Story Time: Want a Relationship Breakthrough? Role-Play Your Client.

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 good intentions won’t keep you from screwing up. Today’s story highlights the business value of taking time to see the world from another’s perspective.

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 training for trustworthiness. It vividly demonstrates how a little role-playing—walking in your clients’ shoes—goes a long way.

From the Front Lines: Role-Playing Pays Off

The value of role-playing couldn’t be highlighted any better than the example that one of our course participants experienced in real time at one of my (Charlie’s) sessions. The exercise asked a group of business leaders to play the role of one of their most challenging clients while a colleague held a typical meet-and-greet.

One male partner chose a woman who was then a presidential appointee at one of Washington’s largest government agencies. The partner was flummoxed by two aspects of the relationship. One, a number of her direct reports were using the services of his organization, so he had to be careful of jumping the chain of command. Two, she kept asking for feedback, and what others inside and outside the organization were saying about her, a question he didn’t feel he could answer without jeopardizing the firm’s relationship.

The exercise got off to a good start, but then the ‘client’ asked over and over: ‘How are we doing?’

The other executive in the role play finally said: ‘Why do you keep asking that?’

The ‘client,’ the senior partner, answered quickly: ‘I’m just looking for information.’

A light bulb went off: she hadn’t been asking about how her staff felt about her; she was looking for information outside her own glass bubble as a senior official.

The senior partner immediately shot off an e-mail asking his client to have coffee and catch up. She answered right away with: ‘I’ll buy.’

—Charles H. Green, about Greg Pellegrino (Global Industry Leader for the Public Sector Industry, Deloitte)

Connect with Greg on LinkedIn or read his blog.


Read more stories about trust:

A Separation: a Cinematic Tale of Truth and Lies

This past weekend I saw A Separation, an Iranian movie with more awards to its credit than a dictator’s military jacket. It deserves every one of them.

You’ll never find better screenwriting. Rolling Stone rightly calls it “a landmark film.” Filmcritic calls it a brilliant political metaphor. Roger Ebert praises it as a critique of religion. The Irish Times calls it “a thoughtful film that also works as a crackling melodrama.”

It is all those, and something else. It’s a poster child for the corrosive influence of lying and the power of truth-telling.

Relationships in Disarray

I’ve often quoted (and will again here) Phil McGee’s brilliant insight that “all business problems flow from a tendency to blame, and an inability to confront.”

In A Separation, we see a couple struggling with their relationship. The wife wants to leave Iran; the husband refuses to leave his ailing father. The wife goes to stay with her parents. Their daughter is caught in between.

A woman, hired as a caregiver to the ailing father, brings her volatile husband into the mix. A small set of events trigger a progressive breakdown of relationships among these five key characters.

It is the breakdown that is portrayed so brilliantly. All five are shown as partly sympathetic, and the incidents are so trivial that it doesn’t feel like a deus ex machina. And so the plot feels inevitable – the situation falls into disarray like water forming a funnel down the sink.  How could it be otherwise?

The Truth Shall Set You Free

Until, that is, you realize that every one of these people is fundamentally, deeply, living a lie. One’s lie is about honor; another’s about God; a third about loyalty to family. All the lies seem trivial, and understandable. But they all collide; irresistible forces meeting immovable objects.

And I realized, walking out of the theater, that every single one of those characters held the power within them to change everything – simply by being willing to tell the truth. And the power they held was not just to change themselves, but to change everyone else as well – the entire situation.

A Tendency to Blame, and an Inability to Confront

Back to McGee’s thesis. Dysfunction in groups is rarely about one stubborn person gumming up the works. That is the blame game. The one bad apple spoiling the barrel.

More often, it’s a group conspiracy that’s at fault; the entire organization opting to point fingers, rather than engaging in confronting the true issue at hand. And as the movie reminded me, a conspiracy doesn’t need to be undone by everyone – a single defector can do the job.

All it takes is one person to Speak the Truth, to point out the emperor’s new non-clothes. If that can be done, everyone else immediately recognizes that truth has been spoken. Then, whether from shame or from gratitude at someone else having taken the first step, the healing can begin.

Is this too abstract? What about you? What tangled webs are you a part of? What truth might be spoken by others caught up in the web that would set everyone free?

What truth might be spoken by you?

Real People, Real Trust: A Learning Consultant’s Approach to Leadership

Heber Sambucetti is a senior learning consultant with Accenture, working routinely with some of Accenture’s most seasoned executives. Find out what Heber sees as the distinguishing traits of a trusted advisor, and learn how he has successfully turned the most challenging relationships into prosperous ones.


Heber (pronounced EH-ver) and I met in 2010 when I led a Being a Trusted Advisor program for the team he works with. I was immediately struck by his candor, caring, and professionalism.

I began my Real People, Real Trust interview with Heber in the same way I’ve done in the past, asking, “What does it take to be a trusted advisor?” Heber’s immediate response was remarkably similar to Anna Dutton’s; he said, “Above all else, you need to be sincere and genuine.”

Heber continued, “That’s the only way you can create the right type of environment for a business relationship to prosper. You need to come with a pure intent to help others, and truly care about the person across from you.

“Secondly, don’t be afraid to bring emotions to the business environment. That’s a necessary element to create a certain level of intimacy—and by that I mean a sense of familiarity, closeness, and an understanding of each other. That way, not only do people see who you really are, but it makes it possible for you to ask the tough questions and deal with the tough stuff when it counts. If someone’s angry, you should be able to address that—as in, ‘What’s got you angry? I sense frustration.’ Sometimes people are afraid to explore this side of things. Validating other people is important. Sticking to the task only gets you so far.

“Those are your foundational pieces—the genuineness, the pure intent, and focusing on more than just the tasks at hand. And then you need to be able to consistently deliver whatever it is you’ve agreed upon, and bring something better for their business. That requires understanding what success is for them. And don’t forget about what you care about too. If it’s a one-way relationship it will never work.”

Fighting Fires

During our conversation, I discovered that Heber was a firefighter and Emergency Medical Technician in a prior life—something I never would have guessed, having interacted with him exclusively in a corporate environment. I asked him what parallels he saw between the world of consulting and the business of saving lives.

“In the fire department, I really learned first-hand the importance of establishing an environment of trust. When you feel like you’re part of a family, then you don’t want to let the family down, and you genuinely care about people you’re helping. You’re taught how to bring the best of yourself every day. The consequences of failure are extreme—your team member or a citizen loses a life. There is an unwritten rule that you all go in and you all come out; you don’t leave anyone behind.

“Sure, the stakes are different in business—mistakes in the corporate world won’t cost a life, no matter what the pressures you may feel inwardly, and I remind my team of that every day. But I still live by all those principles: be of service and always give it your best.”

Surviving the Heat

I asked Heber if he had a “proudest moment”—a time when he knew something important had shifted in a relationship.

“Once I turned a relationship from the individual being incredibly chastising and critical of everything—someone much more senior than me—to that person being a champion and educator. One day, after a series of interactions, I just had to lay it on the table. I said, ‘If you want to make me feel like sh** and perspire every time I talk to you, then you’re on target. But here’s the thing: I think I can learn from you. It’s true I don’t know everything, and we have a common goal of success with this project, so I need you to teach me instead of criticizing me.’ The person was taken by complete surprise and the relationship took a dramatic turn for the better. It was an intense moment. I ran out of deodorant. But I just had to say what was there.”

Heber then made a point to speak about taking responsibility for relationships gone wrong.

“When a relationship isn’t working, it’s easy to approach it from the perspective that you’re not doing anything and this person is beating you down. The question I always ask myself is, what am I doing to make the relationship better—or worse? What’s my piece to own? How have I let it fester? Holding yourself and others accountable are keys to relationships that work.”

Best Advice: You Snooze You Lose

I asked Heber for his best advice for someone who’s trying to increase trust in a relationship.

“First, ask yourself why you want to improve the relationship with that person; what’s in it for you. Always ask why. If the answer is, ‘Because I need to make my numbers and have them sign on the dotted line,’ think again. Would you want someone to approach you that way? No. OK, then try again from a different perspective. Put yourself in their shoes.

“Most people have a gut feel for what others are thinking and feeling, they’ve just hit the snooze button on it. They don’t want to look at it—it’s too raw, too emotional, too difficult, so snooze it is. And then they’re surrounded by alarm clocks all on snooze. That’s not sustainable.

“This applies personally as well as professionally. If I ever hit the snooze button with my son, he tells me right away. Children have a magical way of reminding you straight out that you’ve hit snooze—‘You promised me we’d play soccer, Dad.’ ‘We’ll do it tomorrow.’ ‘That’s what you said yesterday, Dad.’

“So I do what I can to minimize how many snooze buttons I have in life.”

Warming the Heart

Heber’s approach to building relationships reminds me of Heber: straight up, wise, humorous, warmhearted.

I don’t know about you, but I’m glad to have the Hebers of the world to keep me honest and out of danger.

Connect with Heber on LinkedIn.


The Real People, Real Trust series offers an insider view into the challenges, successes, and make-it-or-break-it moments of people from all corners of the world who are leading with trust. Check out our prior posts: read about Chip Grizzard, a CEO You Should Know; Ralph Catillo: How One Account Executive Stands Apart; and Anna Dutton: A Fresh Perspective on Sales Operations.

Warren Buffet on Envy and the Seven Deadly Sins

Berkshire Hathaway held their annual bash in Omaha a few weeks ago, as delightfully reported by Laura Rittenhouse. 

As happens at that time of year, Buffet and his even-more-quotable-if-that’s-possible partner in investing, Charlie Munger, make themselves available to be interviewed. Which is where I first heard their rundown of the seven deadly sins.

Buffet: As an investor, you get something out of all the deadly sins—except for envy. Being envious of someone else is pretty stupid. Wishing them badly, or wishing you did as well as they did—all it does is ruin your day. Doesn’t hurt them at all, and there’s zero upside to it.

If you’re going to pick a sin, go with something like lust or gluttony. That way at least you’ll have something to remember the weekend for.

This isn’t just good homespun Buffet humor. It’s deeply meaningful on at least three levels.

Why Envy Is Bad For Your Investments

First of all, you can make a case that envy actually destroys your investment portfolio. Turns out Buffet and Munger have used this standup routine before, and it was brilliantly detailed five years ago in a blogpost by Sanjay Bakshi.

Basically, if you’re really knowledgeable about a business in which you can get a 19% return, but have heard about some other business in which you can get a 21% return, you’d be stupid to forsake the 19%. Which is why good investors say things like “stick with what you know.” (Buffet himself goes into more detail in his Chairman’s letter of 1993, in the section on equity investments, even quoting Mae West).

Envy, in other words, can hurt you financially.

Why Envy is Bad for Your Relationships

Buffet aside, envy and its kissing cousin resentment are equally culpable in the softer realm. Like customer relationships. Here’s why.

If you’re envious of a customer—of anyone, really–it poisons your relationships with that person. What are you envious of? Their money? Their status? Their social ease? Their romantic partner? 

Regardless of the object of your envy, your level of envy is likely to be most acute when you’re with the envied person—and particularly if the money, status, social ease or romantic partner are in play or close at hand.

In those cases, our envy oozes out of us in the most dishonest ways. We sneak furtive glances, make snide comments, look for favor, disparage the things we covet, and subtlely beg. All the while, of course, maintaining plausible deniability about what we are doing. Or so we think.

In fact, we kid only ourselves. The customer may not follow every twisted inward thought we have (why would they want to?) but they know the result. We are absent; we are not genuinely focused on them; we are obsessed by our own needs, and cannot focus on theirs.

Envy can hurt your commercial relationships.

Why Envy is Bad for Your Own Self

As if it weren’t enough that envy hurts us financially and commercially, it rots us as people too. Envy, festering, becomes resentment. The Latinate derivation of resentment is re-feeling. Feeling after the fact, revisiting the past, dwelling negatively on history—the one thing over which we have precisely no control.

Resentment is akin to playing God, groveling in the fiction that we can alter the reality of time past. It’s no accident that the 12-step program literature refers to resentment as “a grave matter,” and “the number one offender.” 

Living in resentment means you are living outside reality. Living in a fictional world between your ears just removes you from humanity, and from the moment. Alone and out of time is no good way for a human being to live.

It all starts with envy. Buffet was right. Go get you some good sins, if you must, at least there’s some pleasure in them. As to envy—as Buffet put it, there’s no upside to it.

Being Right is Vastly Overrated: Part II

In yesterday’s post, Being Right is Vastly Overrated: Part I, I talked about the folly of trying to be right in business.

And wouldn’t you know it–the same rule seems to apply in our personal lives. But with some interesting twists about how humans relate to each other.

Being Right is Doubly Seductive

In business, I suggested yesterday, we are taught from our early days that the goal is to win and succeed, and that you generally do so by being right, or at least more right than the other guy.

In life, it’s the same–only different. We are attracted to those who are right. They are the successful ones, it seems, particularly early in life; they are the ones winning the social battles of ‘rightness.’ They are the ‘smart’ ones. They get the good grades, the good jobs. Being right really is seductive.

But Being Right Backfires in Personal Relationships

Just as in business, however, something goes awry when we bring our supposed life lessons back home with us. How many people marry the person they thought was ‘right’—academically, athletically, socially—only to find out that the passion to be right can be the worst form of obnoxious.

The desire to be right—on the surface so valuable outside relationships—turns toxic within them. How many of you—well, let’s just say, how many of you have a friend—a friend whose spouse just has to be right? All the time.

It doesn’t have to be a shout-down. There are ways to get a spouse’s goat while convincing everyone, particularly including yourself, that you’re doing no such thing. You’re just trying to make a point, see? You’re just trying to make sure your particular angle on the subject is understood. You’re just trying to carry on a stimulating conversation, there’s no need to get all huffy about it, it’s not personal, and you know that, right?

Where Does the Desire to Be Right Come From?

When I was a kid, I heard adults say that bullies were just afraid themselves and were acting out of bravado. It made no sense to me at the time; they sure didn’t look afraid to me.

But with age comes perspective. And now I believe it. People who act badly—I learned this from Phil McGee—are almost always fighting a fear. Find out what that fear is, and you’re likely at the heart of the issue.

The insistence on being right—on winning arguments with one’s spouse, one’s kids, one’s friends—almost always derives from an insecurity, a fear that those other people are in fact disrespecting us. A fear that they do not, in fact, think we are right. 

And lurking even beneath that, there is a fear that we ourselves, might in truth, Not. Be. All. That. Right.   And so we fight to deny giving those thoughts consciousness.

Worse yet: in our better moments, we can see our desire to be right as a mask for our insecurities. We even say, with fake humility, as if it were an excuse, “well, I do suffer from low self-esteem.” But that’s not how others see it.

Others see it as self-obsessed, narcissistic, immature, hurtful on occasion, insensitive, rude, and above all, no fun to be with. 

And so we’re full circle. Just as in business, the desire to be right results in exactly the opposite of what was intended. It drives away the very people whose respect and companionship we wanted. And it does so for the same reasons we talked about yesterday.

Being right is all about me. But you like me better when I make it all about you. And ironically, if I’m all about you, you’re more likely to be all about me. That way we each end up getting what we wanted–but in a far more delicious way.

The antidote? Get over yourself. There is a god, and you’re not it.  Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less. What you get back is roughly equal to what you put out. To be trusted, try trusting.  Treat words like dessert cookies; leave the last one for your partner.

Dare to be you; everyone else is taken anyway.  

Trust and Martin Luther King Day

Today is Martin Luther King Day, a United States holiday.

Much has been written about the holiday, and about King. I won’t attempt to add much, other than to highligh one quote from this complex man.

"Life’s most persistent question is, what are you doing for others?"

If there’s any one thing that predominantly accounts for low trust these days–particularly in business–it is the sense that everyone is in it for himself. This view has even been glorified in business in recent years. An ethicist recently commented to me that he was shocked at the recent bitterness of some in the financial professions. "They don’t even apologize for selfishness anymore," he said; "they feel it’s legitmate."

Trust is by nature a relationship. Part of that relationship is willingness to be of service to others. King’s quote also speaks to relationship: it’s as timely today as it ever was.

That’s what I’ll be thinking about today.




The Butterfly Effect Redux

Doug WarrenIf a butterfly flaps its wings in Hong Kong, will there be a monsoon in Hawaii?

Stewart’s Story.

About 6 years ago, I was doing a lot of networking, and met someone who needed a temporary CFO in the Boston area. One of my long-time clients and a networker in the 500+ class on Linked-In, Dallas-based attorney Peter Vogel introduced me to Steve Crane, an avid networker and then a partner at a national firm that provided just that service.

Although I never spoke with Steve directly, through Peter, he introduced me to a Boston-based partner.

I called the Boston partner, and connected him to the potential client. The story could have ended there, but it did not. The Boston partner invited me to meet others in the group in the Boston area. When we met, I shared my view that people in business should treat each other with trust, caring and respect.  One of the partners, Doug, said to me: “You sound just like my B-school classmate, Charlie. You ought to talk with him.” He offered an introduction.  I accepted.

Turns out Charlie was Charles H. Green, now CEO of Trusted Advisor Associates LLC, and co-author of the then recently published The Trusted Advisor. We talked, and did indeed sound alike. That was the start of our valuable and continuing relationship. It’s been great for each of us. All this from doing a favor for someone in Boston seeking a temporary CFO!

Charlie’s Story.

Many years ago, I went to Harvard Business School. I didn’t have long business experience, so initially felt a little outside the group. But I did quickly form bonds with a couple of really great people, including Rob Galford and Doug Warren, both of whom were in "Section H" with me.  Blessed with extroverts’ gift of gab, I found both Rob and Doug refreshing to hang around with, and a great antidote to my own shyness.

We all graduated.  I had a 20-year career in management consulting, then left to found my own business. I co-authored The Trusted Advisor with David Maister and with the aforementioned Rob Galford.

Doug and I saw each other only at reunions, until about 6 years ago when I got a call from Doug. “I want you to meet someone,” said Doug. “His name is Stewart Hirsch, and I think you two might get along.” I talked with Stewart and we did get along. In fact, I hired Stewart to be my business coach. That led to my tapping Stewart’s skills to help serve TAA clients – and now he’s heading our coaching practice

From Both.

A few weeks ago, Peter mentioned Steve (remember Peter and Steve?) in a conversation with Stewart. Stewart realized that he’d never even talked with Steve, much less thanked him. Stewart then called Steve and shared with him his role in Stewart’s story and his appreciation of for the introduction. Now, they are considering networking opportunities for each other, and starting a new set of links.

Tragically, Doug died several years ago, another too-young victim of cancer. Charlie attended Doug’s memorial service, and another service a few years later at a reunion.  Doug’s wife and children still feel connected to 75-odd members of Section H. Those are wonderful tributes to the power of our shared experiences.

But it has recently occurred to Charlie that, for him, there could be no better memory of Doug than to daily appreciate the living reminder of his introduction of Stewart to Charlie.

If a butterfly flaps its wings in Hong Kong, will there be a monsoon in Hawaii? We don’t know. What we do know is that when you help people, opportunities can appear, and when we seize those opportunities, doors open.

Outsourcing Loyalty, and other Oxymorons

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

Outsourcing loyalty. Think about the absurdity in that phrase.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Markets, Relationships and Trust

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 3 of 5: Trust-based Business Development in a Recession: Principle 2, Collaboration

Monday we announced a five-day blogpost on developing business in a recession based on each of the Four Trust Principles.

Trust is paradoxical; as is the best approach to recessionary times.

Yesterday we offered ideas based on Trust Principle 1, Client Focus. Today we highlight Principle 2, Collaboration.

If trust is important to business development generally, it is particularly important in a recession. Collaboration is one of the four Trust Principles because:

Collaboration with existing clients cuts business development costs—selling to existing clients is far less expensive than selling new business.

Collaboration with others—including even competitors—offers scale economies.

Collaboration allows reconfiguration—of markets, production, services.

Most importantly, collaboration is inherently about relationships—and not about competition. In a recession, that’s the message you want to send—now is the time to strengthen relationships. You’ll reap the benefits later.

How to do it? Here are 14 ideas to prime the pump. Please: add your own. Let’s collaborate on generating a great list.

1. If you’re a consultant of any type: write your next proposal seated next to your client. Bring all your backup records, rent a conference room, and collaboratively proceed to write a joint proposal. Rather than deal with issues after the proposal has been written and sent and it shows up as a disagreement in the final sales meeting—raise it in joint meeting.

2. If you’re a speaker or trainer, put together a speaking tour, or a combined webinar, of like-minded people–including those you used to think of as competitors. 

3. Does your company outsource key processes? Is the recession causing strains in the relationship? Have an offsite meeting with key leaders of each firm, with the agenda of “where can we collaborate more, and argue with each other less?”

4. Answer the question the customer asked you: not the one you wanted to answer. The customer is not your competitor–collaborate with the customer by talking straight.

5. If you’re a B2B manufacturing salesperson, call a key customer. Suggest the two firms sit down together offsite for a day and discuss “what could we do better together to make things cheaper, faster, or more profitable for both of us?” Be prepared to share your manufacturing process, costs, and profit margins, so you can figure it out together.

6. If you’re a professional services provider, sit down with your client and see which portion of your services could be performed more cost effectively by the client, or how your costs could be reduced. For example, if preliminary research needs to be done, ask if the client has someone who could do it, and get approval to rely on it, or use it as a base. If you charge for materials, let the client make the copies and produce the the books. When you travel for the client offer to use the client’s travel service if the client can get a better price on travel.

7. If you’re professional services firm with underemployed staff, offer to swap similarly underemployed staff with a client. Both will gain valuable perspective and experience without being taken off critical work. The employees involved will feel grateful and challenged. And the linkages between the firms will be strengthened. None of which would easily happen in good economic times.

8. If you’re in a business where sales are large and take time, then at the next sales presentation meeting, have a client individual co-present with you. And make a point of it, saying “working collaboratively with you is what we believe in, and it’s even more important in tough times like these.” Actions speak louder than words.

9. If you’re in a functional department of a large company (HR, legal, IT), identify 3-4 of the same departments in other large companies in your geographic area. Create a collaborative work group across the companies that meets (within bounds of legal agendas) to share best practices and work opportunities.  

10. Give your receivables clerk a budget to buy flowers or chocolates for the payables clerk at your most important customers for Valentine’s day (you’ve still got a few days).

11. If you’re in sales or customer relationship management, go find who, if anyone, is handling innovation for your firm. Ask them if they would like to collaborate on that innovation work with Customer A, Customer B and Customer C?

12. Ditto in reverse. Ask your key customer whether anyone is handling innovation in their firm—and if they would appreciate the chance to work with your innovation people.

13. Look over your professional services providers. Is there anyone with whom you can work a barter arrangement? (Remember to check with your accountant on the tax issues, even if you don’t want to be appointed by the President).

14. If you’re in sales, go talk to your customers’ salespeople.  Share best practices and success stories; also share horror stories about how each organization treats salespeople from other companies (including how theirs treat you). You will gain perspective and insight about your customer’s company, and they may even put in a good word for you with their company’s buyers.

There’s our list. How about you? In the spirit of collaboration, please add an idea of your own. We want to hear from you.