Learning to Ride the Animal

Have you ever gotten into an argument that frustrated you so greatly that you shouted something aggressive and later regretted it? It’s always disconcerting when you lose control in a certain situation and look back on it afterward. Even witnessing someone else behaving in a way you wouldn’t expect can be unsettling. At times like these, it seems almost as if something has taken over our will and caused us to act like an animal. While there will always be circumstances that make us feel powerless, growing as a person means that we have to exercise self-control, especially when we start to feel like we’re losing our cool. The purpose of this article is to recognize the dichotomy between the fight-or-flight animal portion of our brain and the reasoning frontal cortex that makes us human. Imagine if we could harness the power of both those parts of our brains and get them to work together. How productive and powerful could we be if, rather than being taken over by it, we could learn to ride the animal instead?

The word “symbiosis” is comprised of the Greek words for “living together,” and a symbiotic relationship is one in which each party benefits the other. There are many situations in the natural world where two forms of life are connected in such a way that neither could survive without the other, such as when one organism obtains its nourishment by feeding on another’s parasites. Beings that operate together in this manner are referred to as symbiants. Technically, the human brain and body aren’t symbiants because they are part of the same organism, but let’s imagine for a moment that their relationship is a symbiotic one.

The frontal cortex is the highest-functioning part of the brain. It’s what makes us smart, rational people. Most of the time, the frontal cortex is in control, but when the lesser brain, which includes the amygdala and the cerebellum, perceives a threat, it becomes harder for the frontal cortex to be in charge. The lesser brain will always assert itself when the animal’s basic requirements, such as food, water, sleep and sex, aren’t being met, or when the animal is in a state of fear. Such conditions can create an internal struggle for control.

At the center of the lesser brain is the amygdala, also called the reptilian brain, which is responsible for our “fight or flight” reflex and other primal reactions. Through evolution, the brain increased in size and eventually developed the frontal cortex. Our frontal cortex is not a separate animal–it has the same DNA, grows from the rest of the body and is a part of the same system–but considering the distinction between the two regions makes it easier to examine why we do the things we do.

Let’s say that the frontal cortex is you, and the rest of your body and the lesser brain is not you; rather, it’s an animal. The body, controlled by the lesser brain, allows the frontal cortex to survive because it delivers blood, oxygen and nutrients. The animal also brings instinct and passion to the relationship. It does not necessarily need the frontal cortex in order to survive, yet the frontal cortex gives the animal a greater chance of survival due to its ability to reason. What the frontal cortex brings to the relationship with the animal is the very thing that makes us human. The frontal cortex makes survival more certain because of its excellent ability to think through problems and solve them. Our existence is made infinitely less complex by the frontal cortex’s capacity to take care of our needs well before they become emergency situations that the lesser brain needs to resolve. If we want to function at our highest capacity, then it follows that we have to harness the power of both the frontal cortex and the animal, and use it well to our advantage.

Jean-Louis Gassée on Steve Jobs:

“For a long time, I’ve seen him as having an animal inside him, the one with the desires, the instinct, the drive. In 1985, that animal threw Steve to the ground. He picked himself up at Pixar — you’d be a captain of industry for doing no more — and NeXT. Then, in 1997, armed with Pixar’s success and Next’s technical prowess, he came back to run Apple and make it really his.

He had learned to ride the animal.”

In theory, we are something that exists inside an animal. Sometimes we control the animal, and sometimes the animal controls itself. We have learned to assert control over the animal in many respects, but as much as we try to manage our behavior, in some cases, we’re out of control, as in a fight-or-flight scenario. If something appears to us as a threat, the lesser brain takes over. The frontal cortex then has nothing to say about what the body does. A lot of times when people describe events that really provoked their amygdala, they talk about it as if it were an out-of-body experience. They say things like, “It seemed as if I were watching myself do that awful (or brave) thing. I didn’t even feel like I was a part of it.” The animal was doing the action all by itself.

Some of us have learned to ride the animal better than others. That’s what childhood is all about. We don’t hold minors responsible for their actions a lot of the time because we don’t expect them to be perfect. They’re learning to ride. As adults, realizing that the most evolved part of our brain is not always in charge can give us insight about ourselves and others. We reason, think and make decisions; our body reacts. The amount of control we have over the animal varies depending on the circumstances we are in and how much we’ve prepared ourselves for that particular set of circumstances. If we’re about to drown, our frontal cortex is not going to be doing its best work. In fact, it has no control whatsoever. In a state known as Drowning Syndrome, our body responds to the sensations and takes over, trying to keep us alive. Our arms start flailing and we can’t yell for help, even though our frontal cortex says we have to, because the lesser brain is in charge. The amygdala takes over. Our body recognizes this and our minds are stuck in there panicking, waiting for the reptilian brain to save us. If we’re going to live, it’s up to the lesser brain to take care of it, and the reptilian brain has a very limited set of options: It’s either fight or flee.

Learning to ride the animal, however, lets us do more that fight or flee, and there are two ways it can be accomplished. First, we can learn to ride the animal by preparing ourselves for specific circumstances through role-playing or training. This is what firefighters, policemen, and soldiers do. They are so well-trained that, when they’re dealing with situations that would normally provoke an amygdala reaction, their body knows how to grab control of that circumstance or eliminate the need to perceive it as a threat. They just execute the actions that they were trained to perform. They’re not necessarily even thinking about it because they’ve trained the animal so well. Through repetitive training, they’ve given the animal a new option other than to fight or to flee—They’ve taught the animal new tricks.

The other way to learn to ride the animal is to practice wrenching control back from the animal, but this takes a tremendous amount of willpower. First, we have to realize when the animal is in control, and then we have to wrestle the control back. Repeatedly doing this is another way we can learn to ride the animal.

Even in situations where our lives are not in danger, the frontal cortex, for all intents and purposes, is sublimated. When someone comes up behind you and shouts “Boo!,” your body jumps. Your frontal cortex doesn’t make that decision; your body’s instincts kick in under the direction of your lesser brain. It is simply a reaction, without any thought behind it. The same thing can happen when we feel psychologically threatened. In a circumstance where we are afraid that we will look bad in front of our peers, for instance, we may react automatically by saying something we don’t really mean.


Applying the Distinction at Work

If we think of our professional selves this way, it gives us some insight into how we manage ourselves, and about how other people can be managed. For example, let’s say we have a client who feels extremely threatened psychologically when he’s not prepared for a meeting. Since the amygdala responds more often to psychological threats these days than, say, the threat of literally being devoured by a predator, it spends a lot of its time identifying possible scenarios in which it might look bad. Looking bad could derail our careers and threaten our survival, at least in the egotistical or economic sense. If this client has to participate in a meeting for which he has not had time to prepare, his animal takes over and he becomes somebody completely different. He could be the nicest guy, but with his lesser brain in control, he might start acting in a seemingly out of control way, saying nasty things to everybody. Then, when the threat has passed, that same client would probably apologize, saying, “I don’t know what got into me! I’m sorry I said that. It’s really not like me at all.” Just like a person whose strength is greatly multiplied in a life-or-death situation, the amygdala is bolstered by threats and becomes manic. We then consider the event, when we are back to utilizing our frontal cortex, and see it as something that was out of our control for a short while. We shake our heads in disbelief that we acted like an animal, instead of a rational human being. Us? Animals? Yes, even as evolved as we like to think we are.

The amygdala also has an impact on the adrenaline in our bodies. When we’re threatened, chemicals are released into the blood stream, blood vessels constrict, and blood rushes to the center of our bodies toward our vital organs in case it’s needed, which causes our extremities to tingle. The body is preparing for an actual physical altercation, even though we may be experiencing only a psychological threat. It does this by conserving blood so we won’t bleed to death, at least not right away, should an arm or leg get lopped off. It seems kind of funny that this is what the body is preparing for, even when the mind is only worried that colleagues may laugh at our presentation.

The extra adrenaline that the body is producing in times of high stress does provide more focus (in fact, we can’t think about anything else if we try), in addition to the physical strength and endurance for which the response system was originally designed. Now, we run in our minds rather than with our feet more often than not until we find our way to “safety.” When considering the animal then, we ought to realize that we’re dealing not just with the emotions caused by the amygdala, but also with the body drugging itself. It’s a reinforcing loop, because as the amygdala switches on and becomes manic, it also releases chemicals into our bodies that make us more aggressive. We are catapulted into a fight-or-flight response. While this may on the surface seem like a position of strength and power, we are actually out of control in these moments, and because we are business professionals, we really want to consider coming down off that high and back to rationality as quickly as possible. As the frontal cortex wrenches back control, we will experience the heart’s thudding returning to a normal beat and pressure, and we will again be able to think logically and without exaggerated, protective emotion. The front cortex will perceive that this is not actually a fight, and it can simply choose its next course of action or words carefully.

It’s worth mentioning that some of us really like to pretend that we’ve got our animal well under control in our working life. But it’s likely that when we are at home, we are loved despite the fact that our family members know better. When we’re having a conversation with our spouse, for example, a lot of fights happen when our lesser brain feels threatened and takes over. Then things get really ugly.


Satisfying the Animal

We can put this distinction to work by recognizing when someone’s lesser brain is in control. Then we have two choices: satisfy the animal, or disengage. In most cases, we need to resolve the issue so we can continue the relationship; therefore, we need to come up with a way to satisfy whatever the lesser brain is worried about. If it thinks we’re drowning, we have to get on dry land. If it thinks it’s going to look bad, we have to reassure it that it will look fabulous.

Give the lesser brain what it wants.

The answer isn’t to try to just plow through the situation, because the lesser brain will not just let it go. It’s not designed that way. It doesn’t reason; it just takes charge, and it has a singular focus. Many people have a problem with overeating, for example. It becomes an addiction. They don’t want to gain more weight, but they crave mass quantities of food, much more than they need to survive. Their lesser brain is taking control and making them do it. Some people even require professional help to figure out how to control their animal.

This is not to say that people shouldn’t be responsible for what their animal does. Part of being an adult is learning to assert control and to understand the control we do have, as well as our limits, so that we can avoid situations that tend to erode our control. This maturity should also extend to circumstances when we’re involved with someone who is out of control, not behaving properly or reacting in a bad way. We can peg it on the animal and know that the only way to get out of the situation is to get that animal happy so the person can return to a rational state. A lot of times people try to rationalize with someone who is under the animal’s control instead of waiting for the frontal cortex to be in charge again so they can talk to the human being. Or they temporarily turn into animals themselves and attack back because they’re threatened. The latter scenario might be entertaining on an episode of Animal Planet, but we definitely want to avoid it in our professional and personal lives.


Learning to Ride the Animal

In the book The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle talks about how we tend to exist in a state of perpetual anxiety. When we’re feeling anxious, we’re not thinking about now. We’re thinking about what’s going to happen, or what already happened to us. It gets to the point of obsession and makes us irrational. We can liken this to the animal being in charge. We can’t think rationally when our lesser brain is overly anxious. We have to train it to be less anxious, and we do that by training it to trust the situation it’s in.

“The mind is a superb instrument if used rightly. Used wrongly, however, it becomes very destructive. To put it more accurately, it is not so much that you use your mind wrongly—you usually don’t use it at all. It uses you.”–Eckhart Tolle

Think about what part of the body, which of the two symbiants, is in charge under certain circumstances. Is it the lesser brain and body, or the frontal cortex? The lesser brain manages the body. It determines if we’re hungry or threatened, it keeps our hearts beating, it determines if we want food, water and other built-in needs.

The frontal cortex cannot manage the body unless the lesser brain is satisfied.

We all know the distraction that arises in our minds when the lesser brain is creating noise and our frontal cortex is arguing with our body. When we’re really anxious about something, we start to think about it obsessively, the same things over and over again, whether it’s money, jealousy, an insulting interaction or anything else with strong emotional connotations. We have some physical responses to the psychological threat. Our pulse rate goes up, we start to sweat, etc. We worry about what did happen and what will happen, and we connect all types of similar experiences we’ve had until we’re in quite a tizzy. I’m sure you’ll agree that these are very unproductive time periods. All of that noise, that voice in our heads, is our lower brain. It’s not us.

We have to cohabitate with that animal, and what makes it more difficult is that it knows how to speak to us a little bit. It tells us, in scared or angry tones, about what it’s worried about. It’s a nervous, primeval little creature that is only concerned with self-protection. It sizes someone up and asks, “Is this going to eat me or am I going to eat it?” It responds to workplace stress by thinking “Am I going to lose my nest, my place to live?” That’s something an animal worries about, and it doesn’t leave much room for higher thought processes.

In the aftermath of a hurricane, a woman and her family were being interviewed by a television crew about the loss of her home. She was absolutely distraught. She told the crew that she was having a hard time holding it together with her husband and children because all of her emotions were intensified. They were starting to fight and there was a lot of tension. She was clearly, and understandably, in the grip of her animal because she had lost her nest and everything in it.

People experience this animal response to change on a regular basis. The animal is always uncertain about change, even in relatively ordinary circumstances. Perhaps we now have to answer to a new boss. This person may be a better boss in every aspect than our previous one, but we’re still going to be cautious and suspicious until we see how this change affects us. If someone goes into the office on Monday and the ugly chair at his desk has been swapped for a different ugly chair, he’s likely going to be freaking out, at least mentally. It’s unexpected, confusing change, and the individual’s mind may race thinking that someone is trying to control his small prescribed area and taking things from his nest without asking—stealing! Stealing from his nest! The amygdala, if not kept in check, can quickly spiral out of control to ruin this poor guy’s day. And it’s just a chair. Now imagine he goes to investigate and a coworker casually tells him, “Oh, they moved you to a different office. So-and-so is working from there now.” It’s not the loss of the office or the chair that’s so upsetting; it’s the change that is driving the amygdala response, just as the woman who lost her house in the hurricane is experiencing stress not for the loss of shelter but because of change. Change causes an amygdala response because it makes what we thought was certain now uncertain. We think, “What’s next?”

To return to a place where we are in control, the animal needs to be soothed. The severity of the threat will determine what it will take to get it to act in accordance with its previous training. In dire circumstances, like the example above, it would take great inner strength to operate at maximum rational capacity despite the absence of what we have come to see as essential needs. In the normal course of a day, however, we still face many perceived psychological threats, and we can deal with them more effectively if we train the animal to be satisfied. That is how we stay in control of ourselves. If the animal is not satisfied, we are not in control. Again, that doesn’t mean we aren’t accountable for what we do, because we are responsible for learning how to exert greater and greater control over our animal under a wider variety of circumstances as we grow as human beings.


Gaining the Animal’s Trust

A good deal of anxiety comes from lack of trust. The animal has to be trained to trust. It also has to be trained for self-restraint; otherwise, we’ll just do what we want. Our animals need good reasons why they should behave, and they have to be couched in concerns that the animal cares about, not what the frontal cortex cares about. The reason people don’t go around stealing from each other isn’t because the frontal cortex is telling them not to steal but because the lesser brain realizes that there are consequences. It might look bad if we get caught, or it might lose its nest and end up locked in a cage instead. The lesser brain understands the consequences. Society helps to train the lesser brain by imposing consequences.

We might be tempted to think that some people, maybe even ourselves, operate in an altruistic bubble. But even the most pious individual would probably steal food for a starving child. Doing the right thing is not an absolute for anyone. We may not be the type of people who steal cars for the thrill of it, a thrill being a positive consequence, but we all need to weigh possible outcomes and make hard decisions sometimes.


Planning Ahead

This distinction is useful for understanding our own behavior, others’ behavior, how to make ourselves trust, and how to get others to trust us. We can help ourselves and the people with whom we are involved stay out of circumstances where they might lose control. In the case of the client who gets nervous before a presentation, we can provide his frontal cortex with everything it needs to know 24 hours before the meeting so the client can feel confident that it will go well and the lesser brain can sleep until it’s over. In the case of the overeater, the frontal cortex can get pretty good at thinking ahead. It begins to accept that, regardless of what it knows is rational, the lesser brain will take over and cause the body to overeat. To prevent the undesirable outcome of continuing to gain weight, the frontal cortex, in its comfort zone, can make the decision to eat a little bit now to avoid losing control later. Because if it lets the animal eat, it’s going to chow down.

Preparation is one of the best tools we can use to control the animal.

Like policemen, firemen and soldiers, we can use training to prepare ourselves for future circumstances that may pose a threat. This training will help us to react automatically in a way that will preserve the integrity of our desired outcome. It will help us do so confidently and with conviction. And these positive experiences, when we come away from a projected situation unscathed and intact, will themselves act as training.

We should also know ourselves enough to foresee that certain circumstances are likely to have negative outcomes for us. If we have that knowledge and continue to put ourselves in bad positions, we’re responsible for any negative outcome. And when we recognize that someone has fallen prey, once again, to their particular animal pattern, we can use this knowledge to deal with them in a different way than we would when they’re being rational. Understanding the animal so we can keep it out of trouble is critical to being our best selves, but we can also endeavor to go beyond that and harness the animal’s power to help us accomplish great things.


© 2012 Ralph Dandrea. All rights reserved.

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Posted in Leadership

Confessions of a Craven CEO

In May 2012, I “challenged” my team to cut costs and increase revenue. Actually, I flat-out demanded that they do it. Because of my commitment to my company’s mission, vision, and values, I like to think I can be pretty tough when I need to be. At least, I thought that was the case. Which is why it came as such a surprise to me to realize that I had recently let the company down by being…timid.

Let me go back a bit. At the end of 2010, my team and I came to the erroneous conclusion that we’d be profitable if we could just make a little more revenue in 2011. Always one to try to learn from mistakes, I revised my stance when we earned $1 million more in 2011 and still broke even, because we had spent it all. When, at the beginning of 2012, I started to hear echoes of the past about needing a little more revenue, I started to worry.

About that time, I had an enlightening dinner with a retired Army general who now runs a steel company. After hearing me lament about trying to earn a profit, he surprised me by saying something so obvious that had just never occurred to me. It was profound in its simplicity. He said that If a company was at break-even making 3 percent net, for example, in order to make one extra dollar of profit, it would either have to sell $33 more or cut the cost of goods sold by $1. It’s simple math: $1 is 3 percent of $33. So, if I wanted my company to make more profit, we’d have to sell 33 times the amount of profit that we want to earn, or we could just cut our expenses by $1. The general asked me, “What’s easier to do, Ralph? Raise sales by $33 or reduce expenses by $1?” Stunned, I asked myself, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

With a flash of inspiration, I came into the office the next day all fired up and insisted that my team cut expenses. I essentially said that if they didn’t do it effectively, I would do it myself. I did not mince my words, tiptoe around the bush, or skirt the issue. I was fierce! Over the next couple of months, under my scrutinizing gaze, expenses were cut…in some areas. For instance, the discretionary spend decreased from $42,000 to $23,000. That $19,000 less a month in expenses indeed made us more profitable.

Spurred on by the results, I encouraged my team to look for more places to save money. Meanwhile, I found the next cut in the form of a problem-causing salesperson with whom it was difficult for most people to work. The manager reflexively defended him and the importance of his work, even while admitting that the scope and content of such work was unclear. In the end, I basically had to order the manager to let the salesperson go. It turned out, as I suspected, that the salesperson didn’t need to be replaced—another large expense completely nixed with no repercussions.

Both of these events, amounting to more than $25,000 in savings, had occurred by June. It’s staggering, really, to think of how easy it was to cut the unnecessary salary and decrease discretionary spending versus the challenge of increasing sales by the same amount.

Then the complacency crept back in. We stopped looking for more savings, as if shaving off that little bit from our expenses was all we needed to do. Both the cut in discretionary spending and the removal of the team member were acts of commission by me and my team, but it was just one step, and then we basically sat back and got comfortable. We weren’t looking for more ways to save.

But the surprises, and the lessons, didn’t stop. In July, we unexpectedly had three team members turn in their notice all at once. Each of them was considered to be quite valuable to our team, and we were nervous about how the company would be affected by their departure. Well, we paid all four of those team members for the last time at the beginning of August, and guess what? Our team easily filled in any perceived gaps in functionality, further evidence of our needless spending. Moreover, for the first time in two years, we made a decent monthly profit. It was the highest profit we had earned in two years, because now we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars. And, going forward, the projections are a lot more positive because of the changes that we’ve made. The record profit is not happening because of record revenue. We didn’t need to increase our sales by even one dollar. The record profit is happening because of a drop in expenses to the tune of many thousands of dollars.

It is eye-opening to me that the sudden absence of four team members does not impact our ability to produce revenue. We didn’t need them. The self-removal of the three team members was serendipitous, but in the case of the salesperson, I had only allowed him to stay with the company out of fear. And that is my confession, my apology, to you.

I could blame my managers for refusing to do the “dirty work,” but that would be hypocritical—They were only unwilling to do what I was also unwilling to do. How can I solely blame them? My managers were afraid to look hard at their team to determine if someone needed to be let go. I was craven for failing to order that a team member be removed after I had already made that determination. Going forward, I challenge all of us to learn from this mistake. I’ve long been aware that my managers have a hard time even constructively criticizing team members, let alone removing them, because it doesn’t seem like a “nice” thing to do to “good” people. But we must be willing to muster the courage to do what is best for my company. Right now, that means discontinuing the practice of paying team members who are not needed because we are fearful of being disliked.

In my business, the bulk of the expense that we incur every month is labor, because we’re a professional services firm. And yet, when we think about cutting expenses, labor is the last place we think to look. Not a single recommendation came from anyone else to save money by reducing labor costs. We’ve since come up with The Brazil Test[1], a way to analyze where there is excess labor in a professional services team.

The insight that I received as a CEO and as a manager is that I feel ashamed for not having the guts to remove those individuals earlier. How would you feel if you realized that you had basically been throwing away hundreds of thousands of dollars? It’s not just my money I’m talking about—I’m talking about my company, whose mission, visions, and values are so near my own because they are my own. I’ve been wasteful, distracted, and remiss. It wasn’t because I didn’t know better. I did. In fact, I’ve been writing about it and talking about for quite a while. But confronting someone with the hard truth is daunting, and I just didn’t want to do it. That is not okay. It is my job as CEO to make those tough decisions, and to ensure that all the people under me are also willing to step up to the plate and do what’s right for my company. It is unfair to team members who contribute a great deal to be damaged by people who don’t. We can’t afford to take them along for the ride. A lot of people are depending upon me to keep this company viable, and I’m not about to let them down. As I’ve said, I try to learn from my mistakes, and I’m not going to panic and run next time I need to consider whether someone belongs in our organization. All I’ll have to do to give me the courage is to think about the capital I wasted by not eliminating those four employees 12 months earlier.

It’s not just asking the hard questions, either. In fact, it may be even more so the following up on them. I did ask my managers if we needed all the people in our organization. It seemed like a lot. But I got the answer, “Yes, we need all these people.” Then I asked of someone in particular, “Do we need this person?” (It sure didn’t look like it.) And I’d get, “Well, we don’t want to let anyone go because it will ruin morale.” And I turned a blind eye. Well, you know what? Some of those people left, and our morale is fine. So, all the rather expensive fears of ruining morale, or offending people, or striking fear into the hearts of the remaining employees were unfounded. That’s precisely why people recoil when asked to let someone go—they don’t want to deal with any negative consequences, real or imagined. It’s easier to just let things continue as they are, even if they are hurting the company. Not so! And not anymore.

As an owner of the company, if I can’t admit to my mistakes, how can I ask anyone else to do so? I failed to do something that I needed to do, and now I’m publicly challenging myself to have more courage in that regard. The reality is that I was craven in my responsibilities as an executive, sworn to defend the viability of the company. It’s not an overstatement, in my opinion, to say that I was somewhat derelict in not asking or following through aggressively on those tough questions when I got feeble responses. I was a squanderer, and as a result, my company racked up a bunch of losses earlier this year.

My failure to act was the difference between profit and loss. And we are profitable this month not because of what I did, but in spite of what I failed to do. We are profitable because a few individuals gave my company a gift by voluntarily removing themselves from our employ and cluing us in to the fact that they weren’t needed in the first place. I’d rather be profitable because our costs are in alignment with our revenue.

From now on, I’m resolving to ask the tough questions and get the right answers for the health of the business and our continued profitability. One question I must ask myself every day when I go into the office: Am I going to be craven or courageous?

© 2012 Ralph Dandrea. All rights reserved.

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Posted in Articles

Creating Opportunities to Deliver Value

We talk a lot about delivering value at our organization, and we do a great job of putting that into practice. However, there is a step that occurs beforehand that allows us to even get to that point: creating those opportunities. A business thrives only when it has a rich resource of opportunities from which the desire for its products and services springs. This vital component, also known as the sales process, deserves its own analysis regarding what makes clients want to give us the opportunity to address their needs, and then come back for more.

In our organization, we have salespeople who go out and find our opportunities. They put pen to paper and encourage clients to sign with us by getting them excited about the possibilities that we can create for them. Then, that contract is turned over to our delivery team, which is tasked with the responsibility of delivering the value that was promised. The value they deliver must be grounded in what the salespeople originally contracted with them to do, and to the extent that it’s not, we must modify the contract. In other words, we do what we said we were going to do, and if it seems that we are not, we fix it by changing what we are doing, or by changing the contract. This paper describes the process of creating opportunities that can be passed along for actual execution in the organization.

How Do We Create Opportunity?

The best salespeople present the most well-defined opportunities time and time again. These are the individuals who consistently feed the work that sustains our companies—meaning that they provide the delivery team with opportunities to satisfy our clients. No business can deliver great value without having a plethora of opportunities to do so. In analyzing what comprises the sales techniques of our organization’s stellar performers, I’ve extracted two components that inform their process:

1.      “Getting” the client. In many businesses, “getting” the client is viewed as some form of trickery in which salespeople convince clients to “do a deal” and then race off to “get” the next chump. In a high-integrity business, however, “getting” the client has a more esoteric and valuable meaning. At ITX, “getting” clients means not only that we understand them—it’s way beyond that—but that we actually alter our own view until we are seeing and thinking like the client. In order to get our clients’ view, we have to understand the concerns and constraints that shape their perspective. This metamorphosis that our best salespeople experience shows authenticity instead of showmanship. Our delivery team backs this up by providing real value instead of empty promises. This genuine way of interacting inspires prospective and repeat clients to do business with us.

We’ve all had the experience of having a conversation with someone who we know doesn’t get us. It’s like talking to a wall. Think cocktail parties, where you’re never going to see “these people” again, or even when conversing with a young person who thinks you’re too old to understand what they’re going through. It’s a vacant conversation, and no one is getting anything out of it. It’s just mouths moving. You’re not convincing anyone of anything, and the client remains suspicious. Even if a salesperson managed to get a contract this way, he wouldn’t build any sort of lasting relationship. He definitely wouldn’t be “getting” the client. Now consider a conversation that has moved you. Your entire facial expression changes as it dawns on you that this person with whom you’re speaking seems to see exactly what you’re describing, and that it is important to them, too. The salesperson who is able to master this “gets” the client, and something real and permanent comes out of that. Our continued success depends upon “getting” clients in exactly this way.

“Getting” clients means being able to recreate their vision in your own mind and then demonstrating, with words, that you are both seeing the same thing.

Recreating a client for ourselves means that we have to understand their concerns. We figure this out by asking what concerns them and exploring the answers. Once we have a really good understanding, we listen to their ideas looking through the lens of their concerns. What happens by default is that we listen through the lens of our own concerns. For example, if a salesperson’s concern is What do I have to say to this client to get him to sign today?, he is only listening to the client to figure that out for himself. He actually misses the conversation that is occurring; that is, what is important to the client. Consistently successful salespeople, as opposed to temporarily lucky salespeople, listen for what the client cares about and is hoping for.

That’s the second part of this “getting” business: Not only do we have to “get” clients, but we have to make them feel “gotten.” That’s what generates the trust that builds relationships. When clients feel like you get them, they trust you, and they are infinitely more likely to give you opportunities than if they are leery of you. Of that, you can be sure. Trust allays their fears that signing a contract with us will somehow harm them. They may be concerned that we will  waste their time or money, or embarrass them with their own organization by delivering a subpar product or service, or in our industry, screw up the technology that they already have in place. If they believe that we get them, they will feel confident that we’re going to take every precaution not to inadvertently harm them, and that a mess-up is unlikely to happen anyway because we completely understand their concerns.

It might sound something like this: “I heard you say that your concerns are One, Two and Three. Did I miss anything?” The client may say, “Well, I also care about Four, and thinking about it, I really don’t care about Two. As for Three, what you said isn’t exactly what I meant.” The client gives us that clarification, and then we just keep repeating what the client said until we are both satisfied that we are in alignment.

Alignment is another factor I tend to talk a lot about at my organization, and it ties in well with getting the client. Getting the client is about alignment, but it’s solely about us aligning ourselves with them. They don’t have to move an inch, except to give us an opportunity, but we have to entirely change our positions so that we are aligned with their vision.  The client does not have to care about our concerns. It would be great if they did, and once in a while, in time, it happens, but it certainly doesn’t happen often. If we waited for clients to care about us, we’d have waited a long time to build up a viable business. Let clients care about their own things and give them invaluable support by caring about those things, too.

Once you get clients, you have a responsibility to continue to work to get them. They will expect you to maintain that sense of “gottenness,” and if you don’t, it shouldn’t come as any surprise when they get angry. If you are and I are having a conversation and you are thrilled that I get you, and then I drop you like a hot potato, you are going to feel used. It’s the same with a sales transaction: If a client signs a contract because you’ve gotten him to believe in you and then he never hears from you again, he’s going to feel had, not gotten. We don’t want to turn him over to the delivery team without so much as a follow-up call. I’d be mad, too!  Now, if you’re dealing with a salesperson who doesn’t get you and he turns you over to someone else, you don’t feel so bad, because they didn’t get you to begin with. You’re still looking for someone to get you. But if you’ve gotten someone and the trust you, and you’ve stepped into his world to create great possibilities together, it is your obligation to maintain stewardship of that vision, and that relationship.

All human beings want desperately want to be “gotten.” It feels great when we think that we have been heard and understood. Getting goes even beyond acknowledgment, which in itself is such a helpful tool.  When you acknowledge someone, you show him that you get him a little bit, but when you get someone, you show him that you understand what’s important to him, and that you understand the relative priority of those concerns in his mind. It’s a much deeper level of acknowledgement. For example, when you acknowledge a client, you might say, “Okay, I see you that you want Package A and I think that will work for you.” When you get a client, you might say, “Okay, you’re thinking about Package A because it will address three of your main concerns, but I also get that you would love to wow your clients if that were possible. What if we customized something for you that would not only address all of your concerns but that would also impress your clients and your boss to boot?” Getting is the equivalent of saying we understand how important the real stuff is to the client, not just what he thinks he has to settle for based on what appears to be available. Putting your heart into the sales process is, contrary to popular belief, very compatible with using your brain and charisma. Get in there with the client and show him that you get what he really wants!


2.      Showing a world of possibilities. Once we’ve gotten this far, it will seem like a whole new world of possibilities has opened up. The client trusts us, so he’s given us license to create possibilities, and since we’ve “gotten” him, we can clearly articulate how we can provide solutions for his concerns. He has allowed us to step into his world with him to create a set of possibilities together. Now we have the opportunity to show him what we can do. These possibilities turn into projects and things that we can do for the client using our products and services to resolve his concerns. We fashion those possibilities into a very exciting vision and then bring it to fruition with our expertise.

The second factor that helps us garner great opportunities is showing possibilities to clients. The possibility set is all of the things that we can do to satisfy the client’s concerns. Once we understand those concerns, the best thing we can do is to turn those into possibilities. To do this successfully, we create an initial sense of clarity about our ideas for future projects; we paint a picture by putting a little bit of high-level definition around what we want to accomplish for them. We don’t have to provide details now because it’s a vision, not a roadmap, at this point. Instead, we continue exchanging information and ideas by repeating the client’s concerns to verify that we are actually fulfilling them.

The process begins like this: The client has some idea or even a total picture of what he wants. He passes that on to you, the salesperson. You receive it, examine it, perhaps add to it, and then return the same or better idea back to him. The client and the salesperson continue this exchange as many times as necessary until both have the same exciting vision. Now, we have an opportunity to create value—we have a vision to deliver.

A business is all about delivering value, and we can only get to that point by creating opportunities to do so. Let’s make it a personal mission to inspire clients to give us those opportunities by demonstrating that we truly “get” them and showing them a whole new world of possibilities.


© 2012 Ralph Dandrea. All rights reserved.

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The Performance Conversation

The performance conversation is the third of three critical conversations for supervisors to have with team members and prospective hires. The supervisor will first want to ascertain the team members’ commitment to and alignment with the organization’s values via the first two conversations. The performance conversation will then facilitate discussion about how the team member is actually practicing those ideals. Designed to be recurring, this is the maintenance mode, so to speak, of the three conversations.


Why We Need the Performance Conversation

The performance conversation has three components. First, it provides positive reinforcement for the team member’s good behaviors and strengthens alignment with the organization’s ideals. This component is all about relationship-building.

A study by The Florida State University was conducted to determine if there was validity to the assertion that “employees don’t leave their job or company, they leave their boss.” Led by Wayne Hochwarter, an associate professor of management at the school’s College of Business, more than 700 interviews led to the conclusion that poor relationships with supervisors was a leading cause of job dissatisfaction.[1] The difficulties ranged from being ignored to being abused, but the overriding factor seemed to be the lack of validating communication or negative communication.

You can’t build a strong commitment if you’re not communicating.

While it is generally accepted in the human resources community that a bad relationship with supervisors is the most cited reason why people leave their jobs, on the positive side, it is also true that a great relationship is one of the main reasons they stay. People might not even like the company for which they work, but if they believe in their supervisor, they’ll tend to remain in their jobs. They may be unhappy about a lot of things, but having affinity for the person who cares for their interests and to whom they report provides them with enough job satisfaction to keep them in the company.

Most people would say that a good supervisor is someone whose instructions are very clear, who inspires them, and who gives them good feedback. That’s exactly what the commitment conversation, values conversation, and performance conversation collectively provide: clarity, alignment, and feedback. Together, they create a powerhouse of tools that supervisors can use to manage their relationships with their direct reports. The performance conversation is not only the last building block in that system, but also the reinforcement needed to keep those blocks cemented, since it is continued throughout the term of employment.

The second component of the performance conversation deals with the three key issues that can get in the way of performance. If we address these, we can continually make improvements.

The three key obstacles that can get in the way of performance are lack of capability, lack of motivation, and ontological constraints.

The most obvious obstacle to performance is a lack of capability. If team members don’t have the capability to do a job, whether it be due to a lack of training, knowledge, education, or tools, then they are incapable of performing well.

The second obstacle that can get in the way of job performance is a lack of motivation. A person might not have the energy and/or focus required to be successful in a position. A lot of times that’s the fault of the supervisor, who is responsible for maintaining focus and generating energy for the team. However, some people are just averse to focus and energy. We also go through cycles. When we’re really excited about something, we tend to have a lot of focus and energy. If we’re not excited about it, then we don’t have much at all.

The third obstacle is ontological constraints. These are distortions that occur in the way we see and interact with the world. Our worldview becomes misshapen; we may even have blind spots. One example is prejudice. If a male supervisor doesn’t respect women, that is an ontological constraint, because he can’t be a good leader of women if he doesn’t think they’re valuable. A lack of confidence can also be an ontological constraint—If we don’t think we can do something, it will be really difficult to convince someone else of our vision.

We are not our ontological constraints. We think we are, and that’s why we have a hard time changing. Ontological constraints are self-imposed limitations. Something we believe in may well be limiting our development.

The performance conversation can help us pinpoint which of these three factors may be standing in the way of the team member’s best possible work. Supervisors, like coaches, can use the conversation to help their team members grow by recognizing and helping them to remove those blocks.

In addition to these three obstacles, there is a surrounding aspect that further impedes performance: We usually don’t want to talk about it. We’re afraid to give people honest feedback most of the time because we’re unsure how they are going to take it or whether we have the complete picture. We tend to talk about goals, but not performance. We skate around what may be contributing to our team’s failure to reach its highest goals. We set goals, but we fear going back to see how we did against what we said we were going to do.

It may be uncomfortable to measure our aspirations against reality because it’s personal, but if we don’t get personal, we won’t get to the root of the problems so that we can make positive changes.

The funny thing is, not only do we avoid talking about performance, but when we finally break down and have to talk about it, we’re usually discussing exceptions to performance, meaning that we’re talking about when performance doesn’t exist at the expected level. We usually are not focusing on reinforcing what someone did well. It usually comes down to, “You screwed up, and we need to talk about what happened so that it never happens again.”

When we don’t talk about performance as a rule, it’s a double negative, because it also precludes celebrating positive performance. This is something I’ve struggled with in my own company. One example is the people who maintain our servers. They don’t get any glory whatsoever. They might work all night for a whole week to get things right so that there are no outages, and nobody thanks them because nobody even knows they did it. If there’s the slightest problem, though, people are screaming at them. So they get hit with the exceptions in terms of their performance feedback, but they don’t get positive reinforcement when they’re doing a really good job. That’s where the supervisor comes in. The supervisor has got to give the individuals in the group the feedback that is not coming from anywhere else.

This also happens in terms of project completion. If we have a whole pile of projects to be done, and we finish one, what do we do? We turn to the next one without taking a moment to celebrate with our team and say, “Hey, look what we just did! That worked out great.”

It may not feel natural, but if we want to have a performing culture, we must celebrate everything we finish.

The third and final function of the performance conversation is to identify factors that may affect team members’ continued commitment. This will allow us to adjust their goals and our goals as necessary.

There are a lot of dynamics, both professionally and personally, that can get in the way of commitment. On the job, a team member may be anxious about performance, have an issue with peers, feel unnoticed by the supervisor, or get nervous talking to clients. Personal factors could be almost anything: a stressful event in the team member’s life, a partner or friends who aren’t supportive, an itch to change fields, or even a lifelong dream that is calling.

Regular performance conversations give us an opportunity to uncover these factors before they come as a shock. By staying in the loop regarding our team members’ lives inside and outside the office, we are more likely to be informed of changes, or potential changes, in their commitment. It could be regrettable for both parties if a top performer comes in one day, gives us two weeks’ notice, and moves to California. What if the team member moved for a higher-paying job, and we would have paid the same salary? What if that person is not so excited about the job but just took it to move nearer a relative? If we had been told, it’s possible that we would have allowed the team member to work for us out of state.

Of course, we won’t be able to impact every factor that affects someone’s willingness to continue to be committed, but we do want to at least be aware of them. We can go about this by simply asking team members if there is anything affecting their willingness to continue to be committed to the organization. Starting with the workplace, we can ask if there is anything going on that is troubling the team member, someone with whom the team member is not getting along, issues that are affecting the team member’s performance, and the like. Then, we can ask if there is anything outside of work that is getting in the way of commitment. If we uncover something, now we have the opportunity to work on it together, if we so desire. But without the performance conversations, we lose the chance to present a solution to a problem that will eventually cause the team member to decommit. Essentially, as long as the issues come to light, this conversation can create more opportunities for both parties, and who wouldn’t want that?

Preceded by the commitment and values conversations, solid performance conversations perpetuate a team member’s commitment.


What it Looks Like

Like the commitment conversation and the values conversation, the performance conversation must be authentic. What makes it superior to the rote annual review is precisely that it uses the supervisor’s own words, not a form. The supervisor must own this conversation, instead of just going through the motions with a direct report.

A team member can’t be committed to, aligned with, or receive personal feedback from a sheet of paper.

Another reason why authenticity is important is that, by its very definition, it begets honesty. People who are in denial can’t make improvements to their performance.

To make the performance conversation work, it is crucial that supervisors frame it in terms of workability, not judgment. We have to ensure that team members understand that we are not looking to judge; we’re looking to enhance performance. Then, team members will be able to see how they are doing compared to how they agreed to do during the first two conversations.

Think about this: When we let team members go for bad performance, we’re not getting rid of them because we judged them to be bad people. They might be fantastic, but they’re just not performing well in their role at the company. Maybe it’s just a bad fit for them, so there’s absolutely no need for us to judge them as bad people. We can also take the example of an annual review. Who likes those? If team members have done anything that can be viewed as “bad,” going in to meet with their supervisor fills them with dread, as if they were about to stand trial. Of course, they’re going to react negatively to any criticism in this state of mind, especially if they don’t believe what is being said about them. They’re going to fight tooth-and-nail any bad news about their performance. Framed in terms of workability, however, team members can embrace the feedback and try to find a way to make improvements. Instead of supervisors saying, “You didn’t handle this job well. You have to do a better job next time,” they can say something like, “Hey, here’s something I noticed that isn’t working. Let’s see how we can fix it.”

When we can pull the judgment out of a conversation, it becomes much more powerful.

The supervisor begins by sharing the information outlined in the previous section, why the performance conversation is important. The supervisor must relate it to the previous conversations by talking about the values to which the team member has committed. Remembering to always keep it authentic and free of judgment, the supervisor can now initiate a discussion about the team member’s recent growth and contribution to the company.

Questions to ask include “How did we live our values?” and “How did we do against our goals?” The best questions are those that help us determine not what is good or bad, but what is so. Because they don’t provoke emotion, questions like these allow team members to introspect logically about their commitments: “Did I keep my word…or not?” Follow-up questions, such as “What were our successes?” and “What could be standing in the way of our continued commitment?” provide more specificity while still asking only what is so. Since nonjudgmental questions won’t cloud the team member’s mind with worry, they have the best chance of leading to clear solutions.

It may help the supervisor to view the performance conversation as an opportunity for the team member to improve his environment. In an ecosystem, every organism has to participate in a useful way or it will be wiped out. The organism has to participate in two ways: it must grow, and it must contribute to the ecosystem. An article in Issues in Ecology, published by the Ecological Society of America, points out that “although every organism contributes to ecosystem processes, the nature and magnitude of individual contributions vary considerably…and it is often not possible to determine the relative contributions of individual species to ecosystem processes.” What makes humans unique, however, is that we can actually consider and then make efforts to improve our contributions to our environment. Further, we can rely on feedback from others, namely, a supervisor, that will guide us in the process.

Keeping in mind the concept of organic participation, the supervisor can also draw out answers to professional growth questions, such as “How are you growing?” “How are you becoming more useful?” “How are you growing in a way that’s going to better serve our clients?” and “What are your goals, and what has your progress been toward them?”

On the contribution side of that organic participation, which is largely measured in terms of productivity, a supervisor can ask “How are you contributing to our success and that of our clients?” Just like a plant or animal in an ecosystem, everyone in an organization needs to continually grow and contribute to the environment in order for the whole to survive. Any person on a team who isn’t growing and contributing is draining resources and threatening everyone else’s viability. Anyone who continues on that path needs to go.

This logic leads naturally to an open discussion about what threatens the mutual commitment to which both parties have already agreed. The supervisor must be seeking answers to questions like “What threatens my commitment to you, and your commitment to me, in the organization?” “What threatens our organization and its clients?” and “Is anything going on that we can begin dealing with that threatens our success?”

It is obvious that questions and answers are a huge component of the performance conversation, and each organization can come up with its own standard set, as well as experimental questions that can provide great insight as to how the company is functioning. These questions will allow us to discover any urgent, pervasive issues that may be affecting our team members. That is why it is essential to enroll our human resources team into the process.

For instance, we might notice powerful responses and reactions among several team members when we ask a certain question, and we can aggregate that feedback across the company using our performance conversation documentation. Those results may have great value in the way an organization moves forward. The conversations may show, for example, that many team members are wasting time on a particular task.

If there is a pattern in the organization, the performance conversation documentation will identify it, giving the company the opportunity to promptly address problems that might otherwise go on indefinitely.

The function of the human resources department regarding the performance conversation is to monitor the answers to all the questions and look for patterns. Let’s say a few team members left the company in a short period of time, and the questions reveal that there’s a buzz among the remaining team members who are fearing for their jobs. Human resources picks that up in the performance conversation document and alerts management. The supervisors can now sit down with their teams and let them know the true situation, perhaps that, yes, a few people have left, but they will be replaced by new team members who are going to do a great job. They can quell any concerns that the department is in danger and end those negative, worried side conversations.

We can also use this information to note patterns in the work process that are not very productive. We may see that hours are being wasted on a routine that could be altered easily to reduce this chronic inefficiency. Though shocking at first, it’s ultimately a great thing to discover that time or money is being wasted on something that has no value, because at that moment we realize we have more resources at our disposal than we assumed. That scenario is much better than finding out 10 years from now that we were underperforming in some way by 10 percent.

When we identify areas of chronic inefficiency, we can address them and make useful changes.

The next component of the discussion is the supervisor sharing recent values and performance observations, specific examples of how the team member lived into or didn’t live into the organization’s values. This is where the supervisor gets the chance to share feedback that the team member may not be getting from anywhere else. The supervisor can say something like, “All right, we’ve talked about a whole bunch of things. We’ve got some things that aren’t working, some inefficiency, and I get that, but here’s where I’m seeing your performance against our values.” The team member must be encouraged to give feedback and opinions, as well, and this must be discussed. The supervisor concludes by asking the team member some variation of two questions: “Are you clear about the next steps you will take to improve performance in this area?” and “What can I do as a supervisor to better support you or to help you be more aligned with this particular value?”


Putting it to Work

It bears repeating that this conversation must not be implemented without having the commitment conversation and the values conversation first. It will not work well in a vacuum because it builds on the other two pieces.

Ideally, an organization must have the performance conversation at least monthly during a probationary period of three months. After that, an investment of one hour every other month will be sufficient to maintain a healthy dialogue between the supervisor and his team members. For some organizations, two or three months might be more feasible.

The most important thing about putting the performance conversation to work is that we have to track execution. Inevitably, some supervisors will not do it if they aren’t tracked, just like the ones we have to chase down to make sure they do their annual reviews. This has to be something that we make sure is happening, just like the commitment conversation and the values conversation have to happen every time with every new hire, and it has to happen with good frequency. We must enforce this by having supervisors fill out a form, showing that they had the performance conversation, and submit it to human resources. Then human resources will need to track how long it’s been since the last performance conversation for each team member to ensure that the supervisors are doing it.

The performance conversation is the one that requires the most coaching from human resources because it is the most prone to judgment. With the other two conversations, it’s simply a matter of  training supervisors on the material so that they can have the discussion in their own words. We don’t run into a lot of resistance with that. People who have implemented the first two conversations have good discussions and were able to talk authentically and in depth. Human resources will need to spend a little more time ensuring that the supervisors understand how to handle the performance conversation so that it goes well. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that people experience different states of being, so their receptivity will vary throughout the cycle of performance conversations. They may be dealing with a stressful personal issue or a bad project. These emotional factors make it especially important that supervisors be well trained. Initially, supervisors must be trained so that they can make the conversation their own, but the value of ongoing coaching to assist them with aspects of the performance conversation with which they may be having trouble cannot be underestimated.


© 2012 Ralph Dandrea. All rights reserved.


Anatomy of a Performance Conversation

• Why We Need It

  • Responsible for creating environment for team
  • Eliminate obstacles to performance


• What it Looks Like

  • Provides positive reinforcement for good behaviors and strengthens alignment
  • Identifies factors that may be blocking optimal performance
  • Identifies issues that may be getting in the way of continued performance


© 2012 Ralph Dandrea. All rights reserved.

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The Brazil Test

Does it ever occur to you that perhaps fewer people could easily do all of the work that your business requires? Certainly, one indication that the people-to-work ratio is off-kilter is when team members are sitting around waiting for work; another is when they’re asking supervisors for something to do. Sometimes, though, it’s not so obvious. Team members will go out of their way to look busy. Extra labor can also hide in an organization following an economic downturn. People get used to the low level of productivity and forget that they once accomplished much more and can do so again now that business is back to good. With all these scenarios, the possibility does exist that just a portion of your staff could do the same amount of work—If that is the case, then why are you paying all those other people?

While all your team members may be wonderful, personally and professionally, no business can afford to pay people to do nothing. The clear course of action when there are more people than tasks is to let some of them go. Although it’s never an easy thing to do, it must be done, or the organization will suffer. So how can we determine if we have too much labor, and where we can eliminate team members, if we do? That’s where the Brazil Test comes in.

The Brazil Test is a highly efficient means of identifying and resolving the issue of surplus labor.


What is the Brazil Test?

The traditional way to handle a surplus of labor would be to do a cost-benefit analysis for each team member. We would ask ourselves what each person brings to the organization and what it would cost us to lose him or her. With this method, we’d also have to sort through a lot of data to determine how much each team member is billing, among other statistics. The power of the Brazil Test is that it lets us focus only on those team members whose departure would have the least impact. Since there is no need to go through the entire organization and do individual cost-benefit analyses, clearly this system allows us to make much quicker decisions.

Quite simply, The Brazil Test asks us to consider whether our organization would suffer if particular team members suddenly decided to, say, pack up and move to Brazil. Lest we get caught up in a daydream of rich food and lively dancing, though, we determine what their absence would mean to our organizations, let’s take a look at the process.


Applying the Brazil Test: The Three Questions

First, let’s be clear that we’re assuming certain things with the Brazil Test. We’re assuming that people want to make as much profit as possible, that labor is an important component of the company’s cost structure and that we have a clear understanding of what each person does at the organization. If any of these assumptions don’t hold for your organization, then you may have to adjust the model.

Now we can ask ourselves the three meaningful questions that comprise the Brazil Test:

1) Would we lose any revenue if we let the individual go?

2) Would letting the individual go render us incapable of delivering on our promises to clients?

3) Would we need to replace the individual to fulfill demand for our products or services due to capacity, knowledge, or some other reason?

We apply the Brazil Test company-wide, asking ourselves the three questions about every team member, where possible.


Analyzing the Results

If someone is a yes-no-no, then that means that we would lose sales if he or she left. It is probable that the person has relationships that generate sales for the company that nobody else can manage. Therefore, if we lost them, we would probably also lose that client. Since this is not a good position in which to be, we work out a way to ensure that the individual doesn’t own that relationship anymore.

If someone is a no-yes-no, then that means that we would not be able to deliver to one or more of our clients if he or she left. It is probable that he or she is uniquely capable of delivering to a client, and again, that may be due to a relationship with them. A no-yes-no individual may also be uniquely capable of knowing how to deal with a particular client or have a unique skill.

If someone is a no-no-yes, then that means he or she is needed in terms of capacity. The person may be one of many in our organization who does the same job, but without that individual, we wouldn’t have enough staff to perform a certain function of our business.

Note that a team member’s result can include more than one yes, and thus more than one of the above descriptions. There are six possible combinations.

If we determine that the answer is yes to any or all of the three questions (yes-no-no, no-yes-no, etc.), the person passes the Brazil Test, and we don’t want to eliminate him or her.

If the answers are all no’s, then the person fails the test, and he or she is a candidate for removal from the organization. If there are any no-no-no’s in our organization, then we have too much labor.

I always remind people that letting team members go is not a reflection of how we feel about them as individuals. Just because someone comes up as all no’s in the Brazil Test doesn’t mean that he or she isn’t a good worker or a good person, or even that we can’t use his or her skills. It just concretely shows that we have too much labor in the organization. Without that person, we would not lose revenue, we would still be able to deliver what we promised to our clients, and we would still meet all the demand for our products and services. The fact of the matter is that oftentimes businesses can’t meet their expenses because they have too much labor. This is especially common with any firm for which labor is a major component of the cost structure.

Even though the Brazil Test tells us that we have too much labor, we still need a performance system to tell us which specific team members to remove.

With this in mind, we immediately turn our attention to the camp that failed and determine which of those team members are producing the least based on performance data. At ITX, we use the values performance matrix (Rating Your Team Based on What Really Matters: Values and Critical Behaviors), but, of course, you can use any system. Begin by eliminating those individuals first. Only the lowest performers of the no-no-no’s ought to be let go until we start getting some yeses in the mix. We will hurt the company if we let go of someone with a yes because we would be giving up revenue, client satisfaction, and/or the ability to meet demand. As it stands, if any no-no-no were to leave, other team members would just fill in. Think of it in terms of displacement. If we take a stone out of a pool, water will rush in to take its place. The stone in the pool is the equivalent of a no-no-no team member in an organization—If we take the no-no-no out, other people in the company will fill in the gaps. As we employ the Brazil Test, we will find that certain people will be like taking the stone out of the water, because we can’t even tell that the stone is missing. Then there will be other people who are the actual plug; if we pull them out, the water would drain from the pool.

Even if half of the company is comprised of no-no-no’s, it doesn’t mean that half of our team members can be let go; it just means we have too much labor.

As we start pulling out the no-no-no’s one at a time, eventually all of the remaining team members will turn to no-no-yes’s or no-yes-yes’s, because at some point we’re going to eliminate our ability to deliver on our promises. So, we pull out the worst performer of the no-no-no’s and we’re down to nine, and we do it again, and if we still have no-no-no’s, then we repeat the analysis until we start hitting yeses from our formerly no-no-no team members. That would indicate that these team members would have to be replaced if they were eliminated. When we get to the point where we have no more no-no-no’s, that’s when we are really optimizing the company.


Putting the Brazil Test to Work

These are the specific steps you can take to put the Brazil Test to work:

1) Go through the entire organization and ask the three Brazil Test questions about each person.

2) For the no-no-no’s, determine where there is too much labor. Then begin eliminating team members where it will have no impact on the organization.

3) Repeat the process until there are no more no-no-no’s.

4) Next, attempt to turn all remaining team members into no-no-no’s. This is done by eliminating your reliance on any particular person using cross-training and other strategies.

5) Repeat the process every so often to maintain a streamlined labor environment.

If we are unsure if we have too many team members, it generally won’t help us to look around for people with nothing to do. The Brazil Test is essentially a litmus test that will tell us if we have too much labor and if any particular team member has a substantial cost associated with letting him or her go. It is a time-saving alternative to performing cost-benefit analyses, which would only be necessary to the extent that we can’t turn team members into no-no-no’s and judge them purely on performance data.


© 2012 Ralph Dandrea. All rights reserved.

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A Management Compass: Using the Hoshin Star to Rank Priorities

Organizations always have a number of competing priorities, and determining which ones require our immediate attention can be a huge challenge. It’s impossible to tackle every available opportunity and problem in all areas at once, but if we rank our priorities and commit to maintaining that hierarchy, our operations become much more manageable and progressive. With a hardwired internal “code” to consistently guide us toward daily actions that will have beneficial effects on our top priorities, we won’t end up stabbing away at a lot of relatively unimportant tasks. Instead, we’ll be constantly filling in the big picture of our organization’s mission, vision and values. Our goal, then, is to parse out our priorities, rank them, and then align all team members so that everyone places the same degree of importance on each priority.

If everything is high priority, then nothing is high priority.

How can we go about this? Oftentimes, we gain wisdom not so much by coming across a new idea as by rediscovering or repurposing some bit of information that has lain dormant for a while. So it has been for my organization with the “lost” tool of the Hoshin Star. Our use of the Hoshin Star is the perfect example of both the dilemma and the solution described above. The Hoshin Star is actually part of a large, complex system called the Hoshin Kanri, which can be translated to mean “management compass.” Since our organization’s priorities do not necessitate an in-depth study of this field, we parsed from it what we could use immediately—the simple exercise of the Hoshin Star. This tool has proved so valuable to us that I am surprised that it is not more widely known. When used correctly, the Hoshin Star can help businesses find direction and discover the most advantageous areas upon which to focus their efforts. We’ve found that the Hoshin Star is one way we can go right to the heart of the matter of prioritizing our goals . It’s an easy-to-use, yet profound tool that helps us chop out the extraneous matters that compete for our attention, clearing the way for the most important actions we can take to advance our business.

The reason the ranking is so important is that not all priorities have the same impact upon our success.

Being unclear about which priorities are most important can cause a lot of chaos for the individual and conflict for an organization. It is critical to our personal and professional success to be able to name our priorities and then to rank them. Some will have more impact than others, and it will greatly benefit us to know the difference. Any company can use the Hoshin Star to quickly distinguish and rank its priorities. The more aligned an organization is regarding the hierarchy of those priorities, the more powerful it is and can become.

How to Use the Hoshin Star
The Hoshin Star can be used to develop any area or enterprise in which we want to grow. For our purposes, we will focus on its usefulness in helping an organization thrive in its respective market, although it could just as easily be applied to a specific project, such as designing a website.

1. Identify Critical Success Drivers

A critical success driver is something that satisfies the concerns of one or more constituents served by an organization. In other words, critical success drivers are what make the different aspects of an organization, and ultimately the organization as a whole, successful. Before doing any type of planning, it is first necessary to set priorities. We begin that process by considering our critical success drivers. We can ask ourselves questions such as:

What makes us successful? What do our clients want?
What is holding back the company’s growth?
How can it earn more revenue? Which areas must be improved?
What are our competitors doing that we aren’t?
What technologies or other resources would advance our goals faster and better? Is our team working as efficiently as possible?
Does our corporate atmosphere contribute to or impede our mission?
Are we handling our clients in a way that makes them thrilled to be working with us? Could any of our processes, both internally and externally, be made smoother?
Is it time to reevaluate our pricing scheme?

Questions like these allow us to identify the organization’s assets and liabilities in all areas. This will provide a useful inventory of information upon which leaders can base their goals. This discovery phase must occur before any viable strategy can be considered.

It can also be extremely helpful to speak with clients. They may have valuable and unexpected insights as to what is, or is not, driving the organization’s success. A brainstorming session with key team members may also spark some interesting ideas.

Once we’ve identified the many areas in which we could be working toward improvement, how do we set our priorities? With all of the tasks that this procedure shows us that we could be doing, how do we know which ones to tackle first? This is precisely what the hoshin star helps us decide.

2. Narrow the List

A long list of critical success drivers helps us really see our overall vision and all that will go into bringing about its success. Now that we are armed with that valuable inventory for our given situation, we will want to narrow it down. This will enable us to pinpoint the key areas on which we’ll want to concentrate.

Begin by checking the list for entry factors and removing any that you find. Entry factors are general requirements and are not, therefore, critical to the strategy of a specific enterprise. For example, conforming to manufacturing guidelines is something that simply has to be done by everyone who makes a product for a particular industry. Making an innovative, reliable and valuable product could be just an option and, thus, a critical success driver for the organization who masters it. The former comes off the list; the latter stays on.

Next, merge like items. This is usually more difficult than it would at first seem, but it is well worth the effort. As we pare down the list, we’ll realize that some suggestions are in actuality the same as others, and that other ideas naturally encompass other ideas. For instance, we may have identified competitive pricing as an area of focus. Another item on our list might be high value. These probably could be merged into one item, competitive value, since price and value are inextricably linked in a successful business. The goal in this step is to whittle the list to six strategic items, at most. Five is best. We really want to streamline our approach to the strategy, and the only way to do that is to make the difficult decisions that lead us to what is truly important.

3. Create the Hoshin Star

On a separate sheet of paper, write down each item in a clockwise fashion to form a circle. Number each one and draw a circle around each factor. We used this process to come up with the best ways to create value for our clients at ITX and whittled our huge list of factors to these five for the hoshin star:

4. Compare the Success Drivers

Now it is possible to draw an arrow between each of the labeled items without going through any of the others. There are 24 possible combinations for a list of five factors. For each pair of numbers, consider which factor drives the other; for instance, does Number One drive Number Two, or does Number Two drive Number One? In our example, clarity of vision and path drives a steady diet of quality deliverables, not vice versa. If you are doing this exercise as a group, encourage discussion about the rationale behind your answers so that everyone can come to an agreement. Then, draw an arrow from the number that does the driving to the one that it drives. Continue in this manner until all items have been compared to all of the others.

5. Look for Contradictions

A contradiction in the hoshin star is a circular reference. It will quickly become apparent if your answers for the exercise don’t work out, and it is fine to go back and change them. But if it is done correctly, you will end up with four arrows going in or out of each of the items. One item will have four arrows leading out, one will have three, one will have two, one will have one, and one will have no outbound arrows.

Important: Once you’ve draw all of the lines, make sure that you don’t end up with a circular reference, which will happen if you’ve drawn an arrow going in the wrong direction. For example, A drives B, B drives C, and C drives A is a circular reference because it feeds back on itself. A circular reference must be abolished because it tells you that one or more of the arrows is going the wrong way. Usually, just one arrow is errant, and flipping it corrects the problem. There are actually two ways to check for circular references: You can either look for the “circuit,” the loop that feeds back into itself, or you can count the outbound arrows for each of the drivers, making sure that each one has a different number of outbound arrows. Again, one will have four, one will have three, one will have two, one will have one, and one will have none.

6. Interpret the Results
What does our completed hoshin star tell us? The success driver with the most arrows leading out of it is the most important, because if we could only do one thing today and we focused on that item, it would have an effect on all of our success drivers.

The final step is to list the success drivers in order of their importance based on the number of outbound arrows. Then, read the “chain” the process has created. In our case, we’ve determined that clarity of vision and path drives a steady diet of quality deliverables, which drives efficient use of client resources, which drives a smooth journey, which drives making the client look good. Therefore, focusing on making the client look good would not be as powerful as creating clarity of vision and path because the former doesn’t drive the latter, but the latter does drive the first. If we create clarity, we make the client look good anyway because clarity drives all of the others. If we have a choice between doing something to make the client look good or to create clarity, we’ll now choose to create clarity and, in so doing, automatically benefit both areas.

Even if we don’t choose to use the larger process of kanri, we can create great value for our organizations by employing the hoshin star. Focusing on the critical success drivers with the highest impact empowers us to make excellent judgment calls. When we are evaluating any set of strategies or initiatives, we can rely upon this tool to guide us to the actions that will have the broadest impact.


© 2012 Ralph Dandrea. All rights reserved.

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Delivering Value in a Service Organization

By Ralph Dandrea, Frederick Beer, Jonathan Coupal and Sean Flaherty

Service organizations usually don’t become successful, and stay successful, by accident. More likely, its leaders have recognized what works and have assimilated those factors into its mission, vision and values. Success is not based simply upon knowing what you’re doing and getting it done—It’s really about making the client happy. So, even when we are accomplishing exactly what we promised, if the client isn’t convinced that we are delivering something of value, then what we believe doesn’t matter. We must demonstrate the value that we are consistently creating at all points along the way in a project if we want our clients to feel as good about our work as we do. That is delivering value.

Value is delivered when it is first created, then successfully demonstrated.

If we don’t actively and consistently demonstrate the value of our services, we let the client make up their own story. It is a failure on our part if we don’t make sure that they see our efforts. If we’re not delivering anything, how can we blame them for feeling anxious about us? In the services business, and especially in the software industry, much of the value we create could go on without clients knowing about it—As long as nothing goes wrong, we’re doing an excellent job in many cases–but we have to let them know about it. If we’re responsible for a client’s server that goes down in the middle of the night and we discover that their website has been hacked, we know that our team of heroes fought the bad guys. But unless we inform the client that we locked down his site, restored the data and got them safely back up and running before they go to work the next morning, they’d be oblivious to both the threat and the very real value we provided. We would have created value, but we didn’t demonstrate it.

Demonstration comes from communicating and showing that we created value. That means we could call the client in the morning and apprise them of the resolved situation. Or we could give them a report at the end of the month detailing the potential problems we averted for them. It doesn’t have to be immediate. We don’t have to call up the client every time something happens and tell them what we did. But it does have to be regularly demonstrated in order for clients to see the benefits of our services materializing. Otherwise, we’re definitely going to have a different level of appreciation internally for the value we create than our clients do, and that’s just flat-out bad for business.

Luckily, there are steps we can take to align our clients with the facts about how well we are performing.

Five Ways to Create Value

In analyzing all the ways that a company can create value, we’ve identified five key themes:

1. Clarity of vision and path.
The first thing we can do to create value is to help clients gain clarity about what they want, why they want it and what it’s going to take to get them there. Once everyone is aligned with the same big-picture vision, we can all make better decisions about the details.

Clarity also simplifies the process. Because we have a clear scope of the project, it reduces the risk of wasting time and effort, and we avoid all types of problems for the client. For example, at ITX, our strategy sessions are designed to help our clients achieve this precision of vision. We have learned that when someone comes to us and says, “I want a website,” more often than not, that’s all they know. We get them to focus on their reasons: Why do you want a website? What do you expect it to do for you? What features do you want and why? How will it create value for your clients? Many organizations just feel that they must have a website in order to compete, but they have no idea how ITX can facilitate that unless we hone in on their specific needs and wants. Once we actively help them to create clarity of vision and path for themselves, then we can bring it fully to fruition. But we don’t stop there. The reality is that we have to maintain clarity throughout the entire relationship, not just at the outset. Inevitably, even with great preparation, confusion about some aspect of a project will arise. Strive to eliminate any such “cloudiness” whenever it appears and consistently return the client back to clarity.

2. A steady diet of high-quality deliverables.
When we’re excited about something enough to plunk down good money on it, we anxiously await its arrival. Our clients are no different. They believed when they hired us that our organization was the best option for fulfilling their needs, and it would be foolish to think that now all we have to do is complete the work. If we wait until the project is complete to deliver anything, then we’ve wasted countless opportunities to deliver value and allay anxiety during that timeframe. It’s not just about delivering a final product that will wow clients; it’s about wowing clients many times before then so that they are already in a great state of mind about us when we present a fantastic end result.

If it will take three months to create the website of the client’s dreams, provide a steady diet of high-quality deliverables along the way so that they can share in the excitement of the progress. As soon as you get the first piece done, present it to the client and showcase it in a way that will be well received, like a diamond in the rough. Show them what you’re working on and let them know what you’ll be doing next. Clients want to see the progress. If you were having a house built, wouldn’t you like to see it going up? It’s unlikely that you’d give a contractor all of your specifications, then sit tight for months, only to look at the house one time…when it was completed. More likely, you’d want to see the progress, one, because it’s exciting and, two, because it reassures you that the project is conforming to your vision. If our clients can’t get their projects all at once, they want to see it happening.

In software, we have an advantage over building a house in that we can fully complete each section of a project independently of the other sections. In keeping with the above analogy, we can deliver a succession of complete rooms, including trim and even furnishings, which allows us to deliver value incrementally throughout the project.

This steady diet also adds to the benefits we created by providing clarity of vision and path: If we unveil our product a little at a time as we go along, we will discover any deviations from the client’s vision right away. We can make corrections to the foundation before we spend another two months building upon it, only to tear some of it down and start over. Offering regular deliverables ensures that there are no surprises at the end of the project.

Since our clients have been collaborating on and approving each piece of the process the entire time, we’ll get the applause when we finish it to their specifications. If we wait until the end to show it to them and just say, “Here it is!,” we face the very real possibility that they’ll instead experience an “ewww factor” in reaction to anything different than they expected. It may seem like a small thing to us, but even the difference between teal and aqua can be so disconcerting to a client that for a moment they don’t realize just how much we got right—better than right! That doesn’t feel good for anybody.

Finally, it’s important to realize that finishing things is the only way to create value. Starting something creates no value whatsoever, neither does working on something. Only when it is completed does the value of that something manifest. For the client, all the interim tasks between the time you start a project to the time you actually deliver it are not realized value, unless you polish and present those pieces. Then it becomes real.

3. Effective stewardship of client resources.
Anything a service provider can do to save clients time and money delivers value. When a client contracts us for a service and presents all of his ideas, we can identify what won’t work and what will be a waste of time and money as experts in our field. We can also communicate effectively by not asking open-ended questions when a yes/no question will do. Instead of showing up at meetings and winging it, we can come prepared with samples, information and next steps. Instead of bringing the client a problem, we can bring a clear problem definition with a proposed solution. These are just a few of many ways that we can offer effective stewardship of our clients’ resources.

4. A smooth journey.
A smooth journey refers to the “trip” on which we take our clients throughout a project or interaction. I like to use the example of an airline when I write about the client experience because as a frequent flyer, I really value a smooth journey. When I travel, I want my airline to make it easy for me, and as enjoyable as possible, not just get me from Point A to Point B. It’s the same thing for clients. We want working with us to be the easiest alternative for them. We can do that in the same ways that the best airlines do: by controlling client anxiety, communicating well and often, being responsive to concerns and making the journey pleasurable. A smooth journey is all about the different amenities, what we offer along the way. When we keep our clients’ comfort in mind, they are more likely to sit back, relax and enjoy the ride. The five ways to create value are the amenities in a service business.

A smooth journey is also about having a professional process through which clients can be guided. Our aim is to build confidence and trust with our clients, and having a professional presentation matters. For example, if you arrive at your new doctor’s office, and he is confused, or looks like he just woke up, or he can’t find your file, you’re not going to be confident in his diagnosis, even if that diagnosis is correct. As a service organization, how we present ourselves is just as important as what we do. Therefore, we want to be clear about our process—what we do and how we do it. We can’t be scratching our heads in front of customers while we try to figure things out. It is critical that we have a process upon which to rely, and that process includes when and how to escalate a situation that is beyond our scope.

5. Making the client look good.
All humans have a need to look good. We want to look good to our clients, and our clients want to look good to their superiors and their clients. As an example, let’s say we have a customer who is fighting an internal battle at his company about spending money on software development. He knows what his department needs, but he’s getting flack for it. In this case, he has to justify the efficient expenditure of his company’s resources. We can regularly arm him with information and deliverables that support the use of our services, which he can then present to his superiors and peers.

As another example, perhaps we have a client who will be selling whatever we’re building for them to their own customers. When we’re doing this kind of business-to-business work, it’s our goal to give our clients a source of pride from the finished product. It’s something else that they can show their clients that speaks to the success of their brand. Our products make our clients look good, and that’s delivering value. It also makes our company look good because when a client is proud about a project he had a hand in creating with us, he’s going to talk about it. At the same time, we understand that demonstrating our value in subtle ways all the time means that we don’t have to gratuitously brag about it. The evidence will speak for itself.

These are the five principle ways that we can deliver value for our clients. It’s not enough to give a client one great deliverable when a project is finished; we also want to deliver these five sources of value along the way. It bears repeating that value is delivered when it is first created, then successfully demonstrated. If you don’t demonstrate the value that you create, then from the client’s perspective, it’s as if you never created it. Every day, look for ways to deliver value in as many of the five ways as you can.

Call a specific client to mind and ask yourself the following questions to determine if you could be delivering more value: Do both of you have clarity of vision and path? Is there any way you can make either of those more clear? Is it possible for you to finish something for that client today and to show him that you finished it? Are you asking the client to do something that wastes his time? Have you been asking him wide-open questions that he has to answer with several paragraphs instead of with a simple yes/no answer? Can you handle anything yourself that you’re asking the client to do? How else can you make his journey smoother? In what ways can you make him feel pride about the project you’re working on together? The answers to these questions will help you to deliver value.

What We Can Do Better
Don’t let preventable obstacles stand in the way of delivering maximum value. Instead, use these five strategies to make the most out of your efforts:

1) Focus on Outcomes.
We might be tempted to substitute other things, such as intention or action, for outcome. Since making our clients successful is our desired outcome, we can’t settle for the positive feelings we get from clicking off items on our to-do list. That is not the goal. Notice that each of the five ways to create value in the services business is an outcome. We’ve created clarity of vision, provided solid examples of our progress, saved the client time and money, given clients an experience that they enjoyed and built up their pride. That’s a heck of a package deal. But if we intend to give clients a smooth journey without delivering one, for example, how much value does that create? None at all. Only when we actually deliver an outcome have we created value.

Focusing on outcomes is a really important concept, but unfortunately, our society tends to equate effort with outcomes, when they aren’t necessarily correlated at all. For example, if you have two salespeople, and one delivers a million dollars a year in sales working one hour a day, and another delivers $500,000 of sales a year working 18-hour days, which salesperson would you rather keep? The answer to the question is…effort is irrelevant.

2) Be Complete about Communication.
Communication is complete when it is received and understood. For example, if a client is waiting anxiously for a piece of a project, he would find it valuable to know as soon as it is done. If we send an email without making sure the client is aware of the progress, we haven’t been complete with our communication, and that leaves the possibility that our efforts didn’t provide any value. When we don’t hear back from a client, we could just go home for the weekend and say, “Well, I did my best,” or we can send an email and leave a message, then follow up to make sure the communication is received. Trying to communicate is not good enough because it’s just an intention. Actual communication is the outcome we want. When we know that the client has received our communication and understands it, we’ve delivered value.

3) Consider the client’s reality.
If a client is anxious or dissatisfied, that is his reality. We can’t just say to ourselves “Well, I tried really hard” and think that we’ve done enough for him if he is uncomfortable with it. It only matters what our clients think, because that is their reality, and it is our job to make our relationships with them a positive experience.

4) Be Honest with Yourself.
Unfortunately, measuring ourselves by outcomes feels harsh. If we took five minutes at the end of each day and thought about the actual value we created, we might feel less than pleased with ourselves. It’s a lot easier to feel good about putting in eight hours of work, regardless of what we accomplished, than to admit we’ve only completed a fraction of what we intended.

5) Provide a total experience.
Create a total experience for clients by involving as many of the senses as possible in your communications. If we do this effectively, they get a true understanding of the project’s value. Letting them see a deliverable with their own eyes on a computer screen while they sit alone in their office will not be as powerful as walking them through something on the phone or demonstrating it in person. Also, consider mixing it up when it comes to communicating with clients. Don’t rely solely on email or any single method. Find out what works for that particular client and use that method. A great way to find out what works for someone is to pay attention to the way that they communicate with you. For example, if someone always emails you, chances are that they like email; if they usually call you, it would appear that they prefer to communicate by phone.

Overall, we demonstrate value by making sure that clients comprehend what we’ve created and have experienced it fully themselves. We add to the efficacy of this experience by engaging as many of their senses as possible.

Being Cause in the Matter
When we hold ourselves accountable only for our actions, we are not cause in the matter. We are only cause in the matter when we hold ourselves accountable for outcomes. For example, if we want to be cause in the matter of delivering value for our clients, we will do whatever it takes to deliver that value. We will hold ourselves to higher standards than just committing to finishing a to-do list. Even if it’s a giant list of accomplishments, focusing on those actions heedless of the big picture will guarantee that we are not cause in the matter. We will not be delivering value if we did the wrong actions, instead of the ones that produce that outcome. Can you think of an instance where you did not make yourself cause in the matter? What could you have done differently to hold yourself responsible for the outcome? It’s up to our clients to judge whether we’ve done enough because their satisfaction is the only workable outcome. If they’re not satisfied, we have no business. We can’t substitute intentions or actions for the outcome; we must focus on being cause in the matter, which means that we accept nothing less than the outcome.

For example, if a client calls in because his password needs to be reset so he can access a system, you could simply reset his password, but that’s not being cause in the matter. To be cause in the matter, you would hold yourself accountable for the client’s success by resetting the password and staying on the line while he makes sure he can access his account. Then, if that didn’t work, you would try something else. Compare the experience of the client who has to call back because the reset didn’t solve the problem with the experience of the client who was walked through the process until the problem was resolved.

Remembering that value is only delivered when it is first created and then successfully demonstrated leads us to provide consistent, high-quality deliverables that clients can fully experience. We’ve done an excellent job when we’ve communicated with clients to ensure that they understand exactly what they’ve received and are ecstatic about it. Don’t wait to see if your success will happen by accident; drive it by implementing the five ways to create value and utilizing the five strategies to boost the efficacy of your delivery.

© Ralph Dandrea 2012. All rights reserved.

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Commitment: All or Nothing

People tend to talk about commitment in fractions, as though we can be partially committed to something. But the purpose of making a commitment is to let someone know that he or she can rely upon us to act a certain way.

A good example is a surgeon. We expect that, say, a heart surgeon is committed to prolonging and saving lives whenever possible. We wouldn’t want him to be wishy-washy about this as a loved one is being wheeled into the emergency room.

In our organizations, which make financial survival and growth possible, we don’t want a new hire to be anything less than fully committed either. We expect him to do the best job possible for us. In return, we promise him a steady paycheck, benefits and professional support, and he wouldn’t want us to be any less than committed to our end of the bargain.

We make all sorts of commitments on a regular basis. When we form relationships of any type, the other party is counting on us. Therefore, if we fail to communicate honestly about our commitments throughout a relationship and even—especially—if it is coming to an end, we can cause a lot of unnecessary chaos and create unworkable situations.

Why Commitment is Important
Commitment is an agreement that creates workability for both sides. If I can count on you to reliably uphold your part of our bargain, it makes me more powerful. If you fail to do so, you weaken me in some way.

Any commitment is a little selfish really. If I commit to you, I do so because it creates more workability in my life. Whether that commitment provides income, companionship or prestige, or induces you to commit back to me, there is always an exchange. We don’t commit without a reason.

Let’s make a distinction between commitments and promises. A commitment means that we can be expected to behave a certain way to further whatever it is to which we’re committed. A promise means that we agree to do something specific, such as deliver a project to a client by a certain date. An example might be a cause. If I say I am committed to a clean environment and that I strongly believe we should have cleaner water, people could reasonably expect me not to do my own oil change and dump the used oil into the sewer. For another example, if a team member is committed to treating our clients with respect, I don’t have to make him promise not to yell at them. So, commitment is about being able to set broad expectations regarding how someone will behave in furtherance of his values. People who are not committed might still be trustworthy with their promises. We just have to be very specific about what we’re asking them to do so that it is a promise. We can’t simply substitute their commitment for a process. That’s part of the power of commitment: it means that we don’t have to create elaborate promises.

When Being Uncommitted is Okay
Because commitment is an exchange of one thing for another, we can’t possibly commit to everything that is available. We simply don’t have the resources to do that. So, we have to choose the commitments that will create the most workability for us. What commitments could you make to create more workability in your life? Your employer may hope work is at the top of your list, but, for you, work may just be a means to an end so that you can support yourself and your family. That’s okay, but if you are not committed to your work, you need to be clear about that; otherwise, your team members will rely upon you for things you are not willing to deliver.

“Being uncommitted isn’t a bad thing; it just doesn’t create workability.”

It’s always okay not to be committed, but we have to be honest about it so that people will know whether they can count on us. In our professional lives, committed team members will add productivity, whereas uncommitted team members will detract from it.

In any relationship, commitment is necessary in order for the partnership to be successful. But nothing is permanent. Everything changes. It’s okay to decommit, but what is problematic is when someone says he is committed and then does not live up to the commitment. This can cause all kinds of unworkability.

People need to know where they stand in terms of commitment at all times. If we are depending on a person to behave in a way that he’s promised he will, and then he decommits without informing us, it creates an unworkable situation. It often hurts when someone withdraws his commitment from us, but sometimes worse than that is when we find out that he lied to us about it. If the other person has integrity and respects us, if he decommits, he should inform us as soon as possible, before the lack of commitment causes a whole lot of damage. If both parties are aware that the commitment has dissolved, they can each take the actions necessary to clean up any mess and move forward. I’m sure we have all seen the results of people not acting with this type of integrity in both personal and professional circumstances. We’re all grownups. If you are no longer committed to me, let me know. If I am no longer committed to you, I will let you know. Then we are clear about what we can count on and what we can’t.

A lack of clarity in commitment can also create unworkability. A lot of times people think, “I’m committed to you, so you must be committed to me.” But the reality is that the other person could be committed to something else. We can’t automatically assume that the commitment is symmetrical. Asymmetry is not bad—I could never expect my young children to be as committed to me as I am to them—but if I assume a relationship is symmetrical, then it can become unworkable.

“A commitment is most workable when we are clear about to what each party is committed.”

Why We’re Dishonest About Commitment
Admitting that we’re not committed to something to which we’ve pledged our allegiance is a difficult thing to do, though it is the most workable course of action. We don’t want to feel bad about ourselves, or hurt the other person’s feelings. However, we are playing an unfair game if we fail to be honest about where we stand in terms of commitment. There is no gray area, not in an emergency room, not at work and not anywhere else. We are either committed or we’re not.

Being committed implies that we can be relied upon to behave in a certain way. Therefore, we can either be counted upon or we cannot be counted upon.

That’s the reality. We are either loyal or disloyal, dedicated or not dedicated. No one who has ever truly committed himself to something or someone can deny the truth of this. Partial commitment is a fallacy. It simply does not exist.

A commitment can be false at the outset, or perhaps we were once committed, but, for whatever reason, we’re just not anymore. People tend to hide their lack of loyalty to avoid discomfort. Sometimes, when their lack of commitment is discovered, it may cause far greater issues than being honest could have ever done.

Communicating About Commitment
If we pay attention to language, we can see that team members who are no longer dedicated to us speak in shades of commitment. “I’m kind of committed,” someone might say, shifting in his seat, “but I’d be more committed if certain circumstances were in place.” Maybe he hates his supervisor or doesn’t feel appreciated or doesn’t like his company car or thinks he should have gotten a better raise this year…whatever the situation, it’s troubling him and undermining his commitment. He’s too afraid to come right out and say it, but his language reflects his shadowy dedication. If we understand that commitment is an all or nothing thing, a huge warning light will go off in our heads when someone couches his decommitment in hazy language.

I was recently discussing a team member with one of my managers. I asked about her commitment to the organization’s mission, values and well-being. She said, “Well, I think she’s committed, but she’s troubled by it. What I got out of that was, “Don’t expect her to act like she’s committed” Because if there’s any equivocation whatsoever, then you don’t have a commitment. All of these different shades that people create about commitment mean that the person is simply not committed. We have to be aware of this, and we have to pay attention to changes in people, as they may no longer be committed to something they once were.

People split hairs on this subject because they’re afraid of what it means to not be committed, or they might be afraid of reprisals for not being committed. Instead, they attempt to disfigure the meaning of the word “commitment.” When we ask someone if they are committed, the answer is either yes or no.

We should expect nothing less. If we’re serious about our part of the relationship, there can be no middle ground.

“Treat every “partial” commitment as though there were no commitment.”

Any discussion about commitment can be infused with more honesty by making it clear that it’s okay if the other person is not committed or wants to decommit. In an organization, we can explain that it’s just not workable for a team member to be employed and to not be committed. In any relationship, it’s just the mature thing to do. It’s really about respect and integrity. If the other person is not committed, he needs to let us know that. What is the point of employing someone who tells us that he is only partially committed? It simply doesn’t create any real value for us because we know he can’t be counted upon. Then, of course, there’s always the possibility that someone is fully committed…but just not to us. That would be an important thing to discover!

In my organization, one of my commitments is to continue to help my team members thrive. In order for us to have a workable relationship, they expect me to give them good, prompt feedback about what is and isn’t going well. Since I’m committed to them, they can count on me to act in furtherance of that commitment and not sabotage them in any way. If I tell a team member that I’m not committed to working with him anymore and that he should therefore seek other employment, then he won’t have the expectation anymore that I’m going to give him valuable feedback to improve the workability of our relationship. Likewise, if that team member tells me that he is no longer committed to the organization’s mission, values and well-being, I have no reason to expect that he’s going to act in furtherance of that commitment.

When someone decommits from an organization’s mission, values and well-being, it doesn’t make him a bad person or untrustworthy. It just means that he’s not creating the same workability as if he were committed. His usefulness is limited to what he is willing to promise. If there are too many people who are not creating value in an organization, it can’t be powerful, and terminations will naturally occur. That doesn’t mean these people should be demonized, though. There’s no need to judge them personally. That doesn’t help anyone. Furthermore, they might still provide some usefulness while they are being paid, such as making a smooth transition of their assignments. We just have to realize that we can’t expect these uncommitted team members to live up to their former commitment. Rather, we have to switch to making very specific requests of them.

We can use our understanding of the language surrounding decommitment to form a fresh relationship based on realistic expectations. Any situation can still be made workable by discovering to what a person is now committed, even if it’s just ending a relationship and being willing to do it smoothly.


© 2012 Ralph Dandrea. All rights reserved.

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Merging Technical and Personal Performance to Create Stellar Customer Relationships

Creating a loyal client relationship requires great personal performance and great technical performance. Customers actually sometimes care less about what they ask for than about how they are treated. We can never achieve a high level of customer loyalty without providing both.

Customer loyalty is the ultimate goal for an organization. A satisfied client just isn’t good enough. A loyal client will do a lot more for us than a satisfied client. Loyal customers won’t leave us for a slightly better price, or because we made a mistake, but satisfied clients often do.

Technical vs. Personal Performance
Technical performance is all about the project. It’s objective and quantifiable. It’s measured in how well the job is done. Technical people, for the most part, are not relationship-oriented, but instead measure their worth by way of a job well done. A “techie” will generally tend to avoid clients if he doesn’t have anything concrete to show them.

Personal performance, on the other hand, deals with how our clients feel about our work. It is subjective and intangible. It establishes, then nurtures, a relationship and forms the glue that binds a client to our business. A stellar relationship will make occasional technical slip-ups bearable, and they may even deepen the relationship by demonstrating our depth of integrity.

It’s not enough to acknowledge our clients’ concerns. We need to care about what our clients care about on a personal level to breed loyalty and trust overall.

We’ll use a client/service provider example to illustrate the different categories.

On her way to work one day, Laura snags her favorite bracelet on the hinge of her front door, causing the clasp to break and beads to spill all over the floor. In a hurry, she scrambles to collect the pieces and shoves them into her purse. On her way home from work, she stops at Pete’s Jewelry Repair Shop.

Scenario #1: Low Technical/Low Personal Performance (Bottom-left Quadrant)
Laura explains the situation to Pete, emphasizing that this bracelet was her grandmother’s and is very important to her. Pete examines the bracelet and tells her not to worry. He will have the bracelet looking as good as new by the same time tomorrow. Delighted, Laura thanks Pete and returns home, glad to have taken care of the problem so quickly and easily.

The following day, Laura has a dinner party planned immediately after work but is anxious to pick up her grandmother’s bracelet. She asks her boss if she can leave the office a few minutes early and heads directly to Pete’s. “Oh, Laura,” he says, “your bracelet isn’t finished yet. You see, I tried to bend the broken clasp back into place, but it snapped in half. I ordered another clasp, but it’s going to take three to five days to arrive. I would’ve called you to let you know, but I forgot to take down your name and number yesterday.”

Laura sighs, frustrated. Pete may be a nice man, but now he doesn’t seem like the most professional jewelry repair man. Not only was he unable to fix a common jewelry problem, but he also didn’t have the foresight to take down her contact information in case a situation like this arose. Laura has doubts about his craftsmanship and his business sense, and decides her best bet would be to collect her broken bracelet and bring it to another jeweler.

Pete has not only broken her bracelet further, but he’s also broken his promise to Laura about when it would be ready. On top of that, he neglected to take down her number so he could notify her of the delay and cost her work and personal time.

When there is both low technical and personal performance, we are neither getting our work done right nor communicating with clients adequately. We should strive to never be in this position because we will lose customers quickly.

Scenario #2: High Technical/Low Personal Performance (Bottom-right Quadrant)
In this scenario, Pete tells Laura he will complete the work “in no time” and give her a call when it’s done. But it’s three days later and Pete still hasn’t called. Laura wonders if she should call him, but then thinks that maybe she’s expecting too much. He said it would be done “in no time,” but she’s not sure what that means exactly in the jewelry business. She decides to let it go for one week.

A week and two days later, Laura still has not received a phone call from Pete. Exasperated, she drives to the store after work. Pete says, “Oh, there you are. I have your bracelet for you right here.” “It’s done? Why didn’t anyone call me?” asks Laura.

“No one called? I thought I told my assistant to call you.” He turns his back to Laura. “Tom,” he shouts, “didn’t I tell you to call this customer when I finished that bracelet last Wednesday?”

“No,” his assistant shouts back.

“Sorry about that, Laura,” Pete says with a frown. “I’ve had it ready for you for almost a week now. I thought Tom called you.”

The bracelet looks as good as new, but Laura can’t help but be bothered. Every day that she didn’t have the bracelet, it’s absence on her wrist was a constant annoyance. Every day that she didn’t get a phone call, she became a little more anxious. And Pete, although friendly, didn’t seem to care all that much about causing such a long delay. She decides that the next time she needs jewelry repaired she’ll try the shop down the street instead.

In this case, Pete is technically sound but personally incompetent. He tries to pass off his ineptitude on his assistant, but that ploy fails and makes him look even worse to Laura. She should never be in the position of having to feel as though she’s expecting too much by wanting to hear from Pete. It was Pete’s job to let her know that the bracelet was ready and he failed miserably.

We land in this section of the graph far too often with our clients. The work is there, but the personal performance is off. We may get the project completed perfectly and punctually, but then forget to tell the client that it’s done or fail to return their phone calls. Trust evaporates quickly because the customer feels the need to constantly check up on how things are going, and that shouldn’t be their responsibility. They may be satisfied with the work we’ve done, but we can’t count on them to be loyal because they don’t enjoy working with us. The next time, they may choose to go with someone else.

Scenario #3: Low Technical/High Personal Performance (Top-left Quadrant)
In this scenario, Pete tells Laura he can complete the work by the next day. He gets Laura’s contact information and gives her an estimate. The following day, he calls Laura before she makes plans to leave work early to pick up her bracelet.

“I’m sorry for calling you during work hours, but I wanted to contact you before you left the office,” says Pete. “While I was working on your bracelet this morning, the clasp broke in half. I have ordered a replacement clasp that will be delivered here within five business days. When it arrives, I will replace the broken clasp free of charge. I’m sorry for any inconvenience that this may have caused.”

Laura thanks Pete for saving her the trip. “The wait is no problem. Just give me a call when it’s
finished,” she replies.

Although Laura didn’t get her grandmother’s bracelet back on the day she expected, Pete has earned her trust by letting her know about the problem before it could cause her any inconvenience. She realizes that it was an old bracelet and that the clasp was probably very worn out, so she isn’t angry about the situation. Because Pete earned her trust, Laura plans to return to Pete’s with any future jewelry problems.

Because of the way this situation was handled, Pete’s failure to fix the bracelet actually improved his relationship with Laura, since he demonstrated his depth of integrity. While he may have failed technically, he soared personally. The technical failure combined with the personal success is the perfect prescription for an upper-left quadrant scenario because an amazing customer relationship will always breed comfort.

When we have this kind of scenario, we are performing well personally with the client. We may be messing up some of the technical aspects of the job, but we are at least contacting clients ahead of time to inform them of any delay and then following up with a phone call. They trust that we will do not only what we’ve set out to do, but also that we’ll communicate with them in a timely fashion.

Scenario #4: High Technical/High Personal Performance (Top-right Quadrant)
In this scenario, Pete calls Laura at 10 a.m. the day after she drops off the bracelet. He says that it is repaired, so if she’d like, she can pick it up during her lunch break instead of after work. Laura is relieved that she doesn’t have to leave work early and rush around before the dinner party because she’s so anxious about her grandmother’s bracelet. Pete has saved her an awful lot of inconvenience.

At lunch time, Laura walks into the shop, and Pete has her bracelet ready for her. It looks as good as new. He clasps it onto her wrist so she can admire it. They have a nice conversation, wherein Laura expresses her pleasure that the bracelet was able to be fixed and that she is impressed by Pete’s service. Laura is thrilled with the entire transaction, from start to finish. She decides to recommend Pete’s Jewelry Repair Shop to all of her friends at the dinner party that night.

This quadrant is the best of all possible worlds. Not only has Pete’s performance been technically sound, but he has performed personally well with Laura. He has earned her trust, and he’s gained a loyal client who will likely market his services to her friends and family. No coupons or discounts will pull her away.

When we perform technically and personally at this high level in our company, we are in integrity, technically sound and communicating effectively with our clients. We are setting deadlines, meeting them, following up on them and breaking no promises. This is where we should always aspire to be.


© 2012 Ralph Dandrea. All rights reserved.

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Training Ourselves to Trust

Most people believe that trust is something people have to earn, and that such trust is granted consciously. This article challenges part of that notion. What if the reality is that we trust someone because they’ve done things that our subconscious is willing to consider trustworthy?

Why Do We Care About Trust?
Trust makes business relationships more workable because of two things. First, it drives productivity. Let’s take the case of an assistant. If we delegate responsibility to him, and we trust him, there is no need to follow up on the details. We know that he will carry out what we’ve asked of him, so it makes our interactions much more efficient. If we don’t trust someone we’ve hired, the tasks we’ve assigned to him will keep popping up in our heads, and we’ll waste time fretting that maybe he didn’t do what we asked. If our subconscious doesn’t trust him, we’ll micromanage the assistant to the point of mutual frustration. If our subconscious does trust him, we can simply assign a task and consider it done. Training ourselves to trust a team member can have dramatic results and, for me, it has been the leading factor in cultivating great staff. I believe I have such good team members because I trust them to a great degree.

Second, trust makes things possible that otherwise wouldn’t be. If we trust our team members to do their jobs well, we can increase our own effectiveness and scope because we are free to concentrate on our areas of expertise. We can’t be the best at everything, so we are much more efficient when we can take advantage of other people’s skills while utilizing our own.

Trust creates powerful relationships and, in turn, makes us more powerful individuals. The more trust we can introduce to our relationships, the greater our potential.

How Do We Introduce Trust?
While it’s true that we need to earn each other’s trust by doing certain things, this seems to happen at the subconscious level. We can choose to give someone the benefit of the doubt, but we can’t choose to trust him. This flies in the face of what we’ve been trained to think, that people have to repeatedly do things to prove themselves, and then we consciously accept that they’ve proven themselves and make the decision to trust them.

If you think about it, isn’t it more plausible that we actually receive and evaluate the proof of someone’s trustworthiness at the subconscious level first, using our innate power of instinct? People may say that they trust everyone until they find out they’re not trustworthy. They operate under the idea that they actually choose to trust, but they don’t. There’s a limit. If you doubt this, give all your money to a stranger and trust him to give it back to you tomorrow. How many people would choose to do that?

When we trust, it’s not a decision, and it’s below the conscious level.

If we accept that a person subconsciously grants trust because his brain recognizes that another person is exhibiting a pattern of trustworthiness, we can use this knowledge to start building a great relationship as soon as we hire someone new. We can establish patterns of behavior right at the outset to get our subconscious to trust him, just as we hired that person because we believed we might be able to trust him…eventually.

How We Train Ourselves to Trust
We all want to have wonderful working relationships that make our days go smoother and promote productivity and camaraderie. Yet, a lot of people complain about their team members. We may think that this stems from hiring the wrong people, but perhaps it’s the training process itself that blocks the way to better partnerships. I believe that the way we train ourselves to trust our team members is as important to getting the work done as explaining how to do it. Because if we don’t trust the people who work for us, we can’t be very powerful executives.

For example, I get a lot of compliments about my assistants. Colleagues always tell me that they can’t find competent, eager staff to act as their “right hand,” while I always seem to find great people for this position. Clearly, certain types of people and personality types make better assistants, but there is no perfect person. When we find someone who seems to possess the right mix of traits and skills, we can still mess up the relationship if we don’t handle it the right way. What we want is to assign tasks and have them be completed efficiently. What they want, along with an appropriate paycheck, is to feel good about what they do and to have it be appreciated. Those wishes won’t be granted at the outset; they have to be earned through a series of positive interactions that assures both parties that their needs will be met consistently. We can’t get there without establishing trust and respect, which can only happen when we acknowledge our anxiety and relinquish our initial tendency toward over-involvement anyway.

When the relationship is new, both the executive and the assistant will feel apprehensive, wondering what to expect. We’re thinking, “Is he or she going to misunderstand what I say, mess up my system and cause me a lot of extra work?” He’s thinking, “Will this person be unclear with instructions and then blame me for not doing the job properly?” or “Is he going to be a jerk and make me feel like a lackey?” What is actually happening is that the amygdala, the part of the brain that controls the fight or flight reflex, is assaying the unfamiliar territory and determining whether the other inhabitant poses a threat—“Will it eat me, or will I eat it?” Only when the subconscious feels comfortable and relaxes will the relationship be a cooperative, well-functioning one.

Another part of the brain, the frontal cortex, is the region that chose these people in the first place. During the interview, it recognized perhaps that this person had education, experience, a pleasant personality and came highly recommended. The frontal cortex chose the individual for a variety of reasons; the lesser brain did not. The amygdala is mistrustful and says, “Who is this person? Why is he here? What is he going to do for me?” Putting this creature’s worries to rest allows us to operate from a more elevated, productive state.

When we put this theory into practice as soon as we hire an individual for any position in the company, we’ll find that it’s just as important to train ourselves to trust the person as it is to train him how to do his job. In fact, we will probably find that training ourselves to trust him is even more valuable. The proof comes in the form of confidence as the team member grows into his position and takes on more responsibility. In a short period of time, as our apprehension turns to trust, we become convinced that our involvement with his daily tasks is more interference than assistance. Then we can back off, know that the work will be done competently and do what we do best. We find ourselves free to focus on the responsibilities that only we can address instead of monitoring our team members’ every move.

Trust-building Strategies
Our lesser brain will behave better when it sees proof that everything it thinks is keeping it alive will be safe. At work, it knows that success brings in money, which is how it gets fed. Any perceived threat to its livelihood will cause it to act out. We can use a few mental exercises to train the lower brain to trust. Let’s continue with the example of an assistant to show how it works.

  • Explain the trust-building process to the assistant and the reasons for implementing it. It will sound kind of funny and vulnerable at first, which in itself is a great ice-breaker, but the benefits will soon become clear as it works its magic.
  • Tell him that, at first, you’d like to see him write down every task you assign. When you dictate a letter and ask him to mail it, watch him write down “Mail the letter.” It may seem like a trivial thing, but it will give your amygdala a sense of control, even with an unfamiliar inhabitant in its domain.
  • Ask the assistant to confirm back to you as each task is completed. Frequent inbox messages informing you that work is getting done efficiently—“I mailed the letter”—will be just the physical proof that your lesser brain requires. Unfortunately, you just can’t tell your lesser brain to trust someone; it learns from experience, from what it observes. The initial reassurances cement the fact in our minds that our assistants can be relied upon to carry out our instructions.

Now we’ve implemented a program to train our lesser brains to trust so we can use our frontal cortex to its best ability. We let the lesser brain see that we gave a person a task, he wrote it down to prove that it won’t be forgotten, the task was done and we were informed of its completion. The lesser brain says, “Okay, chalk one up for the team member!” After we do that 100 times, and do it with more and more important things, our lesser brain will trust.

Once the team member is in the habit of carrying out assignments this way, we begin to recognize that we’re no longer questioning his competency. There are no mental pop-ups, no questions, just confidence that things are running smoothly behind the scenes. We’ll wonder if we should ask for a status update, but then one will come in anyway, and we’ll find that we’re actually annoyed by it. The lesser brain already assumed it was done, and now it feels like its time is being wasted when it could be out securing its safety in some other fashion…because it thinks it always needs to be doing that. At some point, the five now unnecessary emails coming in will give us a negative reaction. The amygdala says, “Stop with the extra emails! Why are you telling me you mailed a letter? Don’t do it anymore!” It shows up as sort of an anger response. Recognize that the lesser brain is getting mad, not you. When you detect that the lesser brain is aggravated by the notifications, you’ll know that you have built trust.

Now it’s time to thank the team member for his patience and follow-through, and inform him that you won’t be needing the confirmations anymore. You only want to be notified if something doesn’t get done within a reasonable amount of time. Also let him know that you’d still like a list of outstanding tasks to be maintained so that your amygdala can get a fix when it needs it. An organized roster of assignments to be done is a soothing balm for the lesser brain’s anxiety. For the amygdala, once trust is attained, it needs to be maintained. A sigh of relief from the team member ensues and—voila!—you’ve got another great person on staff.

The Benefits of Trusting
If you doubt the power of these tools, consider the alternative. Perhaps your past experiences are a good reference point. If we didn’t train ourselves to trust new hires, the first few assignments that we gave them would likely stick in our heads for a few days. It would pop up in our minds and we’d walk over to their desk and say, “Hey, I gave you these five tasks. Did you do this? Oh, yeah? How about this? And this?” It’s very counterproductive. When we don’t trust our team members, we’re less willing to give them tasks, so sometimes we do them ourselves, if we can. If we trust them, then we don’t have those pop-ups in our head when we’re on the way home, or at home, or in the shower, or driving into work, all those times when we have no control over what is or isn’t getting done. It’s actually more productive to work on our trust issues than it is to follow up. There’s no follow-up necessary if we build that trust, so we achieve much greater efficiency.

This trust-building exercise works the opposite way, too. It is a fantastic tool because the team member will see that there’s a “method to your madness,” and that ultimately he will reap the rewards from it. That’s trust. The neat thing is seeing how differently the team member acts after the exercise, because he knows that he’s earned your respect. The entire process only takes a few weeks, but, in the end, the great results will be obvious to everyone that person deals with, including clients, other team members and especially that pesky amygdala.

How Trust Breaks Down
Once we’ve built trust, we’ll want to make sure we don’t destroy it. In most relationships, things will happen that will make us doubt the other person. If such instances happen too often, trust will be destroyed, unless we reverse the process early enough to be able to stop it.

With team members, the breakdown process begins when someone is not committed to maintaining our trust. Maybe he’s committed to something in his personal life that eclipses his work life. Maybe he thinks his job involves too much work. Or maybe he just doesn’t care anymore. Whatever the reason, he is no longer making it a part of his job to keep our trust intact. If he hasn’t already decommitted from the organization, he’s on his way.

The team member’s apathy in this regard starts to show up in his not following through on things we expect him to do. Eventually, we’ll start to catch those slip-ups. Perhaps I ask an assistant to put so-and- so’s birthday on my calendar for next week so I can remember to get him a card. The birthday passes and only then does it occur to me that he didn’t do what I asked. I think, “Oh, there’s a problem,” but I put the mistake aside for the moment. A few more errors occur and, in very little time, a pattern of untrustworthiness is created. My percentage of confidence is quickly reduced. If we can communicate about this and find out what’s wrong, we can fix it together and rebuild the trust. If not, the relationship will break down until it ends.

The symptom of trust breaking down is following up on things or doing them yourself, when normally you would delegate those tasks and rely upon a team member to carry them out.

To keep trust from breaking down, maintaining it has to be at the top of our list. In the absence of trust, the relationship can’t flourish. We often take our relationships for granted, but we have to keep trust first and foremost in our priorities.

The Importance of Providing Preferences
It bears pointing out that we can’t blame someone for being “untrustworthy” if they fail because we’ve failed to give them specific instructions. Using the case of an assistant again, because that relationship is rife with examples requiring delegation, I can’t just say, “Book me a flight to Los Angeles” and then be disappointed in his performance if the arrangements displease me. I can only trust him to do a great job for me if I provide him with my preferences: my favorite airlines, where I like to sit in a plane, whether or not I want connections and so on. To the extent that I don’t care about something, it’s not a problem, but where I do care, it creates untrustworthiness if the assistant doesn’t consider my preferences. If I keep finding myself in an aisle seat when I’m miserable if I don’t sit by the window, I’m not going to be thrilled with my assistant just because he got me on a plane to the right city. It won’t be long before I’ll be making my own arrangements…and looking for a new assistant.

As another example, I may depend upon a manager to hire great team members. But I’ll only do this if I trust him to select candidates that I would choose. I expect that manager to be aware of and adhere to my preferences. If my organization is suddenly filled with people I find unsatisfactory, I’m not going to allow that manager to hire people anymore. Instead, I will begrudgingly give that task to someone else or do it myself. The truth is, we don’t merely want confirmation that our team members are doing their jobs; we want proof that they’re doing their jobs the way we prefer to have them done so we can confidently delegate.

If team members decisions often conflict with their manager’s preferences, they won’t be trusted.

Delegating tasks efficiently is such a huge part of a successful organization. We will have a hard time handing things over, though, if we don’t trust our team members. The rewards of building trust in the workplace are so great that it is well worth the effort it takes to train our brains to trust. When we hire the best people we can find and give them the leeway to perform their jobs well, without our constant interference, we increase our own capacity tremendously, enabling us to become much more powerful in our own work.


© 2012 Ralph Dandrea. All rights reserved.

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