Take My Gift Card–Please: A Trust Moment in the Restaurant Business

Establishing Trust in the Restaurant BusinessI seldom get to deal in up-beat stories. At the heart of my practice in financial litigation and disputes lie the predations of the white-collar malefactors, abusing their roles of public and private trust in ways of questionable legality and dubious ethics and morals.

So I was recently pleased to be on the receiving end of a restaurant employee’s demonstration that trust in “doing the right thing” works to everyone’s advantage. Here’s the story:

My father-in-law seriously loves Joe’s Stone Crab in downtown Chicago. But he is deprived, largely confined out in the far suburbs. So to elicit favor in the family, I volunteered to arrange an order that I would deliver in person.

When I passed by Joe’s for the pick-up, I met in person my order-taking telephone contact – the personable and accommodating Emily. Emily was swamped on a busy Saturday, doubling as coatroom attendant and take-out order manager. But she was the picture of helpfulness; what more can you ask than, “It’s ready – right up from the kitchen.”

I proffered a gift card for $100 – change for the $97 order neither expected nor offered. Then came her sheepish smile:

“I’m sorry, sir, but there’s a problem. Our gift cards say they’re only good Sunday through Friday.”

My countenance has almost no ability to conceal my feelings – not least of the reasons I never think of playing poker. Fortunately, something in the spirit of the holiday season impelled me to disappointment, rather than frustration or irritable hostility.

“Emily, that surely can’t be the right answer. It’s just a take-out – it’s not as if there’s a group taking up a table.”

(I chose not to press the point, but a pre-paid gift card differs from a freebie or a discount coupon, for which there would be some arguable justification for limits to off-peak use. Here the restaurant had enjoyed the full advance use of the cash value for months.)

“I’ll see what I can do,” and off she went. Meanwhile I contemplated a Plan B – I could simply walk out in a snit.

But then the already-packaged order would simply go to waste, and I would let down my in-laws. Lose-lose-lose.

She was back in less than a minute. “It’s fine – we’ll take the card. No problem.”

Far better than “no problem.” Using her tact and flexibility, Emily bolstered her employer’s revenue, encouraged a sure-to-repeat customer, and delivered to me both a burst of good will with my relatives and a lovely example of the benefits of empowered workers.

Thanks to you, Emily, and to whoever trained and trusted you to do a good job.

Beyond 51 percent: Gaining Buy-In

In the airport recently, coming home from New Mexico, I just picked up John Kotter  and Lorne A. Whitehead’s new little book, Buy*in: Saving Your Good Idea from Getting Shot Down.  The authors outline four ways in which attackers – consciously or not – try to kill new ideas:

–        Fear-mongering (hmm, where have we seen this before?)

–        Death by Delay

–        Sowing Confusion

–        Ridicule or Character Assassination

Their strategy for disarming these objectors is, at its heart, simple and counter-intuitive: instead of trying to work around naysayers, lining up votes in the cloakroom, ignoring vocal critics or trying to shout them down, Kotter and Whitehead suggest throwing open the doors and inviting the lions in. 

The key is then LISTENING WITH RESPECT. Kotter and Whitehead point out that trying to overwhelm the idea-attackers with more data and rebut them with more logical arguments won’t succeed. The critics need to be heard.

This research comports exactly with our teachings around building trust and gaining influence: listening as a sign of respect, letting others be heard before offering advice, the principle of reciprocity. Without first listening, we cannot be heard. And without being heard, our good advice or new ideas will never be accepted.

It really is that simple: to be heard, you have to listen first. 

The authors go on to give specific strategies for handling 24 objections, acknowledging the critic and at the same time avoiding getting drawn into inappropriate merits arguments. Take for example their Attack #18:

ATTACK: Good idea, but it’s the wrong time. We need to wait until this other thing is finished (or this other thing is started, or the situation changes in some specific way.)

RESPONSE: The best time is almost always when you have people excited and committed to make something happen. And that’s now.


As I read through Buy*in and thought about it in the context of Trusted Advisor Associates’ work, I was also struck by a conversation I had had the day before with my sister, whom I had been visiting in her home near Taos. I mentioned that people of all sorts seemed willing to tell her anything. 

She just smiled and said: “It’s because I’m not afraid to hear it.” A lesson I’m bringing home with me.

Is Trust Trending?

Here are six events I’ve noticed recently. I think there’s a connection, and perhaps even a trend in them. Help me sort out what that connection and trend might be, will you?

1. In mid-October, 100 of the world’s leading authorities on corporate disclosure gathered at Harvard Business School to attend an event called “A Workshop on Integrated Reporting: Frameworks and Action Plan” sponsored by the school’s Business and Environment Initiative. (Very briefly: Integrated reporting means combining traditional financial reporting with non-financial, i.e. Environmental, Social and Governance, issues). You can download a free ebook from the event with papers by about half the participants—it’s excellent.

2. The new Dean of Harvard Business School—who among other things had been a counselor to the MBA Oath program the year before—opened the conference, saying: "It’s a matter of great concern to me that society has lost so much trust in business.  It’s something that I think each and every one of us needs to pay great and serious attention to.  We live in a time in which business leaders are often trusted even less than politicians."

3. The New Yorker magazine printed an article titled, “What Good is Wall Street? Much of What Investment Bankers Do is Socially Useless,” whose tone is considerably less strident than its title might suggest.

4. October saw the release of the documentary “Inside Job,” a serious (and seriously critical) look at the recent financial crisis by Charles Ferguson, an MIT PhD in political science.

5. The MBA Oath, something that many considered faddish a year ago, seems to be gaining steam

6. Robert Ketchum, head of FINRA, seems to be advocating for a fiduciary standard of some sort for the brokerage business. 

One robin doth not a Spring make; and maybe I’m generally an optimist. But I think there’s something positive going on here.

When I see integrated reporting discussed by 100 people—not just non-financial reporting, but integrated reporting—I think that’s significant.

When I see global business institutions like the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration making serious trust-talk at the Dean’s level (and Dean Nitin Nohria was appointed in part, I’m sure, because he talks that way), I think that’s significant.

I realize the New Yorker is not Forbes magazine, but when they decide that it’s time to write a serious business article, and to do so with their high standards of journalism, I think that’s significant. 

When the financial legislation was passed earlier this year, the fiduciary issue was left out of the mandated laws, and left to the discretion of the SEC. Given the recent election results, I wouldn’t have predicted FINRA’s reaction. That feels significant.

What I think is significant about all this is not that an argument is being won or lost. This strikes me as refreshingly not about good and evil. It’s about a new willingness to take seriously some complex issues of trust. How do we integrate stakeholders? What does trust mean for governance? Can we have intelligent regulations that increase trust? 

Most of all, I sense a willingness to bring trust to the business table as a core and valid agenda item—a willingness that I don’t think was there as recently as just 12 months ago. 

Is something going on? Or am I on drugs? What do you think?

Giving and Getting Respect

Respect is a theme I run across in my work with trust. Many people say they want to be trusted. Yet they feel disrespected by those from whom they seek trust.   In such cases, “they don’t trust me” quickly breaks down into “they behave disrespectfully toward me.”   A desire morphs into a resentment. 

The unconscious implication is that “if they don’t trust me, it’s their fault, because they don’t respect me in the first place. And if they don’t respect me, then I won’t respect them either. Their lack of trust in me is their fault, not mine.”

There’s a lot going on in that little circle of mis-logic. How is it that we respect others, and that they respect us? What does disrespect have to do with trust?

Note the grammatical parallels between trust and respect. Both are used as verb, as adjective, and as adjectival phrase:

I trust you; I am trustworthy; I am trusted by you

I respect you; I am respectable; I am respected by you

Are there causal links here? And if so, what are they?

There’s an old truism: the fastest way to make a man trustworthy is to trust him. This is one truism that has been proven true to me.

Of course, there is a loose correlation between being trustworthy and being trusted, just as there is between being respectable and being respected.

But – and this is critical – there is no guarantee with either one. Not only can you not always get someone to trust or respect you, but the harder you try – the less likely you are to succeed. This is why trust-based selling is so much more powerful than linear, logic-based selling.

Giving Respect and Trusting

Both trust and respect must be freely given. If demanded or coerced, the results are the opposite–distrust and disrespect.   This is why I tell my clients never to call themselves trusted advisors—let your clients make that determination for themselves, and make it public, or not, on their own. Being called a trusted advisor is great marketing, but only if never suborned.

The ability to trust and to respect is a sign of an evolved ability to relate to others. That doesn’t make blind trust or respect a virtue: there is nothing noble about trusting a thief, or respecting a scoundrel. That’s just stupid.

But equally stupid, and more common, is a refusal to trust or to respect others. That refusal is driven by fear and, by way of paranoia, gums up the works of human interactions and commerce.

Being Respected and Being Trusted

Just as trusting others helps but doesn’t guarantee being trusted by them, so does respecting others not guarantee being respected by them. And that’s where we end up feeling “it’s not fair.”

Let’s be clear. When it comes to trust and respect, fairness is not an issue. If your spouse buys you a gift for the holidays, do you think of it as ‘fair’ or not? (Hint: the right answer is ‘no, of course I don’t, Charlie, what do you take me for!’)

Give Respect to Get It? Or Give Respect and Detach?

Too often we try to put conditions on what must be freely given. You can’t reduce trust to a controlled conditional transaction: “If you give me this, I’ll trust you to do that, but you’d better be fair.” There is no trust without risk; if you try to control the outcome, you’ll destroy the trust. 

I’m coming to think respect is the same. To respect someone is good; partly because it can make the other person feel respected–but mainly because it shows you’re the kind of person who has an evolved ability to relate to others.

The distinction becomes important when we look for others to respect us. If we crave respect from others, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment. But worst, we are trying to force (via guilt trip) others to do what we want them to

Trust based Leadership

With all the trust surveys proliferating out there, I’m sure one of them includes questions that rhyme with “do you trust leadership of __?” And if so, I’m pretty sure the numbers have declined over recent years.

And I think most C-suites would agree that leadership—at corporate and institutional levels—would benefit greatly from being more trusted. In other words, the times scream out for a clear approach to trust-based leadership.

So—here are the headlines. 

Trust-based Leadership: the Top Ten List

1.    Don’t Fake It. The best way to be trusted—by far–is simply to be trustworthy. Reputation follows trustworthiness—not the reverse. The best PR comes from publicizing good things, not from spinning them. Don’t put your marketing, PR, or communications in charge of trust; you are in charge of trust, 24-7, by your own thoughts and actions. Don’t confuse the metrics with what they are supposed to measure.

2.    Your Ego is Not Your Amigo. Being driven can be OK. So too can being impatient, customer-obsessed, product-obsessed, design-obsessed, or people-obsessed. What cannot be OK is being obsessed with yourself. If you can’t check your ego at the door, seek professional help; stop taking it out on others. It is Not About You. If you think it is About You–you might be a bad leader.  

3.    Collaborate, Don’t Compete. No one is the enemy. Not your customer, not your supply chain, your employees, the union, not even your competitors. If you think you are competing with anyone, you are focused on gaining advantage over others; you are making yourself the center of things. (See Rule 2 above). Let others obsess with competing. You be the one to go think about what you can do for [customers, employees, your supply chain, even your competitor]. She who adds the most value lives best. And longest, at least in terms of client loyalty.

4.    Leading is Emotional. Choose your own leader; not one of the Usual Suspects. Now ask: were they passionate? My guess is they were, and their moments of passion were the source of much of their influence. Leaders lead, which means others follow them, and emotional passion is a big driver. Very few people follow the numbers-only guy or gal.

5.    Integrity Means Wholeness. You can’t be all things to all people. The more you try, the less integrity you appear to have. What you can do is to be the same person, at all times, to all people. That makes you whole, entire, integral—one who has integrity. A leader is unafraid to show his whole self.

6.    Be Transparent. A trust-based leader welcomes reality. The goal is to change reality, not to spin it. To see things as they are and to change them is noble. To see things as they aren’t and talk about them as you think you would wish others to see you as talking—well, that’s just BS. Don’t go there.   A leader knows that reality is her friend.

7.    Play Long Ball. You can’t be transactional and be trusted. Transactions can only be trusted in packages. Time is the key. Never cut a deal with someone—cut the 27th deal in a chain of 132 deals you intend to cut with them. That way you build a relationship—reliability, connection, mutual obligations, and the business vocabulary to express them. A leader is always thinking and acting in the long term.

8.    It’s Personal. The Godfather line, “It’s not personal; it’s business” was precisely wrong. It is both. Leadership can’t be trusted unless leaders are trustworthy. Companies aren’t trusted (except for the narrow case of reliability); people are. Trust can be engineered; but at the end of the day, all trust is experienced as personal.  A leader exemplifies it.

9.    Trust is Relationship. Robinson Crusoe didn’t need trust (before Friday, anyway). Trust is like ballroom dancing—you need two to tango. One trusts, the other is trusted. One by itself isn’t even the sound of one hand clapping. It’s non-trust. You can’t be trusted if you don’t trust back.  There is no trust without both parties in relationship. A leader knows how to play both roles; by trusting, he becomes trusted. By being trustworthy, he invites trust.

10.There is no Trust without Risk. Trust mitigates risk, but only by taking another risk. Ronald Reagan’s ‘trust but verify’ was good politics, but bad trust. Verification destroys trust. Trust is risk freely-taken, for the greater advantage of both. It is paradoxical, which is why risk-mitigation techniques end up destroying it. A leader knows that sometimes, she’s just gotta take a leap.

Are You as Credible as You Think? Probably Not.

There are lots of ways to build trust with others (four, by our count) and Credibility is a big one. In our Trust Quotient research, Credibility shows up as second only to Reliability as the most favored way to build trust. (‘Most favored’ doesn’t mean ‘most effective,’ but that’s another blog, another day.) 

This makes sense, given the emphasis that most business people naturally place on increasing trustworthiness by demonstrating credentials, experience, and know-how.

The risk is that we stop there or—even worse—spend too much time there. Picture the March of 1,000 Slides.

There’s more to Credibility than meets the eye.

Three Dimensions of Credibility

When thinking Credibility, we mostly think words, as in what you say and how you say it. That means that having information, perspectives, opinions, and recommendations are all important—especially for people in professional services whose very existence depends on high quality advice-giving.

But there’s more. Speaking the truth matters too. A lot. As does delivering your message in a way that makes it easy for others to understand and relate to.

Top Ten List of Ways to Build Credibility

Here’s a Top 10 list of tried-and-true Credibility builders, categorized by Credibility’s three main dimensions.

Feature your expertise and credentials:

1.    Be diligent about researching your customer;

2.    Know about industry trends and information, as well as business news;

3.    Write about your areas of expertise—articles, blogs, white papers;

4.    Host events that bring key stakeholders together.

Improve your delivery:

5.    Use metaphors and stories to illustrate your point;

6.    Practice your delivery so you are clear … and clearly relaxed;

7.    Combine your words with presence—a firm handshake, eye contact (when culturally appropriate), a confident air.

Demonstrate your truthfulness:

8.    Offer your point of view when you have one;

9.    Respond to direct questions with direct answers;

10.   Be willing to tell a hard truth when it’s the right thing to do—including “I don’t know.”

 And as a bonus:

11.   Never ever lie. (This includes tiny little white lies and lies by omission.)

This last category, truthfulness, gets at one of the paradoxes of trustworthiness: The thing we’re most afraid to say is often what will build the most trust.

By the way, our clients tell us the truth-telling part pretty much applies to all cultures. Even in Asian countries, where saving face is paramount, the Trusted Advisor’s dilemma is generally less about whether to tell the truth and more about how to deliver the truth in a respectful and culturally-appropriate way.  

Credibility-Building Can Happen Lightning Fast

This expanded view of Credibility is good news for anyone new to a profession or new to a relationship. This part of trust–building your Credibility–doesn’t have to take time; being refreshingly honest can build trust in an instant.

Most clients and customers are so used to spin they will immediately take note. So you can actually leave the PowerPoint deck back at the office (or bring it as a leave-behind) and focus on engaging in a genuine, transparent, and honest conversation. Heck, you might even build some Intimacy in the process.

Take Stock and Take Action

Feeling stuck in a particular relationship? Do a credibility check. Start with the honesty dimension—it’s the least comfortable and highest payback. Ask yourself what you’re thinking and not saying, or saying to some but not to all.

 Then do something about it. You’ll be glad you did.

Rich Sternhell on the Evolution of Trust in Business (Trust Quotes #13)

Rich Sternhell was a Managing Principal at Towers Perrin, now Towers Watson, until his retirement last year. He was a Towers Perrin Board member, and chaired Board committees including client relationships, technology and quality; he not only consulted, he managed. He ‘sat in many chairs,’ as he puts it.

His career, post-MBA, covered four decades that saw radical shifts in employee compensation, consulting, and the role of management. Now free to indulge the thoughtful side of what he has seen, he agreed to share some insights with us.

CHG: Rich, thank you for sharing your thoughts with the Trust Matters audience. You’ve got some big-picture perspectives for us, so let’s dive right in. You started work post-MBA at New York Life in 1970. What are the biggest changes in business you’ve seen since then?

RS: Almost all the changes in business can be related to technology and the resultant increase in what I’ll call the velocity of business. Perspectives are shorter. What is often seen as “quarter to quarter” management, I would describe as management of metrics, rather than of the business. Whether it’s stock price, market cap, EBITDA or cash flow, the focus on metrics that are market-visible has monopolized management attention. We have moved from management that is passionate about products to management that is passionate about the numbers they report.

The focus on acquisitions, divestitures, etc., that can increase price multiples has created a loss of shared understanding between employees and management as to the source of value for the organization. This has also created a generation of management that is focused on management of their careers rather than their companies.

There is also a loss of organizational connectedness. Fellows in their 50’s and 60’s who would take the time to coach a young newcomer. They told stories about the past and made people who were long gone part of that newcomer’s memory bank and connection to the organization. I see very little of that today.

That newcomer is planning career moves through moving around rather than moving up. The few old-timers left have lost interest in mentoring young’uns who will be moving on to more fertile fields.

CHG: Let’s take that first one, management by career, not company. Say a little more about that?

RS:Those who have made it to the C Suite often have spent their energies making sure their resume gets them there. It becomes hard to change perspective to become passionate about a business you didn’t grow up in, have limited long-term relationships within and compensation highly leveraged to stock performance that has the potential of creating generational wealth.

CHG: Let me be devil’s advocate a bit here; isn’t it also a good thing that we’ve developed an ethos of mobile, project-oriented work, that fits very well with a fluid, collaborative kind of organization of work for the future?

RS: A mobile workforce is absolutely essential in an economy as technology driven as ours is. At the same time, company cultures have become fragile. But the bond that existed between management and the workforce doesn’t have the strength of shared experiences over long periods of time.

My favorite set of questions on employee engagement surveys has to do with leadership. There are always questions like, “Does leadership care about the associates?” “Does company leadership act in the long-term best interest of the organization?” Inevitably, scores on these questions come in significantly lower than questions that relate to the individual employee’s location or sphere of responsibility.

Managements fret about these results a great deal but then take comfort in the normative data that says that other companies score equally poorly. Almost inevitably a corporate communications campaign begins with messages from leadership about how much they really care.

I think these campaigns are self-defeating. Employees want to know that the management they see has “signed on” and take ownership of the messages. The direct communication from senior leadership has allowed middle management to abdicate their role in communication. When middle managers snicker at senior management messages the result is worse than if no communication had been made at all.

CHG: Many Trust Matters readers have little perspective on another major shift you’ve seen—the decline of the defined benefit plan. It can sound awfully arcane, but I’ve heard you say it was one of the tragedies of our time. Explain?

RS: The defined benefit plan was a bet by the workforce and a commitment by the company to the long-term health of the business. It was an obligation taken on by company ownership in return for the loyalty of the workforce. It provided a degree of security to employees at all levels that allowed them to think about the long term.

While our culture places a high value on individual responsibility we are asking employees to make decisions on matters for which they are woefully unprepared. The 401k has been sold as a replacement for pensions while it is clear that the numbers simply don’t work that way. In my early days as a pension consultant we talked about defined benefit plans as a company tool that enabled employees to be retired from a company with the security that they wouldn’t embarrass the company they worked for by being out on the street.

Companies no longer feel that embarrassment, and employees have been led to believe that somehow the DC plan will provide for their retirement. It can’t provide the same level of income replacement. Management looks to stock options to fund their retirement…employees don’t have the same opportunity.

Employees don’t trust the security of their job, their health insurance or even social security. In the absence of tools to manage for the long-term they act for the short term. It has become all about self-preservation.

CHG: Given those perspectives, what do you have to say about trust as it has evolved in business? Let’s start with headlines: what do the Goldman and BP headlines have to tell us about trust?

RS: Trust in business has many different components, all of which link to each other. There is trust between co-workers, trust between employee and supervisors, trust between salesman and customer, trust between salesman and production. BP is a great example of the disconnect that can grow.

Let’s start from the premise that for a business to survive and thrive it must create value for customers, and a return for its investors. It also must function within the framework of legitimacy established by societal norms. To the extent it enhances the communities within which it operates, goodwill is created which can be turned to competitive advantage.

On the other hand, damage to the community results in a destruction of the trust essential to maintaining not only a customer base, but the relationship with all the constituencies on which a business depends. This isn’t just a business case issue, justified internally by the needs of the business–it is about the underlying linkage of communities in a free market society.

Trust is fundamental to the achievement of all business objectives and its absence is the greatest threat to our business community as well as our broader society. Unfortunately, there are strong forces at work that have the effect of weakening our society’s trust in our business community and its leaders.

The village blacksmith was well aware that each implement he fashioned was critical to future orders. The quality and timeliness of his product determined his position in the community. To the extent he failed to meet his customers’ expectations, he created the opportunity for competition. To the extent he failed to manage his costs, his family starved. He didn’t manage his business for quarterly results, but for the well-being of his family, i.e., “long term selfish”. The community he served also knew that their well-being depended on his success.

Common approaches to this problem are often mistaken. Accountants tend to quantify risk, giving equal weighting to probability and severity providing a reasonable estimate of quarter to quarter financial impact. Actuaries, on the other hand, give significantly greater weight to severity, recognizing the long term economic impact of the high-severity risk. Not surprisingly, the accounting perspective has gained precedence in recent years.

The re-establishment of trust among all stakeholders at every level is central to rebuilding business legitimacy. The risk of breaking trust, whether through cutting costs on deep water drilling platforms or breaking faith with customers, needs to be seen as a fundamental attack on business legitimacy, not just a cost-benefit analytic.

It’s been said that for an organization to claim a value, it must be non-negotiable….without exceptions. What does this look like? Examples include:

· A firmwide commitment to operate on principles rather than incentives

· A commitment to honor values over strategies, even successful ones

· An instinct to forgive the mistake….but to terminate for the cover-up

· A culture that commitments are sacred, whether to a colleague or a client

· A shared understanding that the long-term success of the organization must override the short-term benefit to an individual or unit

Building a trust-based organization from the bottom up and the top down is a serious commitment, but well worth the investment.

CHG: How about trust between employer and employee?

RS: John Bogle, the founder of Vanguard, has spoken often about the shift from ownership capitalism to management capitalism. My sense is that an employee’s understanding of the interest of a business owner was intuitive. The employee may not have liked the owner but intuitively he/she knew that they had an interest in the preservation of the business.

This is not true about the employee’s relationship to management, particularly when they see a revolving door in the C Suite of people from other businesses and industries who do not share the same long-term interest in the organization’s well-being. The increasing gap in pay between senior management and the average employee has exacerbated that gap in trust.

CHG: You’ve told me before you take a somewhat dark, pessimistic view of people, but it often comes out pretty optimistic. What is it that you think motivates people in business, and what does that mean for management?

RS:I truly believe most people want to find fulfillment in their work. In today’s world, concern about security—job, health, wealth–is an enormous distraction to engagement. It is an enormous challenge for management to overcome and often creates an internal conflict for the employee. Should I take the risk of doing “the right thing” or should I “keep my head down”? The more clearly management articulates “the employment deal”, the greater the opportunity for increased engagement and the creation of long-term value. I have seen values based management at work and have little doubt that there are organizations out there making it work today.

CHG: What does that suggest for management-by-numbers?

RS: The numbers are critical. Management won’t stay in place very long if they can’t deliver results. But management only by the numbers isn’t enough. Values will trump strategy over time.

The real challenge is the friction cost that loss of trust has on a business, our economy and our society. Loss of trust means an increase in a myriad of costs through due diligence requirements, procurement processes, government regulation and litigation. Sales take longer to close. Contracts take longer to negotiate. The legal aspects of operating a business have exploded.

None of these areas have anything to do with increased value of the product or service a business produces but the costs imposed are a direct result of decreased trust. Thus we have an ever-increasing number of workers who don’t contribute to creating value, but are essential elements in today’s business environment.

CHG: What can an individual TrustMatters reader do to enhance his or her ability to trust, their personal trustworthiness, or the level of trust in the business world of today?

RS: The need and desire for trust is universal. The challenge comes when we believe that it is important to act in a trustworthy manner in some situations and not in others. Understanding our interdependence with vendors, customers, employees and other stakeholders is essential. To the extent we employ situational ethics and call a violation of trust a business judgment we weaken the trust framework of an organization. Each individual has the capacity to ask themselves the critical question in every business judgment they make as to whether they are acting in a principled manner.

CHG: What do you think of the MBA Oath movement that began last year?

RS: It is certainly a worthy aspiration…much like any approach to ethical behavior. It is discouraging that such an oath would be perceived as necessary. The implication of the MBA Oath movement is that there is some degree of career sacrifice entailed with living up to the oath. That in itself is demeaning to business people.

CHG: What’s the best business book you ever read? The best advice you ever got? And what’s the one thing you’d recommend to a new MBA today?

RS: I can’t give you just one Charlie, but I’d put your book Trusted Advisor up with the best. It is the first book I recommend to anyone entering sales, consulting or professional services. My daughter is a doctor and my son an attorney. I have made sure that both of them have copies and have read it.

Another is by your co-author, David Maister. David’s writing has been formative in my thinking as a consultant and manager for almost 30 years. I’d pick True Professionalism as my favorite. A recent read has been General Eisenhower’s Report on Operation Torch. I only wish I had read it 30 years ago. Anyone who has to manage a merger or a large project with a multidisciplinary team should be required to read it.

Finally, a new book by a professor at Columbia, Sheena Iyengar, The Art of Choosing. The Art of Choosing is a fascinating book from a pure marketing perspective, but even more interesting as probably the most helpful thing I’ve ever read in understanding cultural differences.

For the new MBA I would say that business is an honorable profession as long as you practice it honorably. Every decision is a choice and knowing that the choices you make have earned you the trust of your colleagues and your clients is the greatest reward you can hope to receive.

CHG: I’m blushing, but I know you’re serious, so I’ll leave it in. And many thanks to you for spending time and sharing wisdom with us, we greatly appreciate it.


This is number 13 in the Trust Quotes series.

The entire series can be found in our Trust Quotes section on

Recent posts in this series include:

Trust Quotes #12: Martha Rogers and Don Peppers Interview
Trust Quotes #11: Jim Peterson
Trust Quotes #10: David Gebler

Why Trust Statistics Can Be as Misleading as Crime Statistics

In each pair, guess which city has the higher violent crime rate? 

Lexington, KY vs. New York City    ___

Tucson, AZ vs. Los Angeles, CA    ___

Tulsa, OK vs. San Jose, CA           ___

St. Paul, MN vs. San Antonio, TX   ___

Memphis, TN vs. Detroit, MI           ___

Minneapolis, MN vs. Houston, TX ___

As you might have guessed, the data are a bit counter-intuitive. In each pair, it is the smaller City (listed first in each pair) that has the higher crime rate. Data are from the FBI and the US Census Bureau.

The FBI goes to some trouble to warn against using their data in precisely the ways I just did—to rank cities by their crime rates.   The FBI says:

For example, one city may report more crime than a comparable one, not because there is more crime, but rather because its law enforcement agency, through proactive efforts, identifies more offenses. Attitudes of the citizens toward crime and their crime reporting practices, especially concerning minor offenses, also have an impact on the volume of crimes known to police.

They are quite right to warn. During the Nixon administration, the US government founded the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration within the Justice Department. On the statistical front, the LEAA developed the National Crime Victimization Survey, an antidote to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting. The UCR had simply measured police reports; the LEAA took a survey approach, by contacting the whole population. Results varied widely, particularly in cities like Philadelphia, with police forces long suspected of under-reporting crime stats.

Trust Measurement and Definitions

Trust statistics are even more suspect than crime statistics, I suggest. In part this is due to definitional issues. On Edelman PR’s Tweetlevel tool, the New York Times twitter account scores 94.2 on trust—lower than Perez Hilton (94.3) and Justin Bieber (the King of Trust, at 97.5).

Trust Measurement and Volume vs. Frequency

But more importantly, human beings are likely to confuse buzz, spin and hustle with underlying reality; raw numbers with frequency.

Ask yourself: compared to ten years ago, with how many people outside your immediate family and co-workers do you interact daily?

# of Daily Interactions

a. 10 yrs ago

b. today

Walking around








Twitter, Linked-In












 Now:then (b:a)



Go ahead, fill it in. And let us know what your two columns added up to, this could be an interesting social statistic. (My own scores were 43 vs. 225, for a now:then ratio of 5.23).

Your now:then ratio indicates the number of Trust-Pointä opportunities you have in a given day: in my case, over five times what I used to have.

My bet is that, on any given day, I will have more instances of distrust than I had ten years ago. And yet—on any given day, I will be disappointed by far fewer people proportionately than I was ten years ago. 

Now: suppose I answer a trust survey that asks me, “How trustworthy do you find people these days?” 

·    How many of us answer “not as much as before” because we’re thinking of the increase in the absolute number of untrustworthy interactions?

·    How many of us answer “more than I used to” because we’re thinking of the decrease in the frequency rate of untrustworthy interactions?

I honestly don’t know the answer to that one. Nor, I suspect, do the people answering the survey themselves. Which suggests, if anything, that the people doing the survey haven’t got much of a clue either.

Caveat statisticator!

Carnival of Trust for July, 2010

Welcome to the July edition of the Carnival of Trust.

This month we are graciously hosted by the hardest working man in the compliance business, Doug Cornelius. Doug resides at He’s a Boston lawyer, with serious experience in real estate, private equity, knowledge management, and–of course–compliance and corporate ethics. He’s Chief Compliance Officer at Beacon Capital Partners, a real estate private equity firm, though the views expressed in his blog are his alone. Trust is a central subject matter for those in the compliance business, many of whom read Trust Matters. Doug is a consistently thoughtful observer of things trust-related, and I’m delighted to have him as host. The Carnival of Trust is a highly subjective listing of key blogposts related to trust. The choices are made by rotating hosts–Doug, in this case. They make the choices and write the commentary. This way you get a seasoned voice, other than mine, on the key subject of trust. Click on over to Doug Cornelius’, and give a read of his selections and commentary this month. I assure you, you won’t be disappointed.

Constructive Hypocrisy and Trust

A stimulating conversation over on LinkedIn, sparked by Adam Turteltaub of the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics, leads me to explore the relationship of hypocrisy to trust, authenticity and truth-telling.

How can there by such a thing as “constructive hypocrisy,” you ask? Well, it’s a good term to describe how we handle the uncomfortable no-man’s land between the letter of the law and the nuanced nature of the world.

Example: The 55 mph speed limit. Enforcement kicks in at about 65. We say “about” because it has to stay loose, else it becomes the new 55. How can you justify people driving 57 when the limit is 55? You can’t. But we do all the time. Constructive hypocrisy.

Bill Bennett wrote about constructive hypocrisy as key to social functioning back in the 90s.  The brilliant (and outrageously controversial) Herman Kahn used the term to describe the social value of plausible deniability (“A rural American man doesn’t want his daughter to be able to buy pornography at the corner store; and if she does, he wants to be able to say he didn’t know about it.”)

But we don’t need no stinkin’ highfalutin definitions. Here are two that’ll do fine. Have you ever said:

“I’ll call you right back in 1 minute.” Which means between 3 and 5 minutes.

“Let’s do lunch,” which of course means ‘let’s don’t do lunch.’

If you’ve said those things, then you’re a constructive hypocrite.  Sometimes, anyway. Congratulations.

The Role of Hypocrisy

Constructive hypocrisy gives us breathing room from the constant cacophonous confrontation between the puritanical rule-givers among us, and the anarchistic forces just waiting to destroy civilization. 

·    What does the flight attendant do when the announcement says ‘turn off your cell phones now’ and the passenger covers up the screen to finish the email? Constructive hypocrisy (for a while).

·    What does the cop say when it’s a first violation and the person is clearly not a trouble maker, and the violation was narrow? I’ll let you off this time with a warning….Constructive hypocrisy.

·    What are sentencing guidelines for judges, except constructive hypocrisy?

Here are some situations where the world could use more, not less, constructive hypocrisy:

·    Gay marriage

·    Three strikes you’re out sentencing rules

·    Abortion (oh boy, I can see the emails now)

·    the Middle East

On the other hand, there are limits to constructive hypocrisy—at some point it becomes denial. Think of US immigration policy, for example, or municipal pension funding. Over a decade ago, don’t ask/don’t tell was constructive hypocrisy; as time passed, it became uncomfortable denial. The policy didn’t change; society did.

 Hypocrisy, Authenticity and Trust

On the face of it, you’d think trust can’t co-exist with hypocrisy. But on closer examination, I think they are complementary, maybe even interdependent.

Constructive hypocrisy is a socially acceptable way of agreeing to disagree. We both choose to look the other way, rather than insist on a constant confrontation of values. Done in the right proportion, it is the triumph of relationship over principle.  

Can I trust someone who’s being hypocritical? In many cases, yes, precisely because their willingness to be hypocritical rather than provoke a confrontation over principle means they actually value my relationship over one of their opinions. 

What about authenticity? Only in a narrow sense are they in conflict. For me to indulge in constructive hypocrisy doesn’t mean I’m being inauthentic about my beliefs; it means I’m being authentic about the balance of my principles and the need to get along with others in the world. 

Alfred Hitchcock knew that imagination trumped vision (the shower scene in Psycho); other directors know that a bit of clothing is more erotic than pure nudity.  In the same sense, a bit of hypocrisy lubricates social interactions better than does undiluted truth.  

If you’d like to talk more about this concept, maybe we could do lunch?