Building a culture of trust

We talk a great deal about results, delivery and giving our best in the workplace. But what makes that possible? What are the most important factors in achieving results? Well there are several, obviously, but one of the most important in that of trust. Without trust, we don’t get results.

So I got thinking – and when I get thinking I get researching. And when I get researching I get writing!

Seems to me there are 2 key aspects of trust –being able to trust people yourself and also being trusted by others. Obviously we’d love to have both of them nailed. And some people just inherently seem to be trustworthy. But what are they doing that allows them to be trusted?

Three Elements of Trust

In a recent article [HBR], Jack Zenger & Joseph Folkman outlined their “Three elements of trust”. I’ll describe them here .

  • Positive relationships

Seems obvious but we have more trust in people we have enjoyable interactions with. That might be someone who acts as a catalyst for getting things done, someone that is great at resolving conflicts or someone that provides great feedback. Or perhaps it’s someone who’s empathetic nature makes us feel comfortable. Whatever the reason, they make us feel positive, and that leads us to trust them.

  • Good judgement and expertise

It’s much easier to trust someone who comes with a proven track record of expertise and achievements. If you can clearly demonstrate that you know your subject area and how to do your job well then it’s easier for others to trust you. At highly-skilled organisations the base level of job excellence is kinda assumed, but make sure you add value to the calls you’re invited to and that your opinions and ideas make a tangible difference to others. Speed can also be important here. Trustworthy people often act fast to resolve issues, and many times anticipate problems before they happen.

  • Consistency

These are people that you can rely on. You know they’ll go the extra mile if they can, and that they back up their words with action. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was that of “Deliver, Deliver, Deliver”, i.e. carve out a reputation as someone that always delivers and you’ll become an indispensable go-to person for others. True consistency is hard to achieve, we all make mistakes, but if you can build that reliability factor then people will trust in your capabilities. Giving yourself that chance to succeed is key here. Set expectations; keep your commitments and Deliver, Deliver, Deliver. [QA]

While these make a lot of sense, there’s a bit more to it IMHO. So I have some of my own.

  • Don’t be a jerk

We all have a bit of jerk in us. We know when we’ve been unfair to someone. The key is to detect the behaviour coming and squash it at source. Developing emotional intelligence and self-awareness is the key here. Don’t take your bad day out on someone else. If you’re a jerk, then people will give you a wide berth.

  • Equanimity

Rather like the best poker players, you’ll find that key leaders respond in the same way when things are going badly and when they’re going well. You don’t see overreactions or huge displays of emotion. This can come across a little robotic, but really helps when the s hits the f. If you know someone is going to respond to problems with a cool head then they rapidly build your trust.

So those are some factors that you can employ to be seen as trustworthy. But how can you develop your own team or colleagues to be people you can trust? How can you help them?

How to build a trustworthy team culture

  • Autonomy

You have to let people get on with their tasks and resist any urge to micromanage. Give your team the freedom for them to say “hey I got this”, for them to let you detach from the nuts and bolts and trust in their delivery. Just like if you’ve ever tried to do something for a 3 year old child that they can do themselves – they’ll soon tell you “I’ll do it myself!” Maybe an adult won’t be so honest so it’s up to us to provide our teams with the autonomy to be able to take action and deliver [WNEXT]. Obviously then they need to deliver of course! J

  • Freedom to fail

I have no problem with my team failing. As long as they’re trying new things, developing new ideas and fixing problems. Creating an environment where we can all safely try out new methods is key to being trusted. I know the team doesn’t want to fail, and for the vast majority of cases, wont fail – but when they do it’s cool with me. I’ve worked in teams where the slightest error is ruthlessly punished, and it stifles innovation completely. See this post for some other thoughts on this topic. [BIZLIB]. Obviously we have to ensure failure doesn’t become a habit or a default outcome, but a good team will self-police this.

Trust vs Control – do big organisations get it right?

These days, many firms are super-highly regulated. The price for misdemeanors from non-trustworthy people is high [RTRAD], for the individuals and the firm. So you’ll probably have a LOT of governance. Mandatory training, compliance checks, risk reviews, market conduct – the list goes on. And sometimes it seems we spend too much time on governance, and not enough actually getting things done. I’ve heard it referred to as a source of frustration at a number of places that I’ve worked.

I’ve got a mixed view on this. The key risk and governance items are absolutely required, and often mandated by regulators. So we just need to get on with them. Automate where possible and seek to optimizeJFDI. However there are times when restrictions do seem influenced by a lack of trust. E.g. rejection of conference presentations because someone, once upon a time, did a bad job. Or blocking social media sites by default meaning we can’t access handy training resources e.g. SlideShare, YouTube etc.  Or excessive scrutiny of expense claims in case someone hasn’t followed policy. Even dressing appropriately for the workplace. All of those are not a problem with the right person. A trustworthy professional knows not to display client information in their presentation. They know not to be updating their Facebook page whilst on a conference call. They know the guidelines regarding expenses, and they certainly know not to wear their favourite Metallica t-shirt in a client meeting. 🙂 If they don’t, then they’re not the calibre of person your organisation needs.

So should we be concentrating more on hiring the right attitudes, rather than tarring everyone with the same brush? For sure it would be cheaper to have genuine trust in people rather than implementing complex controls [FORBES]. Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Ok that’s it. Thanks for reading.

Supporting references

[HBR] https://hbr.org/2019/02/the-3-elements-of-trust

[QA] http://qaspire.com/2010/07/21/5-ways-to-build-trust-lessons-from-a-conversation/

[WNEXT] https://whatsnextpodcast.libsyn.com/rising-up-against-the-diminisher-with-liz-wiseman

[BIZLIB] https://www.bizlibrary.com/article/bizlibrary-values-freedom-to-fail/

[RTRAD] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_trading_losses

[FORBES] https://www.forbes.com/sites/keldjensen/2014/12/08/control-is-good-trust-is-cheaper/#518fc721322f

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Thank you! The power of appreciation & gratitude

Well done! Great job! Thanks!

It has been said that Sorry seems to be the hardest word [1], but for many people it’s “thanks”.

At my organisation we are encouraged to give regular, constructive feedback to allow us all to improve the areas that we may be weaker at. That’s very valuable, but maybe we don’t spend enough time simply praising or giving thanks to each other?

I’ve always wondered why people don’t seem to find it easy to give praise or express gratitude. It seems to me that people are much more inclined to criticise. Even that “constructive feedback” has an implied criticism and while useful, won’t give the recipient that warm feeling.

In fact a recent survey [2] of almost 8000 managers found that 40% never give praise of any kind, whereas another study [3] showed that high performing teams get on average six times more positive messaging than lower performing teams. And it’s not just in the workplace. It’s long been known that successful marriages and relationships feature a positive:negative feedback ratio of at least 5:1. If that ratio is much lower then it’s a significant predictor of divorce [4].

Seems to me saying thanks is most definitely a good thing. So I’ve done a bit of research.

What are the benefits of saying thanks?

  • Mutual happiness
    • It makes you feel good, it makes them feel good. Everyone’s a winner.

 

  • Bridge building
    • Gratitude is a great tool to turn around a bad relationship. If an interaction isn’t going well, then finding a reason to show appreciation can be that starting point for resolving issues and mending your relationship with someone.

 

But it’s not easy. Many people find it very difficult to express gratitude. Why?

  • Cringe factor
    • I know some people that find a praise-giving session tough to deliver. They find it slightly embarrassing. And sometimes the recipients can also [5]. That can be a barrier and mean that praise gets as far as someone’s mind, but no further as no-one wants an emotionally uncomfortable situation. I find that the more you get into the habit if giving praise, the more comfortable you get and you also learn to recognise the reaction of the recipient and tailor your approach accordingly.

 

  • We expect “out of the ordinary”
    • At work we expect excellence from our colleagues. So often, extra praise isn’t given unless someone demonstrates out of the ordinary performance. Like someone who doesn’t tip because the “server is just doing their job”. I try to think more about trust, reliability & attitude rather than going the extra mile. There are plenty of colleagues that I’ve thanked or praised simply because they make my life easier in any number of ways. In cases like these it’s important to be specific and constructive. Praising a particular behaviour gives the recipient more to work with than generic thanks. It also appears more genuine [6].

 

  • We don’t want people to get one up on us
    • Rare, but I’ve seen it happen. “Why should I praise that person, they’ll get better at their job and then they’ll make more progress than me?” Yes this is the wrong attitude in a collaborative firm, but it’s out there, fortunately in small doses. For those that may think that way, I’d suggest reading about the power of givers and takers – something I’ll be blogging about in future.

 

Ok that’s cool – I want to be more grateful, but how? There are plenty of tips for giving effective gratitude.

 

How to express generosity

  • A weekly gratitude note
    • I like this one. I end my week by sending a weekly note to someone that I appreciate. I find it gives me (and hopefully them) a nice warm feeling at the end of a week. Behavioural psychologist Adam Grant recommends “chunking” gestures of gratitude for maximum effect. [7]

 

  • Make it public
    • Showing gratitude in public is also powerful. My team has a bi-weekly project update and in it we have a section called “Agile BI Appreciates“, where the team calls out anyone they feel like. See here for an example.

 

  • Keep a thanks diary
    • People easily forget when you’ve either done something well or when they have done something well. Recording experiences boosts the positive feeling. Create an Outlook “Quick Step” to file mails that fall into the “thanks” category for later use.

 

  • Mental exercises
    • Yes you can train your brain to be more of a thankful and appreciative person [8].

 

Ok that’s it. Thanks for reading. Comments invited.

References

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sorry_Seems_to_Be_the_Hardest_Word

[2] https://qz.com/work/1010784/good-managers-give-constructive-criticism-but-truly-masterful-leaders-give-constructive-praise/

[3] https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0002764203260208

[4] https://www.gottman.com/blog/the-magic-relationship-ratio-according-science/

[5] https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/the-squeaky-wheel/201308/why-some-people-hate-receiving-compliments

[6] https://www.inc.com/gordon-tredgold/the-thing-that-many-people-get-wrong-about-giving-praise.html

[7] https://hurryslowly.co/adam-grant/

[8] https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/gratitude-exercises/

How to disagree

Disagreements. You’ll find yourself doing that a lot in life. After all, one of the core behaviours at my firm is that of demonstrating challenge, speaking up if we see something that doesn’t exemplify our high standards, and not accepting the status-quo. Being an effective negotiator is a key characteristic of strong leaders as well as helping to just get stuff done.

You’ll also see constant disagreements in the news, regarding Brexit, US politics, and even whether Eden Hazard should play wide left or as a central striker. I’ve become frustrated with the quality, or lack of quality in many arguments or negotiations so I thought I’d do a bit of research into the art of the argument, and in particular, how the approach to a disagreement can affect how you are perceived by your opponent and others.

One of the key papers on this subject seems to be the 2008 essay by computer scientist Paul Graham called “How to disagree”.

In this paper Graham published his “Hierarchy of Disagreement” which has 7 levels.

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  1. Refuting the central point(explicitly refutes the central point).
  2. Refutation(finds the mistake and explains why it’s mistaken using quotes).
  3. Counterargument(contradicts and then backs it up with reasoning and/or supporting evidence).
  4. Contradiction(states the opposing case with little or no supporting evidence).
  5. Responding to tone(criticizes the tone of the writing without addressing the substance of the argument.
  6. Ad Hominem(attacks the characteristics or authority of the writer without addressing the substance of the argument).
  7. Name-calling(sounds something like, “You are an idiot.”).

 

Personally I try and operate at levels 2 and 3. I’m not clever enough to explicitly disprove the central point of an argument, but at least I can aspire to get there one day.  And maybe being smart enough to blow someones argument away could be seen as arrogant or superior. Who knows? It actually might have some negative effects. So levels 2 & 3 seem to be a good home, effective whilst still showing some vulnerability and humility.

I also encourage my team and mentees to never dip below level 3, as each drop in level comes with a corresponding loss of credibility.

Contradiction and responding to tone (levels 4 & 5) may win occasional debates, but won’t win favours and will ultimately build a reputation as a taker or someone who is only concerned with their own needs. It’s not a level you’d want to operate at long term.

As for levels 6 & 7, I’d hope no-one at your organisations engages in name-calling or ad hominem strategies. And if you ever experience that conduct then escalate to your line manager or seek help from HR.

So next time you’re engaged in a healthy debate, be that at work about your latest hot idea, or in the bar questioning Chelsea’s selection policy, be self aware enough to know where you (and your opponent) are on the Hierarchy of Disagreement.

Comments invited as always.

References

https://bigthink.com/paul-ratner/how-to-disagree-well-7-of-the-best-and-worst-ways-to-argue
https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Hierarchy_of_disagreement
https://discourse.suttacentral.net/t/a-hierarchy-for-disagreement/5943
http://www.paulgraham.com/disagree.html

Regards, Paul

 

Accelerate your career with a Personal Board of Directors

Hi all,

As we wrap up annual performance review season, you’ll all be on the receiving end of feedback. Some of it will be good, some of it will be less so, but hopefully it will all be constructive. With any luck there won’t be any big surprises in there, that’s always unpleasant. Feedback should be a continuous process throughout the year, driven by the individual.

A great way of creating that pipeline of continuous feedback, advice and support is to think of yourself as a company. Banoub Inc. if you will. Has a nice ring to it actually. The best companies operate with a solid, skilled and experienced Board of Directors, working together to provide the direction that the company needs. No one person can do it all themselves.

And that’s the same with you. We all need our own Personal Board of Directors. The people that can advise, critique, praise, motivate and generally steer each of us through the minefield that is our career.

I like to think of my own Personal Board of Directors as 6 – 8 people that connect with me in a number of ways. Here are a few suggestions.

  • A Subject Matter Expert

    • Someone that knows my subject area inside out. A person I can learn technical and job-related skills from. A real expert in the field.

 

  • The no BS advisor

    • We all need someone who gives it to you straight. Someone who’s opinion comes with no BS. They’ll tell you how they see it, whether it is uncomfortable for you or not. Often a great way to get the feedback that others are too scared to give you.

 

  • A super-fan

    • Some people just like you. They might like the way you work, or your attitude, or you just click. It’s always good to have a positive fan on your Personal Board of Directors. They’re handy for spreading that positive message about you and for selling your achievements.

 

  • A critic

    • While your super-fan will tell you all the things you do well, it’s good to balance that out with someone who will let you know where you’re going wrong. They might seem negative, but if they’re spotting flaws that you are missing then they’re extremely valuable. Obviously attitude is key here; you want feedback to be constructive.

 

  • The connector

    • We all know someone who seems to know everyone! They’re all over your social feeds, all over forums and events. Their name crops up everywhere and they seem to get all the info on what’s going on. It’s great to be close to someone who has this profile. They’re able to connect you with people from all over the place and they open so many doors. And as cliche as it sounds, it really is all about the network.

 

  • Someone from Generation-Not-You

    • Your perspective on life is profoundly influenced by your generation. And there’s not a whole lot you can do about that. I like my Personal Board of Directors to feature someone from another generation. Be they younger, or older, they see things through a whole new lens and as such can offer an invaluable opinion.

 

  • The non-work advisor

    • I find it useful to have an advisor that I don’t share any real work connection with. Maybe they share the same hobby as you, or have similar life challenges, the non-work advisor can offer unique commentary that you can use to make real progress.

 

Finally I like to think how I can act as someone else’s board member. Maybe you’ll have a mutual arrangement with some of your own advisors? But do consider how your own skills can be of use to acquaintances at work. The recipient might not even realize you could be of use. So offer!

You’ll probably already have some of these roles already filled, maybe without even realizing it. And just like a real company, there will be turnover, hirings and firings, and maybe the odd scandal, but the group will undoubtedly provide a great deal of collective value.  One thing is for sure, your Personal Board of Directors will provide a continuous fire-hose of actionable feedback and advice, that you can use to shape your career for the better. Don’t rely on the usual feedback channels, go out and get hiring!

Regards, Paul