Trust, Communication, and the Science of Well-Being
The notion that people need to feel safe in order to perform highly isn’t terribly original. However, the revelation that teams commonly underperform because their members are afraid to contribute is concerning.
According to an article in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, that insight was the result of a multi-year research project at Google aimed at optimizing the performance of teams. Given the near ubiquity of team-based work in business, it makes good sense to study how to optimize their performance.
On the most high-functioning teams, groups have adopted behaviors and social norms, which foster an environment that is “psychologically safe.” These group norms, or unwritten rules that govern how people behave, encourage people to offer ideas freely and take risks within the safety of the group.
Essentially, in order to strengthen a team’s productivity, managers must encourage members to take risks, to offer original and unconventional ideas, to disagree with a popular idea, and to collaborate easily with each other. For this to occur, people need to work in an environment that encourages them to just be themselves, to contribute often during discussion, and to trust their leader.
One anecdote from the article highlighted a team leader who tended to panic over issues and problems. This caused team members to become more reserved because they felt less safe. On a different team, the leader’s direct communication style put people at ease because they always knew where they stood.
How to increase psychological safety
Google’s researchers uncovered a few prescriptive guidelines for enhancing team productivity by reducing fear:
Ensure conversational turn-taking. Essentially, the researchers found that participants on high-performing teams all spoke in roughly the same proportion during a meeting. Thus, everyone’s ideas were welcomed and appreciated.
Encourage risk-taking by ensuring that no one will be embarrassed by speaking up.
Maintain a culture of social sensitivity. Google’s researchers found that high performing teams had a high “average social sensitivity,” meaning that members were emotionally aware and emotionally respectful to each other.
Communicate clearly. Ambiguity and uncertainty reduce confidence and trust.
Fear Can Hamper Productivity
Culturally, we’ve grown in our acceptance of fear as a component of adult life. But we’ve neglected to examine how fears and insecurities affect everyday working relationships and hamper productivity. We’ve also failed to examine the power of fear to disable our thinking and undermine our best efforts. This is particularly poignant in the workplace where people’s egos and livelihoods are on the line.
The researchers at Google believe their data provided “a method for talking about our insecurities, fears, and aspirations in more constructive ways,” explained researcher Julia Rozovsky.
Rozovsky also believes that by educating employees to recognize emotions, Google established a shared language for discussing emotions in a contextually relevant manner. This emotional literacy also enabled important conversations between employees to address behaviors that incite fears and insecurities. “Don’t underestimate the power of giving people a common platform and operating language.”
One aspect of this research that may be particularly difficult to swallow for the more traditionally minded is the importance of encouraging empathy. Teams that had a higher degree of social sensitivity were not only higher performers on a specific project but on a wide variety of projects. In fact, the project work could vary widely but the team’s performance remained consistently high.
What’s more, the teams seemed to truly enjoy working with one another, a characteristic that is often not shared on overly competitive teams where people vie for dominance. Is empathy the new competitive advantage? In the world of team performance, it just might be.
According to Daniel Goleman, “A prerequisite to empathy is simply paying attention to the person in pain.” Team members might not be in pain but they are vulnerable when they volunteer a new idea. New ideas don’t come with well-worn track records and social familiarity. They offer little to no safety. Therefore, the group must compensate by creating an atmosphere in which people willingly choose to be vulnerable. In fact, expressing vulnerability is a great leadership tactic for inviting others to do the same.
Once again, the powerful beast of culture is discovered as the principal influence on behavior. It’s not what we tell people that shapes their decisions but the behavioral norms that we either create or allow to persist.
Something which is not specifically addressed in the article is the variability of cultural norms that can exist between various teams that reside within the same organization. These micro-cultures are not governed and nurtured in the same manner as a corporate culture. Because these cultural norms can vary widely and affect productivity so significantly, an employee’s experience of moving from one team to another can be very disruptive.
Managers and team leaders should be equipped with clear guidelines for managing the unwritten rules that exist within their teams. These unwritten rules should align carefully with the broader organization’s in order to foster continuity and reduce anxiety for employees.
Schedule your first crisis communications scenario planning session
Invite business leaders from various sections of the organization
Develop your scenarios, which you will disseminate prior to the planning session
Establish your decision points. When you meet, discuss how each decision will be handled, formalize all roles and responsibilities and identify problem areas.
Because scenarios are fictional events, they allow us to identify organizational and communication problems without pointing fingers.
Become a champion of trust
Trust is your doorway to customer-centric messaging. It is also your doorway for employee-centric messaging. Trust isn’t a concept to be understood on its own, rather it’s a mechanism to redirecting focus back to the human concerns of our customers, employees, and other stakeholders.
Identify your communication channels for Push/Pull/Engage crisis communications.
In a crisis, communicators must push out urgent messages, enable employees to pull information through unconventional channels, and support at least one channel that allows employees at all levels to connect with senior leaders.
PUSH communications constitute a standard crisis communications plan. These are urgent messages to stakeholders, including the press.
PULL communications support unconventional work patterns that employees develop to solve immediate needs.
ENGAGE communications are frequently omitted from a crisis communications strategy, although they are essential for maintaining trust.
Create a tool for assessing risk based on potential audience outrage
This tool should include simple questions, such as:
Did we cause the change?
How will people perceive the change?
Will it cause fear or merely inconvenience?
Do regulatory, environmental, or market forces complicate customers’ perceptions?
This quick assessment will help you anticipate risks and develop smart messages.
Identify opportunities for brand goodwill
Review key aspects of your business from the standpoint of a massive crisis, then identify opportunities to strengthen brand goodwill.
Examine your supply chain, any at-risk populations living near your headquarters, and the unique aspects of your industry and products.
During Hurricane Sandy, Verizon and AT&T deployed trucks to devastated areas, helping customer recharge phones and use computers. Customers, therefore, engaged directly with these brands at a time of poignant need.
Determine your incident-specific guidance – what unique types of crisis events should your organization prepare for?
Onsite violence/active shooter
Define the consultative skills that support your area of expertise (crisis management). Ensure that your team strengthens core competencies and general knowledge about crises and risk communications.
Improve your team’s awareness and knowledge of the leading experts, such as:
This movie tells the story of one of the greatest crisis leaders in history. The Chilean government and business collaborated to establish a leadership approach that saved the lives of 33 miners who were buried miles underground for 69 days.
Use this film ignite essential discussions about leadership and culture within your organization.
Follow the specific steps in this article I wrote for Continuity Magazine, which details how organizations can fortify trust amidst turmoil.
Advertisers have long known that emotions have the power to loosen customers’ purse strings, but in other aspects of business, emotions haven’t played as favorably. Until now.
Recent research and empirical data are changing the way companies think about emotional engagement with customers. Following are three examples of how leading businesses are incorporating emotions into customer engagement strategies.
Strategy #1: Connect with Purpose
In 2013, Deloitte Chairman Punit Renjen became concerned about the sentiment of distrust in business lingering from the financial crisis. He decided that companies needed to strengthen trust with customers by instilling a sense of purpose that is bigger than simply achieving profits.
“What companies do for clients, people, communities and society are all interconnected,” says Renjen. “A culture of purpose ensures that management and employees alike see each as a reason to go to work every day.”
Defining a clear culture of purpose establishes a more meaningful relationship with customers because the focus centers on the company’s mission and vision. Renjen believes customers who are ordinarily skeptical of business can be motivated by a company’s clear concept of purpose.
Strategy #2: Make it Personal
Research about the power of emotions in the customer experience is now being conducted by leading brands, like The Corporate Executive Board and Google. These two firms partnered to explore the role of emotion in B2B marketing and sales activities.
Their Finding? After surveying 3,000 B2B buyers from 36 distinct brands, CEB found that emotions trump rational motivators by a two-to-one ratio.
In fact, the report found that “B2B buying is very personal.” Specifically, if a product or service offers clear personal benefits to the individual buyer, such as the ability to become a better leader, fit in with colleagues, or simplify his or her life, then the buyer will be twice as motivated to buy.
According to the research, products that offered personal value such as professional or self-image benefits achieved a 42.6 percent increase in commercial outcomes (a category that includes purchase, premium payment, and advocacy). Products with purely functional benefits, however, only achieved a 21.4 percent increase in commercial outcomes.
“Not only do emotions matter in B2B buying, but they actually matter even more than logic and reason.”
Strategy #3: Design a Better Experience
Sir Jonathon Ive, the Apple products designer responsible for the design of every Apple product and service update since the iMac believes that good design is rooted in emotions.
In a recent interview with the London Evening Standard, Ive credited customers’ emotional experience with the very success of Apple’s products.
“I think that people’s emotional connection to our products is that they sense our care, and the amount of work that has gone into creating it,” said Ive.
While businesses have long derided emotions of being un-businesslike, it seems that this mindset will need to change in order to keep up with the times.
Roger Goodell took us to a new low last week—staging one of the most disingenuous apologies seen since. . . well since New Jersey Governor Chris Christie staged his theatrical presentation of “Bridgegate Was Not My Fault.”
“Goodell, if he didn’t know what was on that tape, he’s a liar. I’m just saying it. He is lying. I think that dude is lying. If you put him up on a lie detector test that guy would fail.” –Bill Simmons
So ESPN suspended Simmons—and then reversed their decision after the public responded with outrage. (sound familiar?)
The apologies keep coming!
In case you haven’t noticed, we are inundated with apologies today. Few of them seem to have true substance and fewer still are backed up with action. Here’s a sample of apologies that occurred over the past week:
The country of Scotland apologized to the Queen of England
And she “graciously and wholeheartedly” accepted Scotland’s apology for trying to secede from the United Kingdom—according to the New Yorker.
Ferguson police chief apologized to Michael Brown’s family
Over a month after Michael Brown was killed, a rush of sudden regret compelled the Chief of Police to apologize—according to USA Today
Apple apologized for botching an iPhone software update Hoping to stabilize it’s tumbling stock price, Apple apologized for the “great inconvenience” it caused customers –according to the Financial Times.
“‘We’re sorry that your flight was cancelled. This must have truly messed up your day, sir.’
That’s a statement of compassion.
‘Cancelling a flight that a valued customer trusted us to fly is not the way we like to do business. We messed up, it was an error in judgment for us to underinvest in pilot allocation. Even worse, we didn’t do everything we could to get you on a flight that would have helped your schedule. We’ll do better next time.’
That’s what contrition sounds like. We were wrong and we learned from it.” –Seth Godin
Words are failing us
Seth’s definition of an apology: compassion and contrition is very good, but it’s designed for a world in which words have meaning. Today, words have become almost meaningless, and that’s a hard thing for a writer to admit.
The flood of phony apologies is affecting society. Each dishonest apology reminds us of how dishonest leaders are and how easy it is to avoid the truth. But—particularly after the financial crisis—people don’t want to feel like a sucker any more. They don’t want to extend trust and later find themselves having been played the fool.
And if there’s one sure thing about the financial crisis it’s that millions of Americans felt they had been played. No one is going to take that risk again.
Even words that express contrition have little meaning today. Now, people put their faith in the things they can see and verify for themselves.
A real apology today must include action.
In fact, the best way to apologize is to take action, demonstrate your contrition, and then tell people what you have done to regain their trust.
On Friday, September 20, Roger Goodell promised to bring integrity back to the NFL. Or did he?
The NFL Commissioner stood behind a podium and talked ambiguously about mistakes—mistakes he had made and mistakes he was sorry for—but he didn’t define precisely how he would correct those mistakes.
Typically, leaders hold a press conference to announce something bold and newsworthy—such as the definitive changes they’ve made to amend previous errors. But that wasn’t Goodell’s objective.
In the beginning of his speech, Goodell seemed awfully upset, his voice was sincere and his words were emotional. But his message meandered and what started off as an apology later focused on the lack of staffing and funding for the National Domestic Violence Hotline. He then deflected a highly pertinent question about why the NFL had not acquired the infamous Ray Rice video.
If Goodell wasn’t there to address the facts, what was he trying to accomplish?
The apology epidemic
In case you haven’t noticed, apologies are on the rise. Today, every politician and celebrity wants his or her moment in the mea culpa spotlight. Last February, Andrew Ross Sorkin wrote a column for The New York Times saying:
“The age of the apology is clearly upon us—and it is not just about being polite. It has become de rigueur, an almost reflexive response among leaders to a mistake or, worse, a true crisis.
The art of the apology has become a carefully choreographed dance: Say you are sorry, show everyone your vulnerability, tell everyone you are ‘taking responsibility’ and then end with, ‘I hope to put this behind me.”
Three models of apology avoidance
During this spate of apologies, which Sorkin references, a few specific models stand out. Some try to touch us with their display of emotions while others want us to believe they were earnest all along—and the apology itself isn’t really necessary.
Each public figure selects a model that best reflects his strengths.
Apology Model #1: “All The World’s A Stage”
Demonstrated here by Governor Chris Christie, the crux of this model hinges on a belief that the speaker can reduce the public’s thirst for the truth through emphatic demonstrations of concern and care. In fact, the more emotional the delivery, the less valid it needs to be.
Unfortunately, Christie’s theatrics backfired on him. The number of New Jerseyans who believed the governor was at least somewhat responsible for the lane closures actually increased from 34 percent to 50 percent after his apology.
Apology Model #2: “My Mom Said So…”
This apology aversion tactic is practiced on schoolyards across the country. Adrian Peterson recently applied this model to his not-so-apologetic defense of hitting his four-year-old son saying that he was only mirroring the behavior of his parents.
Unfortunately, when Peterson’s mom, Bonita Jackson defended her son’s behavior, she didn’t help matters, saying, “When you whip those you love, it’s not about abuse, but love. You want to make them understand that they did wrong.”
Apology Model #3: “Smoke and Mirrors”
Yes, this model is the one Roger Goodell selected. It was a smart move for someone with good looks who has always held the admiration of his peers. The assumption is that his relationships with the team owners are so strong that no one really wants to see him step down.
By all accounts, it seems that Goodell chose the right model for his well-choreographed apology.
The Seinfled-esque press conference
The classic sitcom about nothing was often aloof and detached from reality. Friday afternoon’s press conference didn’t announce specific changes or herald a new era for the NFL. It was essentially a media opportunity about nothing. Or was it?
On Sunday afternoon, while trying to watch football, I found myself flipping channels instead. And that’s when it hit me: a press conference scheduled at the last minute; the lack of clarity and purpose in Goodell’s message; and the timing—late Friday afternoon before the weekend…
It was a marketing ploy for people like me. NFL ratings fell last weekend and someone realized that if people develop new habits on Sundays, those ratings might not bounce back up.
Is it working?
The answer to that question depends on who you ask. Directly after the press conference, news outlets reported that Procter and Gamble’s Crest brand had canceled its sponsorship of NFL breast cancer awareness activities slated for October. According to Mashable, “Roger Goodell’s Press Conference Really Pissed Off the Universe.” One of the tweets highlighted in the Mashable piece says: “Roger Goodell is the only person who has not considered Roger Goodell resigning,” by @RedSoxRedShoes.
However, it appears that Goodell’s not-too earnest apology might just work for him. According to the Bleacher Report, Goodell “Isn’t Going Anywhere.”
What do you think?
What do you think? Is that the best the NFL can do or is there a real opportunity for change in this organization?
And what about the flimsy state of apologies from people in leadership roles? Is it enough to say, “I’m sorry” or will leaders need to show action?
On September 2nd Brian Krebs, a security blogger, alerted his readers of a security breach at Home Depot. In this world of 24/7 communications, companies can no longer control the message. But, companies can—and must—become the most credible and consistent source of information about events that affect their brand and their customers.
During the Asiana Airlines incident, the first tweet came within seconds of the crash. Deborah Hersman, former NTSB Chair, explained that her aim was not to control information during her investigation but to become the most credible voice of the incident. A few hours later, she held the first press conference on the tarmac in D.C. before flying to San Francisco.
At that conference, she clarified information her office had already confirmed and the specific next steps of her investigation. Hersman then set clear expectations for when she would provide additional information.
By contrast, Home Depot’s handling of its security breach was extremely poor, and not at all reflective of a leading international brand. The following crisis communications principles provide a reliable framework for assessing these missteps.
Five Mistakes that Erode Trust
Speed: In crisis communications, seconds count. Surprisingly, Home Depot could have actually broken the news about a suspected security breach. Prior to posting his report, Krebs verified the incident with Home Depot, which means the company was aware. In all likelihood, internal teams were too busy debating what to say and how to say it.
These are precious seconds during a crisis. A good crisis plan contains messaging templates and standards for these incidents. If Home Depot had been the first to announce this breach, all of the media’s reporting would have referenced the company as the primary source of information.
Candor: In any investigation, it is impossible to delay communications until all relevant information is gathered. Candor is essential. As Hersman demonstrated on the tarmac in the early hours of her investigation, crisis leadership is established through openness and honesty. By sharing information at regular intervals, the crisis leader gains credibility through frequent contact and a consistent demonstration of integrity.
Transparency: After Krebs’ story broke, Home Depot acknowledged the incident in a press release on its corporate website. Almost seven days later, the company provided incident details and a direct link to information on its consumer website.
The intervening silence, six full days without any formal updates to customers, is a death knell for trust. Instead of becoming the most credible voice during this incident, Home Depot allowed Krebs to become the most reliable source of information. The Krebs On Security blog provided detailed updates on the breach throughout the week, including the number of retail locations impacted, the type of malware suspected, and the fact that banks saw a spike in PIN debit fraud. As a result, his brand equity increased enormously.Social media is a company’s greatest ally during a crisis. It allows a company to reach customers through their channel of preference and to provide updates at a moment’s notice. Those small, incremental updates demonstrate the company’s commitment to finding answers and keeping their customers informed. Home Depot’s social media channels hardly mentioned the incident. Instead, the Twitter feed shared updates about contest winners, which demonstrates callousness and apathy while customers wait anxiously for answers.
Expectations: We build trust by upholding people’s expectations of us. Every extension of trust is a moment of vulnerability for a person. When people decide to trust a company, they are willing to put themselves in a position of vulnerability. Therefore it is essential to establish clear and measurable expectations.
At the moment of the incident, Home Depot clarified that customers would not be held responsible. That message undoubtedly alleviated anxiety. Nonetheless, because Home Depot did not have a voice during this crisis, customers did not know when they would hear from the company next. That uncertainty increased anxiety—which is a huge error for brands. Never do anything to increase customer anxiety!
Precision: In a crisis, details matter. In fact, details are the ultimate credibility builders. During Hurricane Sandy, Mayor Bloomberg held press conference twice a day and fielded press questions with exacting detail. His ability to answer questions with specific information assuaged concerns and established his leadership role during the crisis. He won the respect of the media, who in turn transmitted that confidence to the public.
In a matter of days, this single incident tarnished Home Depot’s brand. The company failed to fortify trust with customers during this critical time when customers were acutely focused on its brand.
Clearly, crisis communications plans were not considered from the standpoint of trust. As a result, the costs of these missteps to the brand were completely unnecessary.
Change is hard. Even small changes like finding a new dry cleaner or shifting from 2% to skim milk require mental effort. It’s tempting to stay with your current dry cleaner, even though you’re not happy with their service, because finding a new one forces us to think and try something different, which always conjures up fear.
This reluctance to change, which is at the core of every human, keeps us doing things we don’t really enjoy – and companies know how to exploit this weakness! Consider Comcast and Verizon, how they shower gifts and financial incentives on new customers but treat their existing customers less favorably.
They know us better than we know ourselves. And these companies have built entire marketing organizations based on the principal that people don’t like change.
But there are times when the cost of change becomes advantageous. When something suddenly isn’t working and we need to find a solution. That urgency changes our calculus. Suddenly the cost of change seems cheap and the cost of not changing seems foolishly extravagant.
We start looking for new ways to do something, because we have a need, and that need overrides our behavioral boundaries. Behavior defines us. Our behavioral patterns are a powerful force in our lives. They can keep us on track or drive us to lead horribly unfulfilled lives.
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.
During a crisis, however, all of that psychology shifts to a different working model—a survival-based model in which we are willing to do anything to meet our needs. As a result, we often learn how to do more with less or to adopt new technologies or tools that can meet our needs more efficiently and effectively.
Now, we’ve changed a behavior, which forced us to change the way we think. Suddenly, the former behavior seems cumbersome and outdated and the new method seems overwhelmingly obvious.
If we want to adopt better habits, should we wish for more crises? Possibly.
But I think there’s a different lesson here for creatively minded people. And that is to be prepared for the next crisis. Don’t lose your sense of focus. Remain observant and notice all of the changes happening around you. What types of new technology is being adopted, what types of behaviors and values will become outdated because of this crisis?
These types of questions will help you innovate more constructively. And they will allow you to lead change instead of playing catch up later.
Last week I presented on this topic for the Washington, DC chapter of IABC along with Angela Beatty of Towers Watson. While Angela shared Towers Watson’s research that illuminates best practices for managing change internally, I focused on managing change with customers and the fickle role of trust.
The process of assessing decisions according to their ability to fortify or, alternatively, to erode trust can be instructive for organizations. It’s also remarkably concise and therefore easy to implement right away.
Oftentimes our ability to see things from another person’s perspective is limited—particularly when that other person isn’t in the room to represent their interests. Fortunately, this one sentence diagnostic will quickly improve any change program.
Simply ask: Will this [action/message/strategy] fortify trust with my audience or will it fracture trust? Suddenly, we start to see the ramifications of our decisions. Managers stop talking about how to sell their business goals to an audience, instead they start aligning their strategies with the emotional needs of their audience.
This one-sentence diagnostic enables organizations to incorporate customers in each decision, thereby becoming truly customer centric.
How people experience change
From the perspective of internal change management, we understand that people (employees) don’t like change. When employees are asked to adapt to new situations, many fear failure and embarrassment. The employee’s perspective is: “Will I sink or swim?”
Customer anxiety stems from a very different form fear: powerlessness. Essentially, when a company changes its product or service model, customers fear everything from an increase in cost to an inconvenience or being forced to learn something new. Any change can require additional learning and adaptation for customers, and those inconveniences can erode trust.
The powerful role of empathy
In my view, empathy is on the verge of explosive growth in the business world. I believe it will soon gain legitimacy as an essential aspect of business management, employee engagement, and customer advocacy strategies. Quite simply, in order to assess decisions with this simple trust diagnostic requires empathy. Managers must empathize with employees and employees must learn to empathize with customers.
Once employees understand their customers’ emotional motivations, values, fears, and expectations, then it is possible to anticipate customers’ reactions to any form of change. And, since we already know that people feel particularly vulnerable and fearful during change, we can empathize with their need for clarity and certainty.
Creating a customer experience that truly engenders trust starts here, in the very decisions that lead to the development of tools, services, and communications programs for employees and customers. Each decision point needs to be assessed—empathetically—from the perspective of trust.
Tim O’Reilly, the founder of O’Reilly media and a board member of Code for America recently posted his slides from a TEDx presentation called, Technology and Trust: The Challenge of 21st Century Government. Following are a few noteworthy highlights from his talk that examine the ethical implications of distrust.
“Democracies get their strength from the people’s trust.”
In terms of engagement and participation in government, this concept can be applied to all modern organizations. One area that O’Reilly doesn’t explore is the dependent relationships that exist between trust, engagement, and participation. This virtuous cycle depends on the optimization of all three elements.
He does however make a clear point that participation in government is unnecessarily dismal. He says: 91% of Americans own a cellphone 67% use Facebook, 33% have a tablet, therefore the fact that people have to stand on line to engage with government is obtuse.
It draws to mind the concept of social capital, which Robert Putnam describes as when: “[social] networks and the associated norms of reciprocity have value.”
Therefore, outdated networks (standing on line to engage with government) lose credibility and suppress engagement. As a result, social capital (the willingness of others to freely invest themselves and their time in civic activities) declines. Essentially, the networks themselves are having a deleterious effect on trust in government and society at large.
“Good governance and good policy are now inextricably linked to the digital.” Tom Steinberg.
When we look at the explosive growth in technological capabilities, behaviors, and expectations, it’s really the speed of change that overwhelms both government and established organizations.
Measured in a historical context, the technological revolution of the past decade has potentially outpaced some dimension of human evolution. While one part of society is clamoring for openness and transparency in the name of trust, the other part of society is trying to restore trust by using antiquated processes to satisfy emergent needs.
As a result, outdated organizational models create environments that actively disengage people. By producing shoddy digital experiences that are perceived as second-rate and cheap, government creates the perception of apathy, which is a form of arrogance. The virtuous cycle of trust, engagement, and participation falters.
“The problems with healthcare.gov were made worse by greedy contractors who charged hundreds of millions of dollars (perhaps up to a billion dollars when you count the state exchanges) for a site that many of us in Silicon Valley think could have been done for a few million at most.
In addition to validating Tom Steinberg’s quote above, this example of greed run amok also highlights cultural lessons about morality and honesty.
Dan Ariely is a behavioral researcher and professor at Duke University. In his book, The Honest Truth About Dishonesty, Ariely shows that our ability to do things that are dishonest depend on our ability to rationalize those decisions. For example, if we’re playing a game and everyone around us is cheating, we can rationalize our own decision to cheat, without feeling that our actions are immoral.
We do know what the laws are in principle but what really shapes our decision is what we see around us. And what we find as social proof—reshapes what we see as acceptable and unacceptable by what we see in our social groups and with our friends,” says Ariely
Does this mean that outdated organizational models create environments that encourage dishonesty? When we talk about trust in government and business, we need to consider the ethical implications of an environment that is lacking in trust.
Also referred to as “buyer personas,” a marketing persona is a lifelike representation of your customer or prospective customer and it is derived from marketing research. Marketing research and traditional “branding” activities are rooted in principles from the industrial era, a time when mass marketing and mass consumerism drove organizational design.
Marketing personas are based on marketing research. While these personas make an effort to humanize customers, they are based on a dangerously narrow definition of people as consumers. That approach is becoming increasingly flawed and risky.
Bigger isn’t better
The very paradigm that gave birth to marketing personas, mass marketing, is losing steam. According to Bloomberg news, research from Symphony IRI Group shows that giants in beer manufacturing, the mass market brands, actually saw sales decline by 1.7 percent overall while craft beers grew by 16 percent.
According to research from Booz & Company in the food and beverage industry, sales from small manufactures (those with sales under US $1 billion), outperformed larger, more established manufacturers in 18 of 25 categories.
Potentially more intriguing is the margins and efficiencies of small players that are outperforming their “efficiency-driven” larger competitors. In fact, Godiva chocolate sells for 138 percent more than Hershey’s chocolate.
Trust is essential for brands
Today, brands will either survive or perish because of trust. And trust must be fostered through multiple dimensions of a business’ strategy, communications, culture, and product model.
A company’s marketing function actually does very little to fortify trust, though it can erode trust. This distinction is important because while marketing can harm trust, it has very little opportunity to positively influence trust.
Today, people want more than a great product, they want to buy from and associate with companies they can trust. According to Reputation Institute, UK, customer opinion is not influenced solely by the quality of a company’s products and services.
In fact, perception of product and service quality is only 31 percent of the influence over positive customer sentiment. The lion’s share of influence, a whopping 62 percent, is actually influenced by customers’ overall perception of the parent company.
Essentially, trust in the parent company now supersedes product branding.
To survive, brands will have to spend less time marketing to people and spend more time demonstrating trustworthiness.
Why marketing personas are risky
Quite simply, integrity and trust are not marketing strategies. They are business strategies. To build trust with people, companies must separate their customer strategy from their marketing strategy.
If a company only understands their customers through the narrow lens of marketing, then that company and its employees cannot empathize with customers or anticipate their emotional needs during times of change.
And times of change are the precise moments when trust is either fortified or eroded. When customers feel vulnerable, they will always remember how they were treated. Change is the moment when trust is essential. It is also the one constant in business.
Companies that define their customers through the narrow lens of marketing are woefully unprepared for change. This presents a risk that leaves companies open to attack from competitors – particularly those competitors who don’t view their customers solely as a marketing strategy.
Peter Drucker long ago said that organizations are no longer built on force; they’re built on trust. He went on to clarify his point by saying that trust didn’t necessarily mean that people liked each other or wanted to spend more time together. It simply meant people understood one another
The tricky aspect of trust is that it puts us at risk. We assume risk in the same moment that we choose to trust. Trusting someone isn’t the same as having confidence in them. While we use these terms interchangeably, they are in fact quite different.
Confidence is extended when it’s merited and it is can be objectively measured and quantified. If a baseball player typically hits three out of ten balls, then two different people from different cultures will have approximately the same level of confidence in the batter’s ability.
Trust, however, is far more nebulous and is often interpreted based on cultural assumptions. Even gender will influence perceptions of trustworthiness. Yet, in many respects, trust is far more important than confidence because it encompasses all of our hopes and fears says Jeffry Simpson, a researcher at the University of Minnesota.
Companies, however, still don’t view their employees and customers as people with hopes and fears. They largely view customers as marketing targets and employees as people in need of motivation. That framework is simply not conducive to trust.
The only way to build and sustain trust is through understanding. Therefore, companies must develop tools and processes that illuminate customers’ perceptions of trustworthiness. That requires empathy and not on an interpersonal level but on an organizational level. Empathy must be woven into business processes with the same rigor and formality as ROI.
Steven Covey said that we must seek first to understand, then to be understood. To have any hope of being understood, we must take seriously the pursuit of understanding others. That doesn’t mean that one sales person understands one customer, it means that an entire organization of employees have a shared understanding of their customers’ hopes and fears.
That’s why I build tools that promote understanding. In doing so, I’m really teaching companies how to communicate empathetically and create trust by reducing fear. This is also how authentic relationships are established and maintained, by communicating in a manner that always makes people feel understood. And it’s particularly crucial during a period of turbulence or crisis.
To succeed, companies desperately need tools that promote understanding. We have an entire industry of professionals dedicated to pushing out ideas and products. Now we need the ability to create change from a position of shared agreement.
While the ideals of the recent past were rooted in consumerism; the ideals of today are rooted in purpose. People don’t want to be sold or cajoled, they want to be understood.
Last night I attended a panel discussion at the Washington National Cathedral on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham City Jail.” The panel included U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey; Yale Law professor Stephen L. Carter; American civil rights leader Julian Bond; Washington National Cathedral Dean Gary Hall; and moderator Aspen Institute President and CEO Walter Isaacson.
During the discussion, several themes emerged that not only seemed relevant to my work but actually altered my thinking. As a result, my ideas of yesterday are refashioned this morning with more context and an improved sense of purpose. We often hear the term “living legacy,” and it occurs to me that this is what that term really means. It means that a person’s character can be so powerful that it continues to shape the minds of ordinary people decades into the future.
I’m also aware now of how influenced I am by the times I’m living in. My notes for this very blog post reflect ideas that were shaped by events and personal experiences in the last 10 years or so. In fact, the more recent events have the greatest influence. What I seek to add to my work now is a richer historical context, a deeper intellectual and moral footing, and a sense of timelessness that is more meaningful than any empirical study.
Creative nonviolent tension
At one point in the discussion last night, Walter Isaacson used the term “creative nonviolent tension.” Having worked in creative endeavors throughout my career, I am extremely familiar with the term “creative tension.” The tension, or pressure, reveals a conflict that must be resolved. However, I’ve never heard the word “nonviolent” sandwiched into that term.
According to Isaacson, Martin Luther King used creative nonviolent tension to draw out the silent majority, the silence of his friends, the people who believed in his cause but failed to act.
It’s why King submitted to being jailed in the manner that he did. His objective was to push ordinary people, people like me, out of their comfort zone by making them feel compelled to correct a great injustice.
A small injustice can be overlooked and even a thousand small injustices can be erased from our collective consciousness. But a great injustice strikes at the marrow of our very humanity and keeps us from sleeping. It gnaws at us during the day and steals our peace of mind.
Today, the topic I study, “trust,” has reached a fevered pitch in our society. How do we employ creative nonviolent tension to draw out better values from each individual instead of relying on rules on enforcement? How do companies inspire otherwise apathetic bystanders to give voice to their values and deter small infractions before they grow? It seems to me that this concept has direct relevance to the battles being waged today, because acts of wanton greed don’t occur in a vacuum.
Keeping culture alive
Every business, organization, and family struggles to keep culture alive. Unfortunately, our own culture doesn’t celebrate many of the activities that will sustain it. We are predisposed to prefer future events over the past. Even the study of world wars seems like a dusty occupation. Consciously, we know that remembering the past is the only thing that will keep us from repeating it. And yet, we continue to treat history as something to archive.
Last night’s panel discussion was convened to keep culture alive by igniting a discussion on values and principles that form the fabric of our national identity. But, my biggest lesson about keeping culture alive came from Dr. Eric L. Motley’s blog post on the Aspen Institute website entitled, “The Living Legacy of ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’”. Motley is the managing director at Aspen and his story vividly recalls the first time he read King’s Letter.
It wasn’t in a college history class. No teacher or manager or colleague invited him to read the Letter. Rather it was his own grandfather who handed him a copy of the Letter and then sat patiently while Motley read it out loud. He says this was his family custom, to read things out loud to each other. And I thought: “how remarkable!”
There in the home where he grew up, King’s Letter came back to life through a young boy’s voice and an old man’s patience. Motley says his grandfather cried while he read the letter and that one detail reveals the life words can have, stories can have, when we breathe them back into existence.
To give credence to the past slows down the present. Our pursuits of the moment take a back seat and it’s never really clear when to charge ahead and when to listen to voices from the past. Maybe that’s what leadership really means: to help us oscillate between passionate pursuits of the moment and a heartfelt exploration of the past.
As a mom, I now know that I must find artifacts of significance and breathe them to life in my home with my children, because archiving history is wasteful. Moreover, companies and other organizations must learn more than the power of story, they must learn to keep their culture alive by sharing the experience of culture together in small group discussions. Otherwise, culture will wither and decay.
Over a year ago, I helped a business executive shape her personal Leadership Credo and then I wrote an essay about why each one of us must take the time to crystalize our own principles and values. Credo actually means “I give my heart to,” and a Personal Credo guides us to say and do things that stem from our truest self.
Quite simply, the values we want to see in the world are the values we must live. But we cannot learn to live them by looking out at the world. We must bring them into the world and share them vividly with every one we meet. To find our own credo, we have to listen to our heart, give words to those beliefs, and then breathe life into them every day.
Last night, Walter Isaacson said the word, “values” so many times that I lost count. It was just enough, though, to keep me from listening to the panel through an historical context. Isaacson was actively drawing us out of the past and into the present. He didn’t want history to be archived, either; he wanted the audience to see the living possibilities that come from celebrating values.
Can we characterize this “Letter from Birmingham City Jail,” as King’s personal credo? It certainly clarifies the issues he had given his heart to. And what power comes from the heart! What a great force this letter has to affect ordinary people in their ordinary lives almost 50 years after this man has passed away.
Maybe we’re seeking to fortify trust in society in all the wrong ways. Maybe policy, regulations, and punishment have a finite value in the quest to build a society shaped by ethics and values. Maybe we have to encourage people to live a life they have given their heart to. Could it really be that simple?