratefully accepted, 100% – it was, after all, a totally proper apology. And I know, first hand, how easy it is to fool one’s own memory.

Something like this is almost certainly what’s happing with Brian Williams. His first halting attempt at apology suggested that he was involved in a higher mission, and that his intentions were good.

I strongly suspect Mr Williams is going through agonizing soul-searching right now, wondering how he could have possibly gotten things so wrong over the years. The word ‘hubris’ will be mentioned by others, and eventually I suspect he’ll see it in himself.

Trust and Apologies

There is a very simple rule, which is constantly violated by nearly all tellers-of-untruth. It is this:

Rule 1: Never, ever, under-estimate your responsibility for what happened.

  • If you were Richard Nixon, never refer to Watergate as “a two-bit burglary.”
  • If you were Bill Clinton, never suggest culpability depends on the meaning of the word ‘is.’
  • If you were Brian Williams, never suggest your error was justified by good intentions or a higher cause.

A corollary to the rule: the likelihood of your being condemned in the public’s eye increases with the square of the time you take to acknowledge Rule 1.

To recover trust, you must first acknowledge. It’s hard to over-acknowledge, and in fact we want and expect a bit of exaggeration of  responsibility – that’s how we know you “got it.” But it’s the kiss of death to under-estimate your responsibility.

And of course, you’ve got to do it soon.

Brian Williams may feel he bought himself time by voluntarily stepping down for “several days” as anchor.

My feeling is that he misunderstood the role of time; in this case, time is not on his side. He didn’t buy time – he squandered it.

 

 

A Better New Year’s Resolution

It’s that time of year again. Resolutions come in full swing and we all start to assess how we can improve on the last year. It just so happens that I wrote a pretty good blog post at this time eight years ago, and I haven’t improved on it yet. Here it is again.

Happy New Year!

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My unscientific sampling says many people make New Years resolutions, but few follow through. Net result—unhappiness.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

You could, of course, just try harder, stiffen your resolve, etc. But you’ve been there, tried that.

You could also ditch the whole idea and just stop making resolutions. Avoid goal-failure by eliminating goal-setting. Effective, but at the cost of giving up on aspirations.

I heard another idea: replace the New Year’s Resolution List with a New Year’s Gratitude List. Here’s why it makes sense.

First, most resolutions are about self-improvement—this year I resolve to: quit smoking, lose weight, cut the gossip, drink less, exercise more, and so on.

All those resolutions are rooted in a dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs—or with oneself.

In other words: resolutions often have a component of dissatisfaction with self. For many, it isn’t just dissatisfaction—it’s self-hatred. And the stronger the loathing of self, the stronger the resolutions—and the more they hurt when they go unfulfilled. It can be a very vicious circle.

Second, happy people do better. This has some verification in science, and it’s a common point of view in religion and psychology—and in common sense.

People who are slightly optimistic do better in life. People who are happy are more attractive to other people. In a very real sense, you empower what you fear—and attract what you put out.

Ergo, replace resolutions with gratitude. The best way to improve oneself is paradoxical—start by being grateful for what you already have. That turns your aspirations from negative (fixing a bad situation) to positive (making a fine situation even better).

Gratitude forces our attention outwards, to others—a common recommendation of almost all spiritual programs.

Finally, gratitude calms us. We worry less. We don’t obsess. We attract others by our calm, which makes our lives connected and meaningful. And before long, we tend to smoke less, drink less, exercise more, gossip less, and so on. Which of course is what we thought we wanted in the first place.

But the real truth is—it wasn’t the resolutions we wanted in the first place. It was the peace that comes with gratitude. We mistook cause for effect.

Go for an attitude of gratitude. The rest are positive side-effects.

 

Trust and The Future of Work: A Podcast With Jacob Morgan

Trust has been a main discussion point for most of my career. Trust in business, trust in selling, trust in relationships. Increasingly, people are discussing how trust in business and in organizations (or the lack thereof) is starting to affect how we all do business and people are starting to wonder how it will affect the future of work life.

I recently interviewed  Jacob Morgan, author of “The Future of Work” (Wiley 2014), about his book in my Books We Trust blog series. In turn, he recently interviewed me for his own podcast series,on issues of trust including why modern businesses have trust issues, how technology has simplified trust with the simple click of a button, the distinction between a lack of trustworthiness and a lack of willingness to trust.

We also delve into solutions on to how to better build trust in the future’s work environment including building trust with your employees, increasing loyalty of your employees and thereby raising employee retention, utilizing collaboration platforms to increase trust and even how to gain a better understanding of millennials and job-hopping–and how it might not be a bad thing.

Take a listen here. I think this just may be my best podcast yet.

http://hwcdn.libsyn.com/p/6/e/e/6ee2fa3fa84eb99e/Charliepodcastmp3.mp3?c_id=7607942&expiration=1410704130&hwt=34c156d5106fbb20a6280bc8bca7c5f0

 

 

Leadership Lessons from a Horse’s Mouth

Today’s guest post is from June Gunter, Ed. D. and CEO of TeachingHorse, LLC.

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I am the Co-Founder and CEO of TeachingHorse, LLC. TeachingHorse provides leadership development and coaching through experiential learning with horses. Working with horses, people learn how to build trusting relationships, practice authenticity, and remain calm and confident in the face of uncertainty.

Several of my clients are on the path of becoming trusted advisors. Their work with horses has been a great way for them to practice developing intimacy and reducing their self-orientation.

Most of the clients I work with do not have issues with credibility or reliability. They are skilled experts with long track records of success – but they are staring squarely at a new reality. The complexity of the issues they are being asked to address is unprecedented. The information available to them is unreliable and changes quickly. The demand for innovation means that previous performance and expertise are only the equivalent of an entry fee and will no longer win the race.

It is the capacity to create trusting relationships that is often the defining factor in selection of both leaders and advisors.

Enter Horses

So what do horses have to teach leaders about being trusted advisors? To begin with, horses don’t care if you have an RN, MBA, MD or have CEO after your name. Horses will never ask you if you have reputation for being dependable or reliable. So we can just take credibility and reliability out of the equation for now.

For horses to place their trust in leaders, they must know four things about them.

  • One, that leaders are paying attention, and can detect even the most subtle shifts in the environment.
  • Two, that leaders can give them clear direction on how to respond to the shifts.
  • Three, that leaders are able to follow that direction with focused energy, providing guidance on the pace with which to respond.
  • Four, that leaders display congruence of their inner and outer expressions. Ultimately, horses must know that the leaders have their best interest as their source of motivation at all times.

It all starts with saying “Hello.” One of the first things we teach is how to approach a horse in a way that creates confidence. It is a process of mutual decision-making that begins with taking a step towards the horse. If they continue to look relaxed and comfortable with your presence, take another step closer. If they look anxious or unsure, stop, take a deep breath to ground yourself, and then take a small step back. This reassures the horse that you are actually paying attention to the signals they are sending, that you are willing to respect their experience and make adjustments to honor their choice. With this simple process, the horse learns that you are not a threat.

Blue Leadership

One of the horses I work with frequently is a large white draft horse named Blue. She weighs about 2000 pounds. Blue is a fabulous teacher. In one particular session I was working with a board of directors for a healthcare organization. The participant saying hello to Blue was a petite woman, maybe 5 feet tall, with no horse experience.

As she began moving closer to Blue, I could hear her say tentatively, “Hi Blue.  Are we good?  Can I come a bit closer?”  I stopped the woman in her tracks and said, “What question do you have of Blue right now?”  She replied, “Is it safe for me to take another step closer?”

My reply to her was, “As long as that is your question, neither one of you is safe. It is not Blue’s job to convince you that you are safe with her. It is your job to show Blue that she is safe with you, just as if she was a patient in your hospital.”

I could sense that what I said resonated deeply with this person. Her energy changed completely. The woman lifted her head and squared her shoulders. You could feel the conviction running through her veins. At the same time, her eyes filled with respect, appreciation and love. She looked at Blue and said, “I got you girl. You are safe with me.”

Much to her surprise, Blue lowered her head, a signal that a horse is feeling safe, and Blue took the last few steps that closed the gap between them. With the woman’s hand now placed gently and confidently on Blue’s forehead, the connection between them created a palpable hush over the entire group.

I asked the woman what changed. She said, “I did.” And she was right.

As it turns out, this person is a gifted nurse leader. She tapped into a deeply held value that can get lost in the hustle and bustle of executive life. She moved her attention from self to other with a commitment to earn trust.

In the face of uncertainty, fear takes over when too much of our attention is on the self. Turn your attention to those you are leading or serving with a clear intention to act in their best interests. Trust will grow.

 

For more information about leadership development with horses contact June Gunter at junegunter@teachinghorse.com.

Grow Trust with Delegation and Boundaries

Taking Care of The Horses

We often think of ‘management’ as black and white. It’s not. I’m delighted to welcome Jurgen Appelo, one of Europe’s finest management writers, to Trust Matters, to finely articulate some shades of gray. Check out Jurgen’s new book, Management 3.0 Workout, as well.”

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I once tried to figure out what the difference is between the words responsible and accountable. I honestly didn’t know. The words are often used interchangeably. And in Dutch, German, Swedish, Finnish, and other European languages, they even translate to the same word! This makes the use of the two words confusing for readers and annoying for translators. The Wikipedia entry on Delegation tries to clarify it like this:

“Delegation (or passing down) is the assignment of authority and responsibility to another person (normally from a manager to a subordinate) to carry out specific activities (…) However the person who delegated the work remains accountable for the outcome of the delegated work.”

Wikipedia, “Delegation”

In my own words:

You are responsible for your own agreement to be held accountable by someone else.

Beware the accountability trap

It is crucial that you understand that this works in both directions. In any value exchange between two people, each is responsible for his own actions, and for agreeing that he can be held accountable by the other. Sadly, this is often misunderstood. In management 1.0 and management 2.0 organizations, “superiors” seek fulfillment of their own goals over the fulfillment of others, and they hold their “subordinates” accountable without acknowledging that they themselves should be held accountable for the well-being of the workers. Some call it the accountability trap. [Mayer, “The Accountability Trap”] This one-sided view of accountability leads down the path to compliance, compulsion, and complicacy and probably some complaints. You can escape this trap by not only ignoring the difference between the words (as we do in some European languages), but also by acknowledging that empowerment is a reflexive relationship between two equal partners.

Defining Boundaries

The word “management” is derived from the Italian word “manneggiare,” which means “taking care of horses.” I often compare teams and organizations—not people!—with horses, and I believe in mutually respectful relationships between horses and their caretakers. The caretaking of horses includes giving direction and setting boundaries. Quite often, when managers delegate work to teams, they don’t give them clear boundaries of authority [Vozza, “How to Set Healthy Boundaries in Your Workplace”]. By trial and error, teams need to find out what they can and cannot do usually incurring some emotional damage along the way. This was described by Donald Reinertsen as the “discovery of invisible electric fences,” [Reinertsen, Managing the Design Factory pag:107]. Repeatedly running into an electric fence is not only a waste of time and resources but it also kills motivation. And it ruins the coat of the horse. With no idea of what the invisible boundaries are around it, the horse will prefer to stand still or kick another in the head.

Reinertsen suggests creating a list of key decision areas to address the problem of not setting boundaries. The list can include things like working hours, key technologies, product design, and team membership. A manager should make it perfectly clear what the team’s authority level is for each key decision area in this list. When the horse can actually see the fence, there will be less fear and pain. And the farther away the fence, the more the horse will enjoy its territory.

It also works the other way around because of the reflexive relationship of responsibility and accountability. A team usually delegates work to management, such as rewards and remuneration, business partnerships, market strategy, and parking space. The horse is not required to simply accept any kind of boundaries, constraints, and abuse. Nature gave the horse strong teeth and hind legs for this very reason.

Balancing Authority

There’s nothing that scares an inexperienced rider more than the loss of control over the horse. Indeed, a well-managed horse will heed the instructions of its rider, while at the same time the rider will understand the needs and desires of the horse. When we consider a manager and a team, is there an equivalent of the bridle and the reins? Delegation is not a binary thing; there are shades of grey between a dictator and an anarchist. Managers can hand over responsibilities to teams in a controlled and gradual way. The art of management is in finding the right balance. You want to delegate as much as possible in order to decrease bureaucracy and increase power. But if you go too far, self-organization might lead to an undesirable and costly outcome, maybe even chaos. How much you can delegate depends on the maturity of the team, the status of its work, and the impact of decisions on the organization.

Delegation is context-dependent and reflexive. Teams are responsible for their agreement to be held accountable by their managers, and vice versa. Trust between the horse and the rider should always work both ways.

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References
Mayer, Tobias. “The Accountability Trap” <http://bit.ly/YLhZsS> Business Craftsmanship, 20 December 2012. Web.
Reinertsen, Donald G. Managing the Design Factory: A Product Developer’s Toolkit. New York: Free Press, 1997. Print.
Vozza, Stephanie. “How to Set Healthy Boundaries in Your Workplace” <http://bit.ly/1l9NgRs> Entrepreneur, 30 December 2013. Web

Building the Trust-based Organization, Part II

The Elephant In The OrganizationIn my last post, Building the Trust-based Organization Part I, I suggested that approaches to trust at the organizational level fell into several categories. Like the parable of the blind men and the elephant, all captured some part of the puzzle, but none grasped the entirety of the issue.  The five categories I listed were:

1. Trust as communication
2. Trust as reputation
3. Trust as recipe
4. Trust as rule-making
5. Trust as shared value.

I suggested a holistic approach would have a Point of View, a Diagnosis, and a Prescription.  Here is my attempt to offer such an approach.

Organizational Trust: A Point of View

Trust relationships are asynchronous – one party, the trustor, is the one who does the trusting, and who takes the risks. The other party, the trustee, is the one whom we speak of as being trustworthy. “Trust” is the result of a successful interaction between these two actors.

Trust is largely an interpersonal phenomenon. Trustworthiness is mostly personal, though we do speak of ‘trustworthy’ companies as having a track record or being reliable. Trusting, however, is a completely human action, not a corporate one.

Risk is necessary to trust: if risk is completely mitigated, we are left only with probability.

It follows that the most powerful meaning of “organizational trust” is not an organization that trusts or is trusted, but an organization that encourages personal trust relationships:

A trust-based organization is an organization which fosters and promotes the establishment of trust-based relationships between various stakeholders – employees, management, shareholders, customers, suppliers, and society.

Organizational Trust: Diagnosis

What is needed to create a trust-based organization? Since ‘trust’ is such a broad concept, it’s clear that themes like communications, regulations, and customer relationships will have a role. But to avoid a mere laundry list, what’s needed is some kind of primus inter pares relationship; or perhaps some necessary vs. sufficient distinctions.

My nomination is simple: an agreed-upon system of Virtues and Values. Virtues are personal, and represent the qualities sought out in employees and managers. Values are organizational, and reflect basic rules of relationship that ought to govern all relationships within the organization.

Some typical trust-based virtues include: candor, transparency, other-orientation, integrity, reliability, emotional intelligence, empathy.

I have suggested elsewhere Four Trust-based Organizational Values. They are expressed below in terms of customer relationships just to be specific, but they apply equally to relationships with suppliers, fellow-employees, and so forth.

  1. Lead with customer focus – for the sake of the customer. Begin interactions with other-focus rather than self-focus.
  2. Collaboration rather than self-orientation. Assume that the customer is a partner, not in opposition to us.  We are all, always, on the same side of the table.
  3. Live in the medium-to-long term, not the short term; interact with customers in relationship, not in transactional mode. Assume that all customers will be customers in perpetuity, with long memories.
  4. Use transparency as the default mode. Unless illegal or hurtful to others, share all information with customers as a general principle.

Advocates for Values.  I am not alone in citing Values as lying at the heart of the matter. McKinsey’s Marvin Bower put values at the center of his view of business, and McKinsey for many years was run from his mold. As Harvard Business School Dean McArthur said of Bower, “What made him a pioneer was that he took basic values into the business world.”

In 1953, Bower said, “…we don’t have rules, we have values…”

In 1974, he wrote, “One of the highest achievements in leadership is the ability to shape values in a way that builds successful institutions. At its most practical level, the benefit of a managed value system is that it guides the actions of all our people at all levels and in every part of our widespread empire.”

Bower’s biographer noted that Bower believed that “while financial considerations cannot be ignored, business goals must not be financial; if they are, the business will fail to serve its customers and ultimately enjoy less profit.”

The alumni of McKinsey – some, anyway – learned well. Harvey Golub said, “[values are] a powerful way to build a business…it worked for McKinsey and it worked for IDS and for American Express.”

IBM’s Lou Gerstner said: ‘“I believe that I learned from [Marvin] the importance of articulating a set of principles that drive people’s behavior and actions.”

[Note: McKinsey itself had some noticeable hiccups post-Bower. In my view, this is not an indictment of values-based management, but a sad example of how it requires constant values-vigilance].

The Case for Values.  The use of values as the basis for management is well-suited to the subject of trust, and this advantage shows up in numerous ways.

  • Values scale, in a way that performance management systems never can do.
  • Values are about relationships, in a way that incentives never can be; this makes them highly suitable to the subject matter of trust.
  • Values are infinitely teachable, in a way that value propositions or communications programs alone cannot aspire to.
  • Values are among the most un-copyable of competitive advantages.

Organizational Trust: Prescription

Managing a values-based organization will center around keeping the values vibrant. This is pointedly not done mainly through compensation and reward systems, corporate communications plans, or reputation management programs. Instead, it is done through the ways in which human beings have always influenced other human beings in relationship.  To name a few:

  1. Leading by example: trustworthy leaders show the way to their followers by their actions, not just their words
  2. Risk-taking: trusting others encourages them to be trustworthy, and, in turn, to themselves trust others
  3. Discussion: principles undiscussed are principles that die on the vine. Discussion, not one-to-many communication, is key to trust
  4. Ubiquitous articulation: trust principles should underpin many corporate decisions and actions; trust-creating leaders seize the opportunity for teaching points in every such case
  5. Recognition: Public praise for values well-lived is intrinsically motivating
  6. Confrontation: Trust-building leaders do not hesitate to overrule business decisions if they violate values, and to do so publicly in ways that teach lessons. Values, not value, are the ultimate arbiter of all actions.

To sum up: it’s a simple concept. Trust in a corporate setting is achieved by building trust-based organizations. Trust-based organizations are built to consciously increase the levels of trusting and of trustworthiness in all organizational relationships. The best approach to creating such an organization is values-based management and leadership. This is different from most approaches to management and leadership in vogue today.

The quotes about Marvin Bower were taken from:
Edersheim, Elizabeth Haas (2007-12-10). McKinsey’s Marvin Bower: Vision, Leadership, and the Creation of Management Consulting. Wiley.

Building the Trust-based Organization

The Elephant of TrustDo your eyes glaze over at that title? Mine do. I always click on such titles, but am usually disappointed when I get what feels like low-content or high fluff-quotient material. So I set out to tighten up the perspective.

Tentative conclusions: sometimes the issue really is vague, fluffy, fog-sculpting content. More often, however, it’s more a situation of the blind men and the elephant: all describe a key component of the answer, but none have a holistic perspective.

The Parts of the Elephant

This is not an exhaustive taxonomy, but a great number of pieces about creating trust in organizations do fall into these categories. Here are the equivalents of the blind men seeking to describe the elephant of trust.

Trust as Communication. “Communications is fundamental to earning trust,” says Jodi MacPherson of Mercer in Ivey Business Journal. “At the heart of building trust is the process of communication.”

This approach gets one thing very right; trust is a relationship, not a static set of virtues or characteristics. Hence the connection between parties is key, and communication is the basic way parties relate to each other.

However, the communication approach begs one huge question – the content being communicated.

Trust as Reputation. The Edelman PR firm’s annual Trust Barometer has been a major communications success.  A sample statement:

Corporate reputation and trust are a company’s most important assets, and must be handled carefully…Beyond safeguarding a reputation, the 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer findings reveal that businesses acquire a greater license to operate as they expand their mission and create more meaningful relationships…By identifying a company’s assets and weaknesses in the realm of trust, we help corporations uncover, define, exemplify and amplify their authentic identity in ways that resonate with stakeholders and inspire support of their business mission.

This approach has one big risk: by equating trust and reputation, the emphasis naturally falls more on managing the perception of the trustor, and less on managing the trustworthiness of the trustee.  It is also inherently corporate, and therefore impersonal.

Trust as Recipe.  There are probably more approaches that fall into this camp than any other.  It includes lists of (typically 4 – 6) actions, principles, insights, definitions, concepts which, if considered or managed or invented or followed or preached about, result in greater trust in an organization and between that organization and its stakeholders.

A good example is Ken Blanchard Company’s The Critical Link to a High-Involvement, High-Energy Workplace Begins with a Common Language.  They offer  four trust-busters (one of which is lack of communication), five trust-builders, and three rules to building leadership transparency.

Trust as Rules-Making. A Harvard Law blogpost titled Rebuilding Trust: the Corporate Governance Opportunity, Ira Milstein points out the critical roles that can be played by boards and shareholders in increasing trust.

A similar point is made from an Asian perspective, in Corporate Governance: Trust that Lasts, author Leonardo J. Matignas says “Corporate governance is not premised on a lack of trust. It simply ensures that trust is accompanied by practices and principles that will further strengthen it.”

While these views may appear slightly narrow, they’re part of a broader governance category that says corporate trust lies in better rule-making. If the game is out of control, we need to clarify the rules, tweak the goalposts, empower the referees, and not be afraid to make changes to the environment in which business operates legitimately as business.

The strength of this view lies in its linkage of business to society – the implicit statement that there is no Natural Law that says business has any right to stand alone outside a broader social context.

Trust as Shared Value. In Michael Porter and Mark Kramer’s notable 2010 HBR article Creating Shared Value, Porter auto-performs a conceptual sex-change operation on his previous work. The author of Competitive Strategy and the Five Forces affecting competitive success boldly charts out a world in which companies take the lead in formulating multilaterally beneficial, long-term projects for the greater betterment of all stakeholders. The lions and the lambs can get along after all, it seems.

Porter and Kramer deserve mention here because they have pinpointed something few others do – an unflinching claim that economic performance at a macro level is consistent with firms behaving at a micro-level in longer timeframes and in more multi-stakeholder collaborative manners. (Incidentally, this view reclaims Adam Smith from the clutches of the Milton Friedmans and Ayn Rands who suggest competition is purely about survival of the fittest, and restores to him a sense of Smith’s broader views as reflected in his Theory of Moral Sentiments).

They are not entirely alone. The Arthur Paige Society a few years ago published The Dynamics of Public Trust in Business, which similarly stated:

…trust creation is really an exercise in mutual value creation among parties who are unequal with respect to power, resources, and knowledge. We believe that a core condition for building public trust is the creation of approaches that create real value for all interested parties—businesses and public alike.

Of all the views, Trust-as-Shared-Value is the one most breathtaking in scope. The issue facing it is one of execution. There is a bit of a “then a miracle happens” quality, perhaps inevitable given the scope of envisioned change.

Seeing the Elephant Whole

All the five generic approaches above get something important right – but none of them constitute a full answer to “How do we make trust-based companies?”

So what would constitute a good answer?  It must have three parts: a Point of View, a Diagnosis, and a Prescription.

Crudely speaking, in the list above, Porter/Kramer’s Shared Value is a point of view lacking a prescription. Trust as Rule-Making is a diagnosis without prescriptions or a point of view, and Trust as Recipe is pretty much prescriptive in nature.

In Part II of this post, I offer my suggestion for how to best answer the question across all three dimensions.