About Gary Heusner

I’ve been inspired, mentored, educated by many different people in my career. This blog is a chance to share some of what I have learned and some insights into several areas I find fascinating: IT, Positive Psychology and Leadership Development to build positive leaders in IT. A 20+ year Technology leader, I am focused on created trusted relationships with my clients. I have a background in multiple size environments from start-ups to large corporations as well as publicly held and privately held companies. I have worked in industries ranging across Health Care, Lodging & Hospitality, marketing agencies the online sports industry since it was new and more. I came to consulting only recently in my career, where I currently focus on custom software application development.

How Can I Help?

It’s important to remember that everyone needs help, but not every needs what you have to offer at that point in time. So take your hands off the wheel for a moment and ask the other person, “How can I help?”. You will be surprised at how it helps you to grow and build your relationships.

A decade ago when I was working in soccer coaching, we were holding a large training session for around a hundred kids, and there were several assistant coaches like myself arriving.  Our lead coach turned to us and said “Ask how you can help. Don’t wait to be told what to do.” Succinct.

Since then I have repeated the coaching and used the phrase almost every week of my life.  I walk into a situation whether at a client or at home and ask, “What can I do to help?”. I am often surprised, even with people that I’ve just met, I can be of service and make a difference immediately.  When I’ve tried to force fit items from my list of defined services, it never goes very well.

They key is not the phrasing but understanding the intent.

  • Not sure how to plug in?  Take personal responsibility and ask someone else.
  • Give the control to the other person and let them guide you to be of better service.
  • Don’t make an assumption that you know what they need. Ask!
  • Then do what they ask. That is sometimes the hardest part.  Maybe you did not want to clean up lunch boxes from the last meeting, take notes or chase the kids. You asked, so go with it.

“How can you help?”

Track Results, not Effort in your Software Projects

Measuring effort, is not the same as measuring to meaningful results.

So what is a plan?  I work in the world of software development and plans are easy to build and hard to deliver on in most cases.  There are many reasons for this and these are the subject of many blogs, posts and articles.  Have at it.

Here is my newly simplified viewpoint.  It can’t be a plan if everyone hasn’t agreed it is possible.  Yes, everyone wants it faster cheaper (even free!).  But if even one person can’t actually deliver on their work, the plan and  corresponding schedules and resource commitments are at best a fantasy or fiction if your prefer.

In doing some background reading, I found this existed as a principle in Extreme Programming. No one even talks about it anymore that I can see. Maybe my viewpoint is limited.  While the concept of team involvement, estimation and working as a group collective towards an end exist still, this commitment concept was left behind.

People need to be able to commit to what they believe can happen and what they believe they can do.  This is commitment based planning.  They need to change their reference for how they give information to encompass all of their work, it doesn’t come for free.  But continuing the thought, I have been a magician who has committed to people that my teams can make magic happen.  Let’s just say it didn’t always work, and when it did it was because of my team not because of me.

Rather if every element of the plan is reasonable and can be committed to by everyone, isn’t that the best starting point?  Then once we start, we can work on optimization.  We can measure actual progress for completed items as opposed to effort and know our actual rather than perceived progress.

For example, a simple plan with 5 actual pieces of work is created.  If everyone knows they can make it and we measure only to actually completed pieces of work, not fuzzy milestones like ‘development complete’ but rather “Can we process a payment?”, then we can measure real progress for software development.

On the flip side, if we measure progress against process steps, no one actually has to “complete” anything.  They can make efforts and then pawn the rest off on someone else.  “Hey, I checked that in earlier this week.  I am done baby!”  Three critical errors later and weeks in QA cycle because of poor development it is clear, this person never really ‘completed’ anything other than a skeleton solution.  A factory model of software measured by process steps as opposed to actual work completed definitely creates this type of environment.

So look at your plans.  Are they based on what can actually be accomplished and did everyone get to sign up for what they believe in?  Are you measuring real progress against actually completed items or just effort to milestones?.

Which type of plan would you invest in if you ran the company?  Which type of plan management do you believe will make real verifiable progress?

Improve the Value of Your Attention

I recently wrote about attention as the currency of relationships.  What determines the perceived quality of our attention? How can we improve the value of our attention to family, friends, coworkers and clients? Make the most of the time we have together?

I think there are several dimensions to the quality of our attention.  The core of which came from some works by David Maister and company on defining trust from his book the Trusted Advisor.  I’ve modified and added to this equation.  The elements:

  • Credibility
  • Reliability
  • Character
  • Intimacy
  • Focus

In formula it would look like:

Quality of Attention = (Credibility + Reliability +Character + Intimacy)/Focus

Credibility is about whether or not we should even be in the conversation with someone.  I am rarely credible to strangers I meet through work, but if we are discussing something I am passionate about I quickly gain credibility.

Reliability is about doing what I said I would do and in deeper relationships I should anticipate and being to support people without being told.

Character is about proving your integrity over time, not about being interesting.

Intimacy is about being open like vulnerable trust.  In our personal lives this can be taken further than maybe in our business roles.

And Focus is about who you are focused on.  Are you focused on the other person?  That is positive.  Focus only on yourself and you undermine anything you do in the other categories.

Can you improve your relationships by paying a higher quality attention?

Attention is the Currency of Relationships

“Are you listening to me?” It’s a phrase I don’t like to hear because it means I am not paying attention.  What an interesting phrase paying attention.

We talk about how to get attention from customers and new mediums are creating new positions within companies like Chief Digital Officer. We think about monetizing our customers attention.  So many visits, viewers, uniques, and hours spent paying attention.

In relationship development from bonding with newborns to finding our special someone to rescuing a relationship it is about paying attention. We literally pay for attention in the business world.

But attention is really the currency of relationships.  We pay attention to people and it enriches our relationships.

The higher the perceived quality of attention the greater the value.   The more high quality (as perceived by the receiver) attention we give to someone the stronger our relationship becomes.

In fact we have always paid people for their attention.  I hire people to work with me because I want their attention to help me solve problems and to help my clients solve problems.  People buy art because of the attention the artist put into their product.  A high quality product is often because of the amount and “quality” of attention put into its development, construction, presentation and many other factors.  Our monetary currency is in many ways a to represent attention.

Think for a moment on how much of your attention you give to others?  Are some people willing to pay you for your attention at work?  Do people who really mean something to you get the attention from you they deserve?

When you look at your relationships are you paying enough attention to receive the attention you want in return?

Why is successful software development so difficult to repeat?

Why is successful software development so difficult to repeat time and again like a factory?

Well it’s about people.  I think that sums it up. (Though it sounds rather crass as I read it.)

I want to discuss two issues.  First, I think many people ignore the fact that software development is actually about creating not manufacturing the same thing every time. Second, communication between even well intentioned people working together every day is fraught with noise and incoherence.  How can you build software if everyone involved is unable to communicate clearly?

I propose that we need to actively work against the assumptions that so much raw material that enters the software factory creates X amount of value because it creates a measurement biased approach focused on utilization as opposed to value delivered.  Software development management cannot be a game of Tetris-like management of hours by role as the project plan for perfect utilization. There are many efficiently developed software systems that have been developed that have not delivered anywhere near their potential business value.

Our ability to pay attention, to listen and then to understand complex concepts is difficult in the most simple settings.  In a more freeform arena such as custom (think green field) software development it is extremely difficult. This is played out daily all over the world as software projects fail, get delayed and miss on expectations of their sponsors. But it doesn’t have to be this way, we simply choose to ignore that development relies on an unreliable factor, human communication.

So what to do?  Create a new certification program?  Derive a new process? Self-improvement guru’s and methodology coaches have similar business plans.  Hey, sometimes it works.  I don’t like gambling on sometimes.

Eliminating the manufacturing/measurement mentality…

We need to change what we measure for success.  We need to suspend the efficiency experts for a moment and look at how to create real value.  There are not many CEO’s or investor’s that I have met who would complain about making a $2 million dollar software project investment to get $50 million in year over year annual revenue return.  (I know there are other costs for continuing operations, but that can be factored in and we can get logarithmic or even exponential scaling if we can design operations appropriately when we build the software.)

By focusing on value we also are better able to make value focused as opposed to process focused decisions. In the above example if we really needed one more QA for a few weeks, can we just pay for it and launch the project rather than argue about estimation methods and 14 step approval chains?  Go get that revenue!

Remembering people are imperfect communicators…

Project teams (everyone involved not just IT pros) can work to make the objectives easy to understand and model.  This involves breaking down artificial organizational barriers, barriers of understanding and closely held assumptions. Not just technical aptitude.  Yes, it involves more than normal commitment.

This is a prime principle of many newer software methodologies.  But it only works if we make the investment to reap the value.  We can achieve more coherent communication by developing common language to define our problem and create the necessary agreed upon concepts for negotiating and managing when we build the software together.

A collaborative creation process can’t work with a drop in interview or a conversation once a week.  It also can’t be done with lots of lingo that creates assumptions. So whether facilitated time together to let ideas grow and develop or a dedicated person who is a product owner embedded in a team every day, creating common experience around the language and concepts is critical to overcoming communication entropy which only increases over time.

Put it together…

The highly efficient manufacturing model actually dissuades dedicating the right time needed to capture the value we can create. If we suspend the manufacturing/efficiency model, we can actually evaluate and justify the right commitment of resources for a project/program/effort.  Applying solid best practices to reinforce coherent communication and clarity will allow for smaller teams to be more productive, more efficient and reactive to change.  Which is a real offset to the arguments in favor of the manufacturing/efficiency model.

And hey, it’s OK if something cool can’t be justified.  Probably needs to be tuned up or trashed. Better early, than investing poorly with incoherent communication for a bad result.

Wrap it up…

Does your company understand it is creating value with software or is it confused by the manufacturing model focused on efficiency?  Can your organization communicate effectively over time and actually increase the value expected and delivered with software? Write back and let me know or ask for help.

Gary

P.S. I am a voracious self-improvement reader.  Love it.  Sometimes it even works for me.  I keep trying.

Earn the Right to Answer

“Do you like my new suit?” and “What do you think of my business model?”

Have you earned the right to answer?

We get excited! We race ahead! We think we know! We want to share! We’ve been trained to be good puzzlers and so we want the attention, good feelings and share of the spotlight that comes from having the answer.

I sometimes forget we are all working on our own individual scripts, our unique view of the world. People we are interacting with may not want our answer or may have very different information and outlooks on the question than we do.  They may be working off of a different script and the answer we want to give will make no sense to them and might even annoy them. “Next! Please move along.  Don’t call us we’ll call you!”

So what to do?

First, find out about their script.  What is important to them?  What do they want to have happen next and in the future?  How are they looking for events to unfold?  What would be bad outcomes?

I ask these questions, that I learned form other experts so that we can adjust and tune into the people we want to help.  Then I can adjust our answers to the areas that they care about so that our contributions are additive and actually helpful.

For example imagine meeting a new network contact and they are running a sales organization.  They describe some of the difficulties they are having driving new sales.  What you should not do is tell them how to run the best sales organization in the world using your unique contacts and capabilities.  Even if it is the right answer.

Rather I believe you need to understand the issues faced, plumb the depths of the pressures facing them personally and try to find out what they want to have happen and why.  The why is important and it needs to be both for their company and for them.  So first you need to ask them if you can talk about it.  That’s the first step.

After that the conversation should be easy and focused on them.  You can work on having a trust based discussion and developing a real collaborative understanding.  Then maybe you can put some of your ideas on the table.

I know I struggle with this regularly.  I do it even now.  So I often have to apologize and then say that “I am sorry, I think I am racing ahead, maybe I need more information first” or even, “I don’t know I am right”.  While subtle this give back is important to recover.  But wouldn’t I be more helpful if I could have listened and developed an understanding thereby earning the right to answer first?

Are your team’s relationships holding you back?

Tammy, CIO for a popular software as a service company, was struggling to improve her relationships with her peers. Even though she acted with integrity and was an involved, reliable, and caring leader, she and her IT team struggled to build better relationships with their CFO and CMO.

During a long conversation with her CEO, Tammy was told that he needed more from her and her team. Her organization was simply not trusted to deliver on critical projects.   Projects were unpredictable. Success was inconsistent. The CEO’s parting words echoed loudly:   In a service company that values honesty, integrity and reliability, her team was perceived as falling short of expectations.

WHAT IS REALLY HAPPENING…?

Looking for answers, Tammy asked her CMO peer, Neal Wallace, to lunch on Monday to discuss how she could make improvements.  The meeting created more questions than answers. Neal told her that he liked many of her people and really respected her.  The company achievement award she had earned a few years ago for exemplifying company core values was not diminished in his mind. However, he also said that his staff was constantly complaining that they could not get anything done with her team.  The IT team was a black box and treated his team with the same personal interaction they gave to their laptops.

His team made commitments and then felt held hostage because they could not get information on where the IT team was on any of their initiatives.  Now they felt it just wasn’t worth the effort.

Following the meeting with Neal, Tammy was confused.  The IT team had a clear process.  They spent months creating it and informing the other departments how it worked and why it would improve service.  The process had been championed by everyone, including Neal.  So why was it now so misunderstood?

She pulled up the website that showed ticket and project status for everything IT was working on.  The project management site was current.  Everything was there and even included the changes from this afternoon’s staff meeting.  It couldn’t be clearer: staff allocation, progress to baseline, Gantt charts and EVM calcs were all listed in detail down to the task level.  The system sent out notifications of all daily changes and even a status for requests that had not yet been reviewed.

ANOTHER LUNCH BRINGS MORE BAD NEWS

Determined to crack this problem, Tammy scheduled another lunch – this time with her CFO, Cassandra Kelly.   Wednesday’s lunch came and went, leaving Tammy even more concerned and disappointed.  Maybe her team was falling apart?  She didn’t want to believe what she had heard.

Although Cassandra appreciated the reduced IT costs from using offshore and onshore resources, she told Tammy she could not afford to miss deadlines on upcoming integration efforts with the new customer engagement and ERP systems.  There had already been a series of missteps by IT in the early execution phase as they got up to speed, causing some early deadlines to be missed.  However, everyone on the executive team had agreed to stretch and take on the high probability of problems in order to complete the project in the current fiscal year.

Although the IT team was doing much better now and starting to develop velocity, Cassandra felt that they were still not getting the projected value from the IT investment.  She assured Tammy that while she respected her personally, she was now in a squeeze to honor her commitments.  Her reputation (and that of her team) was on the line and she needed more from IT right now. Cassandra had not understood that failure was a real possibility or she would not have agreed to the risky timeline.

Tammy had heard enough.  A clear message was emerging:  Tammy was widely respected for her personal integrity and trustworthiness. However, because her team was perceived as ineffective, Tammy was as well.  While she was focused on building her own credibility, she should have been spending just as much time building her team’s credibility.

SEARCHING FOR ANSWERS…

Next, Tammy turned to her CIO networking group and shared the input from her C-level peers.  She left the meeting with specific insights to mull over:

  • Did her team spend enough time building relationships with other departments?  The basic concept was that a company was a collection of relationships.  Relationships need to be nurtured with time and quality attention.  Tammy would need to make sure processes weren’t preventing people from interacting and growing relationships.
  • Is improving the trustworthiness of individual team members part of the plan to improve overall department relationships? Tammy needed to work with individual team members to make sure they were fully present, focused on their customers, and authentic in their interactions and not overly reliant on processes.
  • Is there enough resiliency in her team’s relationships within the organization to absorb small setbacks? When enough time was invested in building quality relationships and supporting the needs of individuals in other departments, Tammy’s team would gain more ability to absorb small setbacks.  Additionally, their reputation as reliable and trustworthy would  improve their ability to execute quickly.   In hindsight, Tammy’s team should have made sure they could execute first and not overreach to accomplish Cassandra’s tasks. Even if it was more expensive at first to plan for more skilled resources, it would have ultimately been less expensive.
  • Is her team measured by value delivered or dollars spent?  Lastly, many efforts on the surface that look like smart fiscal maneuvers, actually weakened relationships by putting more emphasis on dollars spent than total value delivered. In situations like this, aspects like quality and internal customer satisfaction tend to be relegated to secondary importance when teams believe they are measured primarily on cost. While easier and less expensive for IT, was the data her team blasted to everyone about projects inadvertently undermining her team’s value perception?  This process-heavy approach eliminated opportunities to connect and communicate, leaving internal customers feeling abandoned and underserved.

CREATING AN APPROACH…

The following week Tammy met with a group of her senior IT leaders to determine how to improve the perception of their team.  She laid out the challenge before them and explained the situation as an opportunity for them to address the concerns of their internal customers.  After several hours, the team emerged with a skeletal structure to address their issues and an agreement to discuss implementation in their next meeting:

IT Team Plan to Improve Organizational Trust With Our Internal Customers

  1. Be Credible: Provide realistic estimates (dollars, resources, time) for the technologies and activities we will perform by increasing the skills of our internal resources and/or leveraging outside resources where necessary.
  2. Improve Reliability: Understand the difference between commitment, best efforts and good intentions within our department.  Make sure we communicate to our customers in clear, consistent language so we can effectively manage their expectations.
  3. Be Transparent: Make sure we have agreement with our internal customers on what we will measure before we start working.  Tammy commits to regular quality reviews with top customers and teams to track progress.
  4. Reduce Team Self Focus: Collaborate with customers to develop new processes that will give them the useful information they need to be successful. Even if that means a slightly higher cost, it will prevent us from focusing only on what makes IT better rather than our internal customers and the overall business goal.
  5. Build Character: Create shared understanding on how to deliver our core values and provide the best possible service.  Even if that sometimes means saying no or delivering disappointing news to our clients, our goal is to always get to a yes we can all agree on. We also need to hone our communications skills and do a better job listening and understanding our customers.  Note: Not a quick fix.

After several months progress had been made the new behaviors were starting to taking hold.   The commitment from the group was solid and Tammy was cautiously optimistic.

Six months after their initial conversation, Tammy scheduled a follow-up meeting with the CEO.  Tammy was hopeful about the outcome, but still uncertain as to the input the CEO was  receiving about the performance of the IT team from the rest of the company.

TURNING THE CORNER…

The meeting with the CEO went better than Tammy expected.  Not only was there recognition that the team was making strides to improve, there was real gratitude that her team had invested itself in a recent opportunity with Marketing.  An initial proposal from Neal, the CMO, had been finalized collaboratively for a best outcome for the company.  Although it meant bringing in an outside group, everyone felt like the team was open, committed and on the right track to success.  The IT team’s flexibility, partnering and experience with outside vendors, allowed the company to make better decisions and an optimal implementation.

For Tammy, the best part was when the CEO asked her to lead an effort to share some of the changes she had made in her department with him and her peers.  The CEO was looking to build more trust to improve execution, partnering and resiliency before embarking on new programs for the fiscal year.  This was validation that — while not perfect-—her team was making a noticeable impact.

Tammy’s confidence was restored.  While she had always followed all the rules and done everything right, a shadow had been cast on her credibility as a leader.  Determined to turn things around, she successfully restored her reputation by helping her team to improve its own trustworthiness.

For more on this topic please check out our post on Organizational Trust.

It’s all about relationships

 “Very little that is positive is solitary.” -Martin Seligman, Flourish 2011

What we can often forget is the most obvious part of our existence.

How do we get anything done?  As leaders we are often charged with lighting a path providing opportunities for those around us.  This is true whether in software development like my background, or in any other leadership role, even within a family.

So how do we succeed in business and in life?  How do we establish the greatest number of options to help solve problems?  How do we really get things done?  It’s all about relationships. I want to talk about what this means for us in doing business and how to be a better leader as a result.

” Relationships are how energy and information is shared as we connect and communicate with one another. “- Dan Siegel, Mindsight 2010

We are social beings. Unless you have telepathy you are living in your own world in your head watching your own picture show of reality as you see it.  As social beings we are wired to communicate with others to relieve that isolation as part of creating well being for ourselves and others.  The currency of relationships is attention: the information, energy and focus we give to others and need from others. We use that currency to get things done in our social world each day and to define our reality.

 “Words and ideas are examples of units of information we use to communicate with one another.”  – Daniel Siegel, Mindsight 2010

We need to learn how to build a network that supports and sustains us. It is something that goes beyond the moment, beyond the job and beyond a given company.  Our network of relationships is part of who we are as human beings. It is up to each of us to learn this truth and to spend the time and attention to nourish those relationships.

We get things done through relationships.  I am cursed by a generational tendency to own a responsibility to work to solve things by myself. “I got it boss! You can count on me!”.  While I can do a lot of independent work, I never really do it myself. In fact, everything I ever get done is done because of my relationships. I may lead an initiative, but I am always marshaling resources available from my relationships to actually get work done. Yet we often lose sight of this simple fact because the bonds of our relationships are invisible and as such are often out of mind.

Look around where ever you are at the moment.  Everything you see within your view has been affected by relationships and in many cases exists only because of relationships between people.  Do you live in a community, a village, a city?  Do you belong to groups or affiliations?  Do you live in a house or an office building?   What about the medium that allows you to read what I have written? All of this has been built and created by relationships.  Some of those relationships might have been transactional and some likely deeply personal.

Positive relationships are something we need as people in order to create well being.  Cited in multiple publications and research studies positive relationships are a foundation for happiness and well being.  Our best moments are often those shared with others personally and professionally.  Deep fulfilling business relationships give us the ability to work through the best and worst of times as leaders.  They are better than the best strategy and tactics, better than the latest research paper and a more important resource for success than even an ever full bucket of gold. Strong positive business relationships fulfill us as social beings and enable us to truly get things done that make a difference.

Amazingly building strong relationships is not taught in our schools. Our most important survival mechanism and success mechanism is not part of a curriculum.  We assume that we will learn the skills necessary to build strong relationships, by living our lives with other people.  However, we all know that even with the best manners, schooling, social upbringing and advantages, some people still need help developing the skills to build strong relationships. How many people do you know look at networking as some sort of strange activity, rather than a chance to build strong relationships for mutual success?

I know I am still learning at age 44 how to be better at building strong positive relationships. I spent my early years passing the gauntlet of primary and secondary education, learning technical skills followed by establishing myself as an independent and capable person.  I had friends and still do, but I didn’t know what that meant to me in a business setting.  Could I have real friends at work?  I once thought business and personal life needed to be separate in some un-definable way. I always found this thinking conflicted with how I felt and acted. Well the way I would like to think I acted.

We abhor silos in organizations for the problems they create, no less the silos in our life.  We live one life.  Why not apply the things we learn to our whole selves?  I am not telling you to invite everyone from work over for every family member’s birthday party every year mind you. That’s over the top and likely won’t build relationships. Rather we need to understand that relationship development and nurturing are skills that are about who we are as people, not just as business people.

Look around you today and think about the amount of attention you give and you get.  Not to create a balance sheet, but to understand you receive back from what you give and to assess how much attention are you giving to nourish your relationships.  The more people you can serve well with your attention the more quality relationships you will build in your network.  If you are really vigilant and value the people in your relationship network, the returns will come by themselves.  We are wired to reciprocate with each other.  Done selflessly for the good of others, you will receive back more opportunities to assist you and those in your network than what you give out.  It compounds like interest over time.  When you experience this you will realize it is all about relationships.

Credits

  • Friends, colleagues and clients…
  • Siegle, D.J. – M.D. (2010) Mindsight:The New Science of Personal Transformation. New York, NY: Bantam Books
  • Seligman, M. (2011) Flourish New York, NY: Free Press
  • Rodriquez, Don Miguel (1997) The Four Agreements. San Rafael, CA: Amber-Allen Publishing
  • Diener, E. and Biswas-Diener R.– (2008) Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth. Hoboken, NJ:Wiley-Blackwell
  • Ben Shahar, T. (2007) – Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment . New York, NY: McGraw-Hill

 

Stop Focusing on Yourself!

Do you focus on others or yourself in your relationships?

It’s all about you!  How many times have we said it jokingly.  Grey humor focusing a backhanded compliment for a good laugh.  Often in jest, sometimes in truth it is a phrase that highlights our awareness of when something is wrong in our relationships.  When a leader or an organization forgets this lesson, it creates real problems.

Yet, in our day to day lives we often make things all about ourselves (“me”).  We can’t help it, this is the view we have of the world as we can’t sit inside everyone else’s mind.  But within relationships this creates real issues at work and in our personal lives.

What’s your intent?

Our actions display our intent.  Are we trying to grow with someone?  Are we being selfless? Are we trying to give someone something? Are we at least trying not to control them for our own ends?

Self orientation undermines the trust we hope to build in our relationships.  It is something that pushes others away because it defines anti-collaborative .  I see this most often when we are not aware or don’t declare our intent.  We act from a position of needing something as opposed to helping or sharing with someone.

Aren’t people always aware of our intent?

When we ask a question isn’t it obvious?  Actually sometimes our intent is not obvious.  We each have our own conversations going in our heads.  Our understanding of what is actually going on in someone else’s internal conversations is only our best guess. So we need to expose our intent as a matter of course when interacting with people or everyone simply makes assumptions that you are thinking what they are thinking.  How much more clear would our interactions be with others if we reduced the assumption game by making our intent clear?  “I want to ask some questions because I am concerned about the outcome of signing up for your program.”  Rather than feeling like you are being grilled you can then answer the questioner to help them.

Sometimes we fool ourselves.

Sometimes we don’t understand our own motivations.  We are unconsciously skewing our language to achieve our ends and we don’t know it.  This make it harder for us to declare intent, but  with practice you can develop the self awareness to understand yourself and examine your intent.  I like the work from Daniel Siegle on developing personal objectivity in ‘Mindsight’  as a reference for exploring this capability.  Others may have different ways to help you connect with your intent.  Let me know.

Organizational Self Interest

But our organizations can develop self orientation also.  Often in policies and procedures designed to protect, we create behaviors that are off-putting or distance people from building stronger relationships.  The well intentioned efforts to place controls to help bring consistency and efficiency can actually reduce the value of our transactions if they don’t allow for the development of real humanistic interactions.  For more on this topic read Organizational Trust post from January 2013.

Organizations are easier to step outside of and observe than ourselves. Try looking at your policies and procedures of where you work.  See any self interest only behaviors?  Trace the origins and then the expressions of your own self interest.  See what expressing your intent does to create clearer communication .  Once we under stand self orientation as something that creates distance between people and reduces trust we can change things to help people work together more efficiently without devaluing our efforts.

Friends, colleagues, clients and …

  • Organizaitonal Trust
  • Build Your Trustworthiness
  • Bob Marshall’s blog Think Different
  • Siegle, D.J. – M.D. (2010) MindsightThe New Science of Personal Transformation. New York, NY: Bantam Books
  • Rodriquez, Don Miguel (1997) The Four Agreements. San Rafael, CA: Amber-Allen Publishing
  • Arbinger Institute (2002 ) Leadership and Self Deception. Getting Our of The Box. San Francisco, CA :Berrett-Koehler Publishers
  • Green C. H. & Howe A. P. (2012). The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook: A Comprehensive Toolkit for Leading with Trust. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley
  • Maister D., Green C.H. & Galford R.M. (2000). The Trusted Advisor. New York, NY: Free Press
  • Lencioni P. (2010) Getting Naked: A Business Fable About Shedding The Three Fears That Sabotage Client Loyalty San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Organizational Trust

Evaluating the trustworthiness of organizations

By Gary Heusner with contributions from Leeann Enright

So we know individuals can build Trust, please see my recent post on Building Your Trustworthiness.  But I posit that organizations can build or break down trust by their policies, structure and ‘collective psyche’.  I fully expect that I have a novice view of organizational psychology and development. I am looking for more input on this topic, but I don’t believe it negates the principle of the hypothesis.

Note: I was recently introduced to organizational psychotherapy as a concept, fascinating, by Bob Marshall through his blog. I have been working on this concept of Organizational Trust as a limiter or enabler of individual trust for months, so it’s time to let it see some sunlight.I encourage contributions.

From the most recent post for individual trust:  If you haven’t read this post I suggest it as a starting place to give context to this post.

Trust = (reliability + credibility + intimacy + character) / (self orientation)

But let’s take this to an organization level.  I would substitute transparency for intimacy and broaden self orientation to department/unit self orientation as well as thinking about character as departmental character.  Shown as:

Organizational trust = (reliability + credibility +  transparency + character) / (department or unit self orientation)

Individuals would need to be trustworthy in order to build a trustworthy department.  But a group of individuals in an organizational unit, like Information Technology, would need to understand the defined interactions (policies and processes) with their peer groups and how these affect building trust. Employees may be genuinely meeting all individual requirements for trust, but the processes, procedures and team dynamics may be sabotaging individual efforts without people’s awareness.

Reliability

Resolving reliability comes down to being able to make and honor commitments within your organization.  Organizational commitments are built on personal commitments.  People need to be given the chance to say and then get what they need to be successful.  Those individual commitments should be testable, not just allowing someone to guess based on their experience. How do you build commitments based on guesses anyways?  For example, just imagine< that’s sarcasm> estimating sessions where a team says they need at least two weeks then are told that they must get it all done in one. This example is not always imaginary and absolutely stretches, if not breaks, an organization’s ability to be reliable. When a group can be allowed to make and then will honor commitments it changes everything from meeting start times to the delivery of solutions.

Credibility

Most groups work on credibility through hiring excellent individuals, continuing education efforts, and hiring consultants in addition to their own performance.   Credibility is the easiest to tackle as there are lots of education and certification organizations out there to help people. It is a tangible path for growth and one that is the easiest for most people to relate to and follow.  For organizations credibility is a collective weighting not an individual weighting. One customer will interact with multiple people in a department and form an opinion of the entire department’s credibility. These opinions are not necessarily based on fact, but perception of the group by evaluating a handful of individuals. These opinions are real drivers of credibility none the less for everyone in a department.

Transparency

Transparency for an IT organization involves being collaborative, developing a common language for communication, being timely in issue resolution and consistently exposing decisions to all the stakeholders affected.  When a group is transparent they agree on what they are measuring for success before they start something, people are involved in decisions not surprised by them and the path from where things started to how they finished is clear and easy to follow.

Imagine a company that used technology speak and jargon with all of its customers, keeping them in the dark and allowing simple assumptions to create huge gaps in understanding about software  being built.  What if this company waited until weekly or monthly meetings to raise issues on projects to business stakeholders even though it is the stakeholder’s budget that is being spent?  And finally issues and resolutions of issues in this imaginary company are only shown to a few individuals on projects rather than all of the stakeholders and relevant decision makers in the company.  Oh wait, you know a company like that?

Organizational Self Orientation

Reducing self orientation comes from truly understanding the concepts of service and why the IT organization exists in most companies: to provide a service to other teams who own the actual business problem. Too often processes are implemented by IT to solve IT’s problems without collaborative development with its customers.

One small example: how many requirements document reviews and signatures need to be collected between a team that trusts they are working together?  These activities while started as process controls are often viewed as simply distrustful. The IT team is focused on protecting itself from future finger pointing and blame. Protecting the business from itself by preventing “bad” decisions is a deception to cover a larger problem. I love Stephen Covey’s Speed of Trust and the trust tax concept on organizations for this kind of behavior. This self-serving type of process undermines trust and prevents the growth of real partnerships.

As an aside, processes should not be implemented solely to cover one’s rear end. (I understand auditing. Ask yourself “Why are we audited every year?”).  There are larger problems in relationships when people have to implement policies to ensure engagement, ownership and alignment around expensive IT projects. See Patrick Lencioni’s book The Advantage for help in identifying and hopefully addressing these types of issues at the top.

Character

The character of an organization is closely linked to its culture.  It is the integrity of the collective individuals and how they act as a group and the policies and processes that they follow.  Consider a company whose values emphasize that they focus on external customer service with personalization and attention to each individual customer at the highest level, like a fine restaurant. However, the only way to get work done with the internal IT team is by submitting a ticket to a faceless online system as if you were submitting orders at a fast food drive through. Imagine how the internal customers of that IT team would feel relative to how they run their business with external customers?  The ticket system might be efficient for IT, but is it matching the espoused values of the company in any way?  Character is developed over time and while it can change the way we operate at the organizational level, it needs to be carefully considered for the types of relationships and ultimately the trust it will create.

Conclusion

The real danger of organizational trust is in believing you can’t make a difference as an individual. In truth you can.  Each person’s actions within an organization count to the collective.  You can lobby for change.

Here’s why it is important to you. Can you imagine your work environment supporting better positive relationships, making better commitments, and supporting the business more predictably?  Maybe your company already does, but wouldn’t it be worth a little discussion to see if you can build support for improving organizational trust so it supports your ability to build trust?

Credits and sources

Friends, colleagues, clients and …

  • Leeann Enright for contributions, support and insights
  • Covey Stephen R (2005). The 8th Habit from Effectiveness to Greatness New York, NY: Free Press
  • Lencioni, P. (2012) The Advantage Why Organizal Health Trumps Everything Else in Business San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass
  • Green C. H. & Howe A. P. (2012). The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook: A Comprehensive Toolkit for Leading with Trust. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley
  • Maister D., Green C.H. & Galford R.M. (2000). The Trusted Advisor. New York, NY: Free Press
  • Lee G. & Elliot-Lee D. (2006). Courage the backbone of leadership. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass
  • The hard work of Jessica Chipkin : )