The Case of the Untrustworthy Managers

The Power of Deduction and TrustA long time ago, in a land far away (known as “Texas”), I once had a consulting client. They operated a chain of convenience stores, and we had been brought in to address a serious case of high store manager turnover.

Turnover was running about 150%, which meant the average store manager lasted only about 9 months. It was a tough business. Most sales came from gasoline and beer, and the clientele wasn’t the most genteel. So obviously the company was doing a poor job of selecting managers.

Obvious, that was, until a clue smacked me in the face. As with many retail businesses, shrinkage was a problem. Therefore, every month, every store manager was given a lie detector test. And sure enough, a great many managers eventually flunked the test and were fired. On average, this happened at about the ninth month of employment.

Nice Work, Sherlock

The astute among you can already see what took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out. The lie detector tests, intended to uncover deceitful behavior, in fact induced that very behavior. Management practices were suborning thievery.  After a while, each manager would figure, “Well somebody must be getting away with something, maybe I should try,” and another self-fulfilling prophecy would come to pass.

Put another way – management’s distrust of its store managers caused them to behave in an untrustworthy manner.

Cause, Effect, and Reciprocity

Herman Melville’s novella Billy Budd was about a completely honest, trustworthy young man. But rare it is that character alone can withstand the attacks of low expectations; the environment we live in plays a key role as well. Employee trustworthiness isn’t purely bought through hiring. It can be reinforced, or incapacitated, depending on the corporate culture that new employees encounter.

The case of the convenience store highlights the vicious circle of low expectations resulting in low trustworthiness. But it works the other way too.  “The fastest way to make a man trustworthy is to trust him,” said Henry Stimson. And apparently Hemingway. And maybe Gandhi, too. And Steven M.R. Covey. In other words, it’s pretty much received wisdom now.

As someone else once said, “Whether you expect good or ill of someone – that’s what you’ll get.”

If you want a trust-based company, start trusting the stakeholders all around you.  That means your customers, your partners, your employees, your bosses, your suppliers. And expect them to return the gesture. The power of reciprocity in human relations is such that you will, far more often than not, have your expectations fulfilled.

Keep Your Damn Receipt!

They say a pun is the lowest form of humor. Analogously, a rant may be the lowest form of blogpost. But we love both from time to time.

The other day I bought a salad at a health club (overpriced at $7.50). The pre-packed kind, in a plastic container with a tiny plastic cup of dressing inside. They sell sandwiches and water and chips—it’s a small place run by a concessionaire.

I gave the lady a twenty. She gave me back change—a few coins, and several bills—with the receipt neatly held together with the bills.

So here’s my little rant. I hate those gratuitous little receipts. I mean, a salad?

“I don’t need the receipt,” I said, making a bit of a show of peeling off the receipt and handing it back to her.

That’s when she upped the ante. “The wastebasket is right over there,” she sniffed, pointing behind me as she withdrew her hands from the proffered receipt. Which of course just ticked me off more.

“I’m sure there’s a wastebasket on your side too,” was my (oh-so clever!) retort as I turned and left the receipt on the counter.

Now, maybe I could use a good “get over it” lecture. Fair enough. Still…

What is it with dinky purchases and receipts?

If I’m buying a computer, furniture, office supplies—I get it. The tab for six at a business lunch, the week’s grocery shopping, hardware—I get it.

But a Hershey bar at the airport bookstore? A coffee at Starbucks? A bag of chips or a magazine at a chain pharmacy? Like I’m going return it? Or put it on an expense account?  My tax return?

Am I the only one that thinks it annoying to get a receipt for every little purchase?

Here’s what I suspect.

• I suspect it’s largely the bigger, chain stores that are guilty of this.

• I suspect this is the same crowd that brought us “Your message is very important to us…”

• I suspect some programmer suggested it ages ago, something like, “now that we’ve got the inventory replenishment process linked to the POS system, you know what else we could do—like, for free?”

• I suspect some “customer service analyst” thought, “If the customer has to ask for a receipt, that’s annoying to the customer—but hey if we just give it to everyone without being asked…”

• I suspect the higher-up that approved this nonsense thought, “Hey, if we give one to everyone, then no one can ever blame us, and we don’t have to allow our brainless frontline staff to make any decisions at all. It’s a total win!”

That’s what I suspect, anyway. How about you?


Trust-based Selling in the Real World: Bruce Abbott

Judy and I were in San Francisco a few months ago and ducked into a shop in Ghirardelli Square full of gorgeous wood carvings—One of a Kind. I’d been there before; beautifully turned bowls, unique tables—if you love wood, you’d love this store.

We noticed a unique sculpture—a Balinese statue of a woman, 5 feet tall, nearly Giacommetti-thin, carved from a single piece of wood. We quickly realized it was the piece we’d been looking for to fill an important empty corner at home.

The price was surprisingly reasonable. We bought it.

Bruce Abbott, the proprietor, took complete responsibility for the packaging and shipping, saying he’d personally supervise the packing, advising us on insurance, etc. Incredibly busy, he nonetheless managed to serve us impeccably and with great conversation (ask him about Bill Clinton asking to use the bathroom on a recent visit.)

The piece looks great at home. And I sent Bruce a note complimenting him on running a good set of business processes and an obviously successful business. Here’s his response (excerpted):

"People rarely appreciate all the details and "process" involved in a business like this, which starts at the "roots" and gets refined into pieces such as the one you received. I spend time in the woods selecting woods for my production and take care of pretty much everything else. I have help in my own production in the shop and also buy from several others, several of whom receive the wood they need from me.

"The store, at the moment, is full and very beautiful. I no longer worry so much about the cash flow but just try to produce and keep the store at higher and higher levels of fine woodworking and yet affordable. We have many things under $30, $20 and under $10.00, all of which are still cool pieces. I just make it difficult for people to walk in and not find something they’d like to have even if they cannot buy at the moment."

“I just make it difficult for people to walk in and not find something they’d like to have even if they cannot buy at the moment.”

Think about that as a trust-based philosophy of doing business. He’s saying:

• I’ll carry inventory that’s not likely to sell just now
• I don’t sell, I just make it easy to buy
• I focus on customer needs, not cash flow
• I’m building a store for your next visit, and the one after that.

The essence of trust-based selling is a paradox. If you stop trying to make the sale, and instead focus on helping the customer get what they want, you will end up getting more sales.

I won’t get into the psychology of it now; just enjoy clicking through pictures of some beautiful pieces at One Of a Kind .

If you go there, say hey to Bruce for me, and tell him I’ll be back again.