Trust and Noah’s Bar Mitzvah

I’m asked frequently what organizations can do to increase their perceived trustworthiness in the market. Part of the answer is to increase trust within the organization itself; after all, why should a customer or supplier trust an organization whose employees don’t even trust each other?

Which is why it’s interesting to look at practices of high-trust organizations.

Which brings us to Noah G.

I was privileged to be a guest at Noah’s bar mitzvah this past weekend in San Francisco. It was a moving event for many reasons. And that’s part of the lesson.

Being “moved” is a bonding event, creating a shared experience. Shared significant experiences are a basis for understanding each other—if it’s significant for you, and I’ve been there too, then to that extent I “get” you.

The bar mitzvah—like other bonding experiences–enhances that sense of unity, cohesion and collaboration among a group.

The service refers to the group’s shared values—in this case, embodied in the Torah. Which is written and read in the identical language used about 3,500 years ago. The values are literally—physically—walked around the room for all to touch—again, literally and physically.

As an observer, for me the heart of the bar mitzvah service involved Noah being asked to describe the meaning of an ancient piece of text for today’s world. Think values-driven management. Think demanding that even 13-year-olds learn and share how time-tested values are applicable to today’s world.

The dimension of time, I think, is critical for trusting experiences. Without something common that bridges time, we have nothing but a sequence of transactions (a great number of “best practices” these days in business are focused on transactions without reference to a time-based relationship). Relationships by definition presume constancy over time.

In Noah’s case, the after- party featured a slide show of Noah in relationship over time—Noah with his brother, his parents, his cousins. And, strikingly, photos of Noah’s father at his own bar mitzvah—and Noah’s grandfather at his.

The service, being held on the Sabbath, contains the Kaddish—recognition of those who have passed on but are still part of the Relationship—specifically including those for whom no one any longer exists who can speak for them directly. (Does your company actively cultivate “alumni”—or do you force them to sign non-competes and “leave the building?”)

Did I mention the ceremony was moving? My own tradition is that of ‘God’s frozen people,’ as Garrison Keillor puts it. To hear parents speak openly in public of their love for their child feels shockingly, achingly personal to me—both as a child and as a parent.

I felt the same ages ago sitting in the choir loft next to my Irish Catholic girlfriend at her father’s funeral, as she played Danny Boy on the flute and the congregation wept openly with every note. Personal.  Real.  It has to be personally moving, because relationships are personal.

And paradoxically, that’s one of the most important parts of building trust in an organization. Trust may be encouraged institutionally, but it has to be built personally. If you’re not moved yourself, how can you expect others to be moved by you–to trust you?

Trust minus passion leaves only statistical probabilities; not the road to building a trusted organization.  We don’t trust organizations very much; we trust the people in them—or not. Organizations who would be trusted had better not fear to get real, to get personal.  Like the bar mitzvah.


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