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The following is a guest blogpost by Rick Lepsinger of OnPoint Consulting. You can connect with Rick directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Several years ago, tech giant Google set out on an ambitious research quest to build the perfect team. The project examined a host of factors, including team composition, management style, and task management, poring through a mountain of quantitative and qualitative data over the course of several years to identify what factors made teams successful. When the study concluded, the final results were actually quite simple.
What mattered most to a team’s success wasn’t how it was put together, how it carried out its tasks, or how quickly it worked. Instead, it came down to a single word:
Teams in which members trusted one another were far more likely to take risks, ask questions, admit mistakes, and offer new ideas than teams with low levels of trust. Intuitively, this should not have come as a surprise. People feel more secure when they trust those around them, which allows them to focus their energy on the tasks at hand rather than constantly assessing where they stand with others.
In today’s team-driven business world, building a culture based on trust is one of the most important responsibilities facing leaders in all types of organizations. While companies may go to great lengths to establish a culture that encourages trust, it falls upon individual leaders to follow through with those intentions and bring that level of trust to their teams.
In order to build trust strong enough to endure, leaders must first understand the essential elements of trust and recognize how they relate to one another. One way to think about the essential elements is to use the Trust Equation, as put forth in the book The Trusted Advisor.
It’s difficult for a leader to build trust if they don’t have a proven track record of achieving results and demonstrating their expertise. Team members need to see their leader as a credible source of authority and information. If they don’t, they may second-guess decisions or become disengaged from the rest of the team.
Establishing credibility takes time and effort. Team members often need to see that someone knows what they’re talking about before they can place their trust in them. Leaders can, however, take a number of actions in their day-to-day dealings to improve their credibility. Avoiding exaggerations, answering direct questions with direct answers, and offering viable solutions to problems will help demonstrate to team members that they’re committed to being truthful and focusing on measurable results.
The best path to earning credibility is through building relationships with team members over time. Establishing a reputation for honesty by encouraging transparency and admitting when they don’t know something allows leaders to show they’re committed to the team’s success and not out to bolster their own reputations.
Team members need to trust that leaders stand behind what they say and do. They should not selectively disclose information or only emphasize positives while downplaying negatives. Should leaders lose that reputation for truthfulness, they run the risk of being seen as self-serving, manipulative, or unconcerned for their team’s success.
If leaders need credibility coming into a team environment, they must show that people can count on them to follow through on their word if they want to succeed in the long term. Unreliable leaders who make big promises but seldom act on them will quickly lose whatever trust they’ve built. Team members need to know that their leader will be there for them and will keep whatever promises they’ve made.
While it’s easy to think of reliability only in terms of tasks and official responsibilities, it can extend to interpersonal dealings as well. A leader who always does their job can still lose the team’s trust if they make a habit of brushing off commitments and not following through on smaller issues on a regular basis.
Reliability needs to be established over time, but it can often go unnoticed if leaders don’t make the work they’re doing visible to others. Regular communication and transparency are extremely valuable in building a reputation for reliability. Clarifying roles within the team also helps to establish accountability by making it clear who is responsible for which tasks.
By this point, it should be clear that building trust is about establishing relationships. Intimacy, or the act of communicating and empathizing with others on a personal level, is a crucial part of this process. Regardless of their position within an organization, people want to know that they (and their work) are valued. Leaders must find ways to create connections with their team members that allow them to provide the professional and emotional support they need.
Team members also need to trust leaders to be discreet with the information and issues they share with them. This is particularly important for conflict resolution and internal feedback. If employees don’t trust leaders to show consideration in handling that information, they’ll be less likely to share it in the first place, which can only make existing problems worse over time.
Building healthy intimacy in a team environment requires a great deal of effort. Team-building activities that allow people to get to know one another outside the context of work are an effective method for deepening interpersonal relationships. Leaders can also set aside time to talk to team members regularly, allowing them to voice concerns or share their thoughts. This accessibility gives leaders an opportunity to demonstrate empathy and address issues before they become problematic.
Setting up internal community pages, social media groups, or message boards can help employees connect with one another in ways that go beyond their work responsibilities. Building these connections makes it easier for them to trust one another in difficult times because they can see what they have in common.
Good leadership often requires an individual to put the interests of others first. Leaders therefore need to be aware of whose interests are motivating their decisions and actions. A leader who constantly does things to make themselves look good, such as taking credit for the team’s work or asserting themselves purely to show off their expertise, will very quickly erode whatever trust they’ve built with their team.
Self-orientation can also impact the perception of credibility and reliability. A manager with extensive knowledge and a proven track record for success might normally be seen as credible, but if their actions suggest that they care more about furthering themselves at the expense of others, they will find it difficult to leverage that experience with their teams. This kind of self-serving behavior also makes it harder for people to see them as reliable. It’s difficult to count on someone who has a reputation for only being out for themselves.
Anyone in a leadership position is going to have their actions closely scrutinized. Leaders must be sure to take their team members into consideration whenever they make decisions. Here again, communication is vital. People are better able to accept decisions when they know their opinions or concerns were genuinely heard and considered.
Identifying Trust Issues
As Tolstoy famously observed, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” The same can be applied to successful teams and failing teams, especially when it comes to trust. Effective teams may be structured differently, but they all exhibit the same fundamental elements of trust. Ineffective or dysfunctional teams, however, can take a number of forms, depending upon the root causes of distrust.
Many factors can make it difficult to establish trust or undermine it over time. One of the biggest warning signs of trust issues is deflection of responsibility. When no one accepts accountability for their actions, they’re sending a message that they don’t care about anyone but themselves. While this is bad enough from team members, it is absolutely toxic when the leader refuses to take responsibility because it makes trust almost impossible to establish.
Dysfunctional teams might also be riven by harmful gossip and backstabbing. Without proper intimacy and self-orientation, team members assume the worst from one another and question the intentions behind every action and behavior. Even worse, they rarely direct their criticisms at the person they’re upset with, instead sharing their negative thoughts with coworkers and undermining whatever sense of camaraderie might have existed on the team. When leaders speak ill of someone, other team members begin to wonder what might be said about them when they’re not around.
Healthy, effective teams thrive on interpersonal interactions. When team members stop relating to one another on a personal level, keeping all conversations to “strictly business,” deeper trust issues might well be at work. Effective communication requires a level of comfort. If team members aren’t comfortable communicating with each other, then they’re also likely to find it difficult working together in general. When leaders become distant and aloof, employees may begin to question their intentions or true goals.
While healthy teams celebrate wins as a group, dysfunctional teams often break down into a collection of individuals bent on pursuing their own goals. Rather than focusing on how to make the team succeed, a team member might instead focus on how to make themselves look good regardless of the team’s outcome. Leaders who become caught up in pursuing their own goals will quickly lose their team’s trust. Even worse, this behavior could very well encourage people to “save themselves” by focusing on avoiding responsibility for the team’s failures.
Establishing trust is one of the most vital tasks facing any leader in a team environment. While the talent of individual team members is obviously important, much of that talent will go to waste if the team is rendered dysfunctional by a lack of trust. Leaders must find effective strategies that leverage their credibility and reliability to facilitate better, more authentic communication. By establishing closer connections based on intimacy and proper self-orientation, leaders can avoid the damaging effects of losing trust within their teams.
Podcast: EmbedSubscribe to TrustMatters, The Podcast Android | RSS
Podcast: EmbedSubscribe to TrustMatters, The Podcast Android | RSS
Podcast: EmbedSubscribe to TrustMatters, The Podcast Android | RSS
Podcast: EmbedSubscribe to TrustMatters, The Podcast Android | RSS
Every day, I’m a little bit blessed by the interest and the thoughtfulness of our readers. Here’s an excerpted email that got me thinking.
I took your free Trust Quotient (TQ) assessment. As I read it, the survey is presented as an evaluation of individual trustworthiness based on, among other things, credentials and one’s certitude in advancing a position based on one’s special knowledge.
To me, that’s not a measure of trustworthiness, but of perceived self-worth as measured by credentials and salesmanship.
I think of trustworthiness as a moral value. I sense the value being measured in this test is not trustworthiness per se, but how deeply we identify with the importance of expertise and credentials, and how well we convince others of our personal trustworthiness by those same tokens.
My Response (partial)
Dear Reader X,
Thanks so much for taking the time to express your thoughts. I suspect you and I are in complete agreement about trustworthiness as a moral virtue.
However, I think you misunderstand the TQ in a couple of ways – regarding the use of the quiz, and regarding the idea of credibility.
Trusting the TQ
The TQ is first and foremost a self-assessment. If the results were used by third parties, for example for hiring or aptitude testing, it would render them useless, because it’s simple to skew the answers so that others would see it in a way the test-taker wanted to be seen.
However, if no one else sees it, then test-takers would only be fooling themselves and destroying a chance to build self-awareness.
Salesmanship Does Not Drive Trust
You suggest that the TQ assessment is “not a measure of trustworthiness, but of perceived self-worth as measured by credentials and salesmanship.”
A look at any recent survey shows trust has gone down. I suspect you might agree, however, that what passes for “salesmanship” has probably gone up. That, I suggest, is prima facie evidence that people perfectly well know the difference.
Does excessive “salesmanship” drive down trust? Of course it does. You can see it in every factor of the Trust Equation, the theoretical model underlying the Trust Quotient.
When you run into a hustler or con artist:
with respect to Credibility―
- you don’t believe his words
- you don’t believe his sincerity
- you doubt his expertise and credentials
with respect to Reliability―
- you want to see outside verification: “Show me the CarFax!”
- you require legal contracts
- you examine track records
with respect to Intimacy―
- you hesitate to trust him with your private information
- you suspect his motives in trying to get close to you
with respect to Self-Orientation―
- you suspect he’s entirely in it for himself
- you see that when he pretends to be focused on you, he’s faking it.
Every part of the Trust Equation works in that case to show precisely how we do NOT trust such a person. This equation doesn’t suggest untrustworthy behavior – on the contrary, it provides the diagnostic tool to describe and identify such behavior.
Trustworthiness and Morals
I personally don’t think you can have morals without relationships – because morals have to do precisely with relationships. (Robinson Crusoe had no need of trust, or ethics – at least until Friday). And just as the least trustworthy people are those who violate relationships by lying, bullying, and trying to hustle people for their own ends, so likewise are the most trustworthy people those who honor the Other in their relationships.
That means those who:
- are honest about what they know and about what they don’t know
- put their knowledge in service to the Other rather than to just looking good
- can keep confidences
- play in the long-run relationships game, not in the short-run transactions game.
Your comments fascinated and engaged me. I thank you for your passion, and hope you’ll forgive my reacting passionately as well.
This particular reader chose to opt out after the free portion of the TQ because she felt it was contrary to her view of trustworthiness and morals. Too bad, because I think if anything, the opposite is probably true. As a result she missed out on some really cool stuff about the TQ:
- The Trust Temperaments—the six psychological categories that describe how you go about being trusted
- Most importantly, very practical, extensive suggestions about how you can improve your trustworthiness.
Have a look for yourself: the full version of the TQ is free, as are the basic results. And if you choose, you can pay us a few bucks extra to get the fuller, more expanded version of the report.
Be honest. When you think of growth and profitability, is trust the first thing you think of? I doubt it.
The things that often come to mind when we talk about a successful practice are much more likely to sound likesustainable competitive advantage, hardball, you get what you negotiate, be number one or two in your market, first mover advantage, lowest cost producer, or share of wallet. But trust?
Usually we think of trust as an element that is nice to have, something associated with genteel behaviors which we can afford when things are going well but which have to take a back seat when push comes to shove. However, for those in the consultative professions or other complex intangible businesses—nothing could be farther from the truth.
What A True Trust Relationship Looks Like
A lot of what passes for trust isn’t. Trust isn’t high client satisfaction ratings—it isn’t even “client delight.” It’s not loyalty, as measured by retention rates. And it certainly isn’t being “client-focused,” because a great deal of client focus is done solely for the sake of such things as increasing the seller’s profitability and share of wallet.
Trust is personal, not institutional; it’s emotional, not just rational. Above all, it has to do with the firm’s intent. Is your intent to help the client, or is it to make money by helping the client? Your client knows the difference.
In one study of 2514 buyers by Bill Brooks and Tom Travesano (You’re Working Too Hard To Make The Sale, Irwin Professional Publishing, 1995), 94% of buyers who bought on the basis of needs said they would “certainly” consider buying from another provider.
And 91% of benefits-based buyers said they would “probably” do so. But in stark contrast, 99% of those who bought on the basis of wants said they would “absolutely not” consider buying elsewhere. That’s a dramatic difference – and it’s the kind of difference trust makes.
Howard Schwartz was the head of the financial services practice at a consulting firm, when he got a call from his counterpart at McKinsey. “One of our clients has urgent need of a project. We have tried twice and failed to deliver satisfactorily. This work has to get done – would you folks do it?”
Howard couldn’t believe it—a front door invitation to a McKinsey client. He took the job and his team did great work. But when he asked the client to consider doing more work with them, the client said “Thanks very much, great job, but we would never leave the firm that was big enough to bring you in. We know they’ll always do what’s right for us.” “And,” Howard said, “I couldn’t blame them a bit.”
The Economics Of Trust-Based Relationships
What happens when you get 99% declarations of absolute loyalty–when clients say they’ll “never” leave you on principle? The economics are massive.
A Harvard Business Review article (Collaboration Rules by Philip Evans and Bob Wolf , 2005) by BCG suggests that the US GDP is comprised of roughly 50% transaction costs and that the primary strategy for reducing those costs is trust. 50% of an entire economy is pretty big.
Now, on a micro-level, consider what happens when a client really trusts you. Your advice is taken; your insights are sought. Decision processes are fast-tracked. The costs of auditing, legal, and tracking disappear.
Your recommendations are taken at face value. The likelihood of RFPs is greatly reduced. You get asked in at earlier stages of issues. Disagreements are sorted out in furtherance of a long term good. Information is shared between professional and client, and points of view are welcomed rather than suspected.
The payables clerk gets your checks out on time, and you’re upgraded to preferred provider status so “on time” means what it says. Pricing is accepted as “fair.”
Finally, client loyalty based on trust is far higher and stronger than loyalty based merely on things like business processes or pricing. Mechanically, this raises the firm’s profitability through reduced sales costs and higher margins. But, more importantly, it makes the firm far more effective in helping its client.
The Client Benefits Of Trust
What about the benefits to the client? Economic benefits are even greater and come at three levels. First, the direct costs per transaction with a trusted provider are lower.
Second, when a provider understands client needs, that supplier is likely to make more appropriate suggestions, to better anticipate emerging needs and to make better recommendations. Those benefits are indirect, but probably outweigh first level benefits.
The highest client payoff of all comes from the ability to trust immediately and completely the advice of a talented outside expert without spending any time or resources on tweaking, critiquing, hedging checking, auditing or second-guessing. At this level, professionals are as dependable as our most-valuable employees, yet with the added benefits of expertise and objectivity that come from being an outsider.
With that confidence in the pocket, a firm can afford to fast-track processes, make far faster decisions, and take bold actions without fear. The benefits go past mere cost reduction, and instead towards achieving significant revenue and strategic enhancements.
The business case for trust ultimately rests far more on effectiveness than on efficiency. A trust-based client relationship enables far more effectiveness in the marketplace for both parties than do conventional relationships built on negotiations, contracts, and other indicators of arms-length treatment built on self-interest alone.
The Economic Paradox
It’s tempting to ask, “If all that’s true, why isn’t everyone doing it?” The answer is, because most of us have a really difficult time being trustworthy.
If a client trusts their provider in the way described above, the provider will be highly profitable and high-growth. But, if the firm sets out to be highly profitable and high-growth by means of being trusted, it will not work. Intentions matter and intentions are critical to being trusted.
The only way to be trusted in the way I’m speaking of is to be worthy of trust—to be trustworthy. The critical element to being trustworthy is to have the client’s best interests at heart all the time. And that goes to intent.
To intend to place the client’s interests first raises some radical implications. For example:
- The purpose of a sales call is not to get the sale, but instead to help the client;
- Your focus should be on work that needs doing, not on work that you can do;
- Your ultimate strategic goals should be client service, not competitive advantage;
- You should share, not hide, your economics with your client, because transparency fosters trust;
- You should write your proposals sitting next to your client.
The paradox is: If you are willing to let go of your own short-term, self-oriented goals, you will achieve those goals. Your influence is greatest when you’re not trying to influence. Your profit is highest when your goal is not profitability by client service.
Barriers To Trust
Can it be done? Absolutely. Many successful individual professionals know the lessons of trust very well. But at the firm level, we have been seduced by the “reigning belief systems” of business: in particular, the ideas that business is about competition, and that ever-further refinement of measurements, particularly around client relationships, helps the economics.
Just because you can run division-level client profitability studies every week doesn’t mean you should do it. Just because you can calculate client share of wallet and hit rate on sales opportunities doesn’t mean you should focus on it. Those efforts turn clients into objects, means to our own ends.
Too many firms are focused too much on short-term measures and competitive definitions of success. We need to remember that the best short-term performance comes from executing on a long-term plan or set of principles.
Trust is the goal. The powerful economics of trust are merely a byproduct.
This post first appeared on RainToday.com
The UK press is screaming ‘blue murder’ about the recent turn of events in the BBC:
- ‘How to restore trust in the BBC’
- ‘You don’t trust us – and maybe you never will’
- ‘Trust lost, hard to regain!’
A crisis for the BBC? Certainly. But a “complete loss of trust” is a wild exaggeration. Still, there is one troubling problem at the heart of things, and the BBC must get at it: a willful and wishful discomfort with facing truth. Vital for any organization, truth-facing is especially so for a news outfit.
The Apparent Problem
The problem in recent weeks has been in one part of the vast BBC operation – its flagship current affairs programme, ‘Newsnight’. There has been real incompetence and mismanagement, and people are rightly angry and critical. But this is an organisation that has real pedigree and a brand that is deeply respected and trusted the world over for the quality and integrity of its daily product.
Deeply held trust, reinforced over many years, simply does not disappear in one moment with one incident. The BBC will take the steps to right the ship around ‘Newsnight’ and move on.
To recap quickly:
It turns out that one of the BBC’s leading (and well loved, but now dead) entertainers in the last quarter of the 20th century, Sir (!) Jimmy Savile, was for many years a serial and horrific abuser of many young and vulnerable people who came under his influence. It was extensive. It went on a long time. He was never stopped.
Then, ‘Newsnight’ did a poor job of investigating and communicating about the Savile case. Compounding the error, ‘Newsnight’ wrongly accused a senior politician of serious sexual abuse in another situation. The newly appointed Director General of the BBC – George Entwhistle – resigned after just a few months in the job. Indignation, blue murder – loss of trust! – pour forth through all the media channels.
Here’s what caused the hullaballoo:
- Sheer incompetence – “ Newsnight’s journalism would have disgraced a student newspaper,” wrote one commenter
- Over-bureaucratic, over-layered management, with diffuse accountability
- Poor crisis management
- A public primed to be cynical because of other recent scandals (not just NewsCorp)
- A tone-deaf full year ‘pay-off’ of £495k to the resigning DG who had only been in the job for a few months
- Hugely toxic ‘hatred’ of the BBC in some political and media circles that is easily stirred and spoiling for any fight
- A shift in the dynamics of trust regarding media output. Restraint, rigour, caution, consideration of consequences – these apparently no longer engender trust. With the impact of the social media, trust today means sharing everything you know; transparency replaces judgment.
If that’s all there were, this would be just another scandal, albeit very public. But there is another, deeper level of concern.
Willful, Wishful Denial
What is much less certain is whether the BBC can change a culture that was willfully – perhaps wishfully? – blind to the horrible sexual abuse that took place around some of its programmes for young people. In one of the hospitals where Savile got away with all this, one interlocutor has recently said, ‘ We did wonder whether something was going wrong. But Savile simply pulled in too many funds for anyone to want to do something about it.’
This is a culture that suborns, induces, and nurtures moral blindness.
Margaret Heffernan talks about this in her recent book ‘Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril’ (Walker and Company, 2011). She says:
We are all susceptible to willful blindness, ignoring truths about ourselves, each other and the way we live, that threaten our sense of identity and security…We all succumb to the human tendency to prefer people like ourselves, to readily accept information that confirms our sense of ourselves, and discredit data that doesn’t fit our dominant ideologies. And when people are tired, busy and distracted, it’s clear that the mind falls back on stereotypes and received wisdom.
Think News Corporation, Enron, Lehman Brothers (‘The CEO, Richard Fuld, organised his life to ensure that he never encountered employees unexpectedly’), Bear Stearns (‘The CEO chose not to implement a form of risk analysis that might have revealed how much debt the bank actually carried’) and the Catholic Church (‘When first confronted with the fact of child-abusing priests, the Church chose first of all to take out insurance’).
Heffernan argues that the root cause of our willful blindness is our human instinct to obey authority. ‘Research into conformity shows that most of us would rather give a wrong answer than jeopardise belonging to a group.’
It’s the Culture, Stupid
This is where the really fundamental work lies for the BBC – reshaping a culture that is less prone to willful blindness, and more driven by its values of independence and integrity. This kind of work is not easy. So perhaps some of Heffernan’s prescriptions might come in handy along the way:
- Become more aware of our biases
- Overturn corporate cultures that reward long working hours
- Actively seek out dissenters in our circle of friends and colleagues
- Ensure that the powerful surround themselves with independent thinkers and critical allies who have the freedom and moral courage to tell them the truth
- Re-examine the role of obedience and compliance
- Teach critical thinking.
This is not the stuff of MBA programs. These are not issues to be solved by technocrats, or lawyers, or business process experts. They are the simple stuff of creating an ethics-friendly culture. Simple, of course, doesn’t mean easy. But it is – let’s not forget – still simple. Seek the right thing, talk about it, and walk the talk.
Most people usually don’t think of empathy as having much business value. In fact, you might think if you start empathizing with your clients, you’ll lose your edge; you’ll appear “soft;” you’ll lose business. Here’s a compelling story* about a global firm that turned that conventional wisdom on its ear and transformed a big loss into a big win.
The News No One Wants to Hear
Once upon a time, a Midwestern U.S. office of a global accounting firm was informed by one of its major clients that the audit work they usually did would be going out to bid. The partners were shocked. “We hadn’t seen it coming,” one partner said, “and they were very clear that this was final.” As a nicety, the client gave them the opportunity to bid.
They brainstormed about why the client could possibly be unhappy with them. What had they done to get the boot? What might have been said at the meeting that resulted in this decision?
Once they had a pretty good idea what the issues could have been, they did something dramatic.
Sometimes Not Risking is Very Risky
Instead of using their 90-minute time slot to do a conventional presentation, four of their partners acted out a skit for the four client executives. They role-played those very execs having that decisive meeting.
They said things like, “Well, those audit folks just haven’t showed us that they have what it takes.” “That’s right, they haven’t been proactive enough.” They humbly and genuinely gave voice to the critical thoughts they imagined the client was thinking.
“We were prepared to get yanked out of there in two minutes,” one partner said. “And, in fact, after five minutes, we stopped and asked them if they wanted us to stop. But they were fascinated; they asked us to keep going. And we did, for nearly an hour. We just kept talking—as if we were the client—about the things that we had done wrong and should have done better. And the client listened.”
Here’s the extraordinary ending to the story: the client rescinded their decision to put the work out to bid, and the firm got the job back. Why? Because they had been able to prove they understood their client’s concerns—in an honest and effective demonstration of empathy. They showed they had finally been listening. As a result, they won the right to try again.
The Business Value of Empathy
Seeing things from the clients’ perspective requires more than just taking good notes, muttering “I understand” from time to time, or periodically pausing to summarize the content of their communications. It means taking the time to tune into the tone, mood, and emotion—the music—as well as the words. It means reflecting it all back accurately and frequently. It means differentiating yourself by not just being the smart ones, but the ones who really get it—not just during the tough times, but all the time.
Bring empathy to the table from the get-go and your chances of getting a nasty unexpected surprise diminish greatly. Pull out all the empathy stops when things go awry and you dramatically improve the odds that you at least salvage the relationship, if not the contract.
Add empathy to your business toolbox and see what it does to help you gain and retain clients for the long haul.
*This and other compelling stories can be found in The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook: A Comprehensive Toolkit for Leading with Trust