Upcoming Events and Appearances: Trusted Advisor Associates

Join us at one or more upcoming Trusted Advisor Associates events. This Spring, we’ll be hosting and participating in events in Washington, DC; Fargo, ND; Boston, MA; London, England and through globally accessed webinars.

Also, a word about the Trusted Advisor Mastery Program.


Fri. Apr. 15th Global Charles H. Green

Charles H. Green will be a guest on Office Hours at the Future Selling Institute, with David A. Brock and Anthony Iannarino; today, Friday April 15th, at 11 AM EST. Access is members only; more information about Office Hours is here.


Wed. Apr. 20th Washington, DC Andrea P. Howe
Andrea will be speaking at the Washington DC Chapter of the Project Management Institute on “Trust and Influence: What Every Successful Project Manager Needs to Know.” Paolo’s Ristorante, 11898 Market Street, Reston, VA, 11:30am. Open to public: Sign up here. PMIWDC Members $30; Non-Members: $30; lunch will be served. PDUs will be available for Project Management Professionals (PMPs).


Wed. Apr. 27th Fargo, ND Sandra Styer

Sandy Styer will be presenting “The Heart of Trust: Keys to Becoming a Trusted Advisor” at the Tristate Trust Conference of the North Dakota Bankers Association on April 27th.


Wed. May 18th Boston, MA Stewart Hirsch

Stewart Hirsch will be a guest lecturer at Emerson College, speaking on “Becoming a Trusted Advisor.” The class to which Stewart will be addressing is a part of a professional services marketing course taught by Prof. Silvia Hodges, Ph.D.


Tues. & Wed. May 24th-25th London, England Julian Powe & Charles H. Green

In a highly interactive, practical and lively day-and-a-half program, TAA will be offering the opportunity to accelerate your professional growth, identify and strengthen the outstanding practice you already have, and address areas for improvement. This is the first time these two extraordinary presenters have offered this program together! Our early-booking price for the program will be $2200, with discounts available for group participation. For more information or to register contact Julian Powe or Tracey Del Camp, respectively.


The first tranche of the Trusted Advisor Mastery Program has completed the 19 modules in the program, individual coaching calls and its third group call, and the members have agreed to keep up lively discussions on the online Forum. Here’s what one participant has to say about the program:

“The Trusted Advisor Mastery Program delivered professional and personal results beyond expectations. The first coaching call was worth the whole price of admission.” (Virginia Sambuco, Sr. Director Marketing Services, Enterprise Solutions, Harland Clarke, San Antonio, TX)

To be notified of the next available program, email us at:

Employee Engagement: The Means, or The End?

Please take two deep breaths to calm yourself and find a place of zen before answering the below question.

All calmed? Good. From that place of inner peace and quiet, ask yourself which of the following two statements you more strongly agree with:

(Answer instantly, don’t over-think):

  1. The purpose of business is to make people happy
  2. The purpose of people is to make business happy

Make a note somewhere of your answer. Now let’s talk about it.

My guess is you chose #1. Maybe not because you totally agree with it, but because #2 seems so absurd. Of course people have purposes beyond being economic cogs; it’s insulting to our humanity to think otherwise. (Anyhow, that’s how I think of it).

Joseph Campbell had it right when he said:

“We’re so engaged in doing things to achieve purposes of outer value that we forget that the inner value, the rapture that is associated with being alive, is what it’s all about.”

And yet: that is not how we behave. Let’s pick on the employee engagement movement as one example [1]: over and over in business, we confuse the means with the ends. And it’s not pretty.

Business Treats People Like Means to an End

A typical post asks, “Why is employee engagement important?” and answers the question thus:

Engaged employees learn more, grow faster, and show more initiative than employees who are not. They are committed to finding solutions, solve problems, and improve business processes.

Therefore, employee engagement is strongly linked to business performance!

All that’s missing is the QED: Obviously, the purpose of employee engagement is to improve business performance. A happy employee is a productive employee; we want you happy because we want you making money for us. Left unspoken is, “and if your being unhappy led to greater productivity, we’d go for unhappy in a heartbeat.”

There is an unending corporate appetite for this sort of rationalization. Here’s the abstract of an article from The American Society for Quality:

Abstract: Weak workforce engagement can lead to poor retention, increased absenteeism and lowered productivity.

Or, from Corporate Rewards, answering the question “Why Bother with Engagement?”

90% of the employees at the World’s Most Admired Companies identified their company as very effective or effective at fostering high levels of employee engagement. Reason enough to bother with engagement…

Organisations need to bother because engagement is the holy grail of workplace relations. It is a virtuous circle: engaged employee; better results; deeper engagement.

There are thousands of such examples; enough, you know that’s true.

The behavioral instinct to subordinate people is evident in the very language of HR. People are not called people, they’re called human “resources”. Note that the word “human” is the adjective, modifying the noun “resources.”

The ante got raised about a decade ago when we started talking about Human Capital. The substitution of “capital” for “resources” was part and parcel of a general reduction of all things business to financial terms. Manufacturing, services, geographies, cultures, people—who cares, it can all be reduced to the single fungible terminology of net-present-financial value. It’s all about the money.

It Wasn’t Always This Way

You may think Joseph Campbell, the scholar of myths cited earlier, doesn’t have enough business credentials to be cited here. If so, let’s try Peter Drucker, the quintessential business writer. He famously said:

The purpose of a company is to create a customer…the only profit center is the customer.

Dale Carnegie had much the same idea when he phrased his paradoxical aphorisms about success coming from focus on others.

Our ideas today about the role of people in business are more culturally-driven than we like to think. There is no revealed truth that says for once and for all what the purpose of business is, or must be: it is what we choose to believe that determines what we get out of business.

We have been choosing a politics, culture and way of business life for some time now that subordinates human benefit to the aggrandizement of corporate entities. That belief system has gotten so imbued in our language and behaviors that we notice it about as much as a fish notices the water it swims in.

It’s Time to Re-Think the Ends and Means of Business

While we’re mesmerized by the sloppy but energetic political revolutions in the Middle East, there’s an equally energetic (and yes, often sloppy) revolution in business thinking going on.

Two widely known examples are Michael Porter and Mark Kramer’s Shared Value concept, and Umair Haque’s Capitalist Manifesto. And while I’ve critiqued their sloppiness, there’s no question they’re heading in the right direction, and spreading a lot of heat and light along the way.

There are other revolutionaries out there. Robert Eccles is spearheading an amazing drive to integrate corporate performance reporting. Chris Brogan and HubSpot Marketing are revolutionizing the notion of marketing and strategy to become truly customer-centric—not customer-centric like a vulture, but for the sake of the customer.

Dave Brock talks about sales as being at a new inflection point: this inflection point, unlike the two prior ones, is driven by the customer—not the company.

And speaking of inflection points, the new Dean of the Harvard Business School uses that same term to describe what faces HBS, which implies a radically different set of priorities.

The Point of Being Happy is to Be Happy: Not to Increase ROI

There’s nothing wrong with making money, creating businesses, having fabulously healthy economies. I’m all for it. Capitalism is a great model.

But let’s start getting our means and ends back in a row: when we start justifying happiness in terms of corporate ROI, something has gone horribly wrong.

Happiness and ROI go together. We should resist making one solely the means and the other solely the end, but let’s remember: if and when we’re forced to prioritize, the true end is happiness.


[1] I’m going to casually equate employee engagement and happiness here, as do many casual authors. EE fans may quibble about that, but the logic of this post applies to each; pick your preferred words.


All Change is Linguistic

That title is lifted from Peter Block, and I want to make sure credit is given where credit is due.

I think those four words are wonderfully meaningful and I want to add my own take on it (any flawed interpretation is all mine, not Block’s). It has to do with a larger question: the relationship between thinking and doing.

Do Thoughts Drive Actions, or Do Actions Drive Thoughts?

This is not some abstraction. It matters greatly to businesses whether you can better think your way into right action, or act your way into right thinking.

For example: can you better train for soft skills via role-playing, or through readings and multiple-choice quizzes? Are pick-up lines best practiced in a bar? What about sales pitches?

So, do thoughts drive action or does action drive thoughts? The proper answer is ‘yes.’ Actually ‘yes, but it depends.’ Proving causality of anything is an impossibility, much less proving proportional causality. But in the commonsense world we all live in, we can see that the arrow points both ways. The only useful question is: when does it point which way?

Acting Your Way Into Right Thinking

This is the kind of phrase you hear in 12-step programs, or from motivational speakers, or—interestingly—lean management. It usually means, “You’ve been kidding yourself all these years by talking a good game; when are you actually going to [quit drinking] [lose weight] [ask her out] [practice what you preach]."

You also hear it in HR groups, advocating for certain kinds of change management: “You’ve been kidding yourself all these years by talking a good game; when are you actually going to [go to the networking meeting] [hire someone not a mirror image of us] [actually promote on values].”

Seems to me these are typically situations where ‘whole body’ involvement is required. You can’t just isolate one aspect of a situation, but rather you have to engage physically and emotionally in a full sense.

When Thinking Drives Action

Does that mean thinking works better in small, focused change efforts? Yes, but that’s only part of the story. For example, visualization is used by athletes to tweak the mindset, or attitude—before a golf swing, before a marathon. 

But there’s another sense in which thinking drives action: it dates back to Aristotle, who suggested there is a steel cable leading from thinking to doing.

Aristotle has his modern counterparts in NLP theorists, change specialists and neuro-everybodies who all point to the semi-conscious inclination of the brain to create beliefs, assumptions, habits, instincts—and then to act on them. 

How do you drive thoughts? Some tried-and-true methods include message-repetition (depending on your perspective, this equates either to propaganda or to staying ‘on message’), linkage (‘Marlon Brando smoked, it must be cool’), or authority (‘my doctor recommends it, it must be good for me’). You may think that in this day of digital social media we are immune to direct mail and tv ads from Madison Avenue—wrong, wrong, wrong, the same techniques are here, just in new clothing.

All Change is Linguistic

Full circle back to Peter Block. One of the most profound ways we have of unconsciously altering mindsets and attitudes is through language. Most overtly, Big Message repetition uses language. Chant “Obama was born abroad” enough times and you’ll get 20-30% of the US public to believe it.

But it isn’t just the denotation of words that drives change. It’s the emotional tone as well. The language of etiquette and empathy drives reciprocity—the most important form of influence, according to Robert Cialdini. The tones in which such words are said also add influence. Even the vocabulary of differing languages (French vs German) convey differing meanings to those who hear them.

To Think? Or To Behave?

If you’re wondering whether to change people or organizations, the usual answer is ‘both.’ But it does make sense to lead with one or another depending on the situation. 

The power of frequent close, personal, physical interaction—in schools, in the military, in marriage—probably does more to tear down racial barriers then any educational program. Better language constructs will follow.

But if you’re trying to get people to behave rightly in a corporate merger, for example, slogans are your friend—lead with language like ‘make a friend first,’ or ‘the first word in merger is ‘me,’ or ‘no more old-company name.’  

Whether you start with the behavior or the language, you’ll get to both. All change is linguistic, sooner or later.