The Year of Trust Building

When I work with senior executives, it's a challenge to obtain deep levels of openness.  Most of them (like my father, retired) are trained through the years to shield their thoughts and feelings.

Reveal no weakness.

All of society is accelerating blindly into an era of consequential unpredictability.  The scale of disruption should lead most of us to an obvious conclusion.  No (one) executive can do this alone.

Innovation is creating magical machines from the quantum scale to the massive, inventing amazing breakthroughs which will displace millions of jobs, and enabling personal freedom and surveillance tyranny.

“Dark and difficult times lie ahead.  Soon we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.”   — Albus Dumbledore

Executives have always had to balance a range of stakeholder interests in decision-making, allocating resources, and prioritizing strategic initiatives.  2019's environment is unprecedented, and a valid KPI dashboard will show numerous opportunities and warning signs.

Global "movements" opening amazing opportunity and exposing great risk include:

  • artificial intelligence
  • deep machine learning
  • neural networks
  • automation
  • 3D / additive manufacturing
  • cyber operations
  • blockchain
  • nanotechnology
  • DNA manipulation
  • hypersonic vehicles
  • space exploration

The implications in these movements is far beyond one person's understanding.

Fundamental changes are happening so fast, the degrees of separation between a curious novice and a field expert is wide.  One obvious implication... dramatically increased business risk.

The most important implication... you need to build unbreakable units.

The idea of a single leader at the top of:  (a) a division; (b) a plant; (c) a product line; or (d) a corporation being all wise is now absurd.  To challenge my confirmation bias, I seek external feedback on my customers and prospects.

The Edelman Trust Barometer, and the recently published book Thinking the Unthinkable are recent choices.

The globally respected Edelman Trust Barometer has been published since 2001.  The chart below summarizes their findings each year.  Serious executives... note 2017 and 2018.

How can anyone operate in an environment with low trust and broken truth?

The authors of Unthinkable spent years probing the concerns of CEOs.  One key finding... CEOs are scared shitless (my words, they are British after all).

News flash:  the Barbarians aren’t at the gate, they’re inside and outside your company.

The explanation for our predicament is astonishingly simple.  For years, the world of business has been decimating their "most valuable" asset.  Not with an intent to harm, but with a failure to acknowledge the cumulative effects of so much change.

Globalization, mergers and acquisitions, world-wide networks, distributed workforces, "social" media, and numerous other macro trends have contributed to a catastrophic separation of people.  Technology has substituted for human bonding and connection.

If you find this hard to grasp, just do a simple comparison of the time you spend, dependent on technology, today to 20 years ago.  The pie chart of daily life has literally been consumed by tech.

This post is not a case against technology.  It is a post to help you scale or "force multiply" the effectiveness of your people.  Technology has two sides to its powerful blade.  It will continue to dominate more of our lives.  The familiar side of the technology blade is compelling, scalable, powerful, productive, and addictive.

Isolation, suicide rates, chemical addiction, mental health conditions, technology addiction, social media, political polarization, and mass shootings have all been by-products of technology's displacement of our human connections.  This side of the technology blade understandably doesn't get discussed.  It's ugly and painful.

If all business solutions are built upon the 3-legged "stool" of (1) people; (2) processes; and (3) technology, the human leg has been neglected, while the technology leg has shot through the ceiling and floor, and processes once designed by cross-functional teams of humans over months will soon be optimized and re-written by computers in a language no human can read in a matter of seconds.

Before we solve this problem, let's be honest... executives are struggling how.

Overlaying the trajectory of the Edelman barometer with the trajectory of technology, success is going to be a monumental challenge given the divergence.  The only curve above that can be influenced is trust.

Make 2019 the Year of Trust Building

A radical suggestion is for you to "donate" 50% of your time to your business, including:

  • on the shop floor / operations / field offices of their divisions
  • directly engaging with customers and partners
  • engaged with competitors to align and elevate mutual expertise, and possibly interests
  • learning from trusted advisors under programs where your joint success is contracted

This may be outside your comfort zone.  But there are three strategies behind doing so.

  1. Executives need to listen directly to their people at every level, eliminate their filters
  2. A culture of open, direct dialog is the life blood of a 2019 disruption
  3. All levels of the company need to witness this deep engagement by management

All of these suggestions are must-have in 2019, as they reflect a connection to the employees.  This will do nothing for real trust, which requires deeper personal interaction.  But, it produces a positive vector for improvement inertia.

Trust as metaphor... is a strong foundation to a lasting edifice.  Any business endeavor pursued without a foundation of trust will ultimately fail.  When true trust is the precursor to great endeavors, your people will produce Herculean results.  Like the Greeks, who built the Parthenon atop the Acropolis, a known earthquake risk, they elevated their engineering to design a building to challenge the power of the Gods and Mother Nature.  2,500 years later, their testament still stands.  Talk about a legacy.

We desperately need to reconnect.  The ROI on high trust productivity is unrivaled.

For those of us who have survived M&A, reorganizations, transformations, layoffs, and other career/life disruptions, we've lived through the devastation in low trust environments.  Human nature explains every bit of it.  We call it the WAM (what about me) syndrome.

Like never before, leadership is NOT about you.  Leadership is the positive inertia of a UNIT.  Our retired special forces teammates think in terms of mission, victory, focus, and unbreakable bonds.  Do you?

Plato said, “you can learn more about a person in an hour of play than a year of conversation.”

Reminder:  Plato was a mentor to Alexander the Great.

A real world unit is unbreakable, undeterred, unstoppable, and selfless.  If you’ve never experienced it, my condolences. It’s powerful.  Life doesn’t feel like work.  You believe you can achieve anything.  So you can.

The Special Forces veterans call it a force multiplier.

If you want force multiplied units of executives, believing in their ability to accomplish anything, you need to start with human connection.

An unrivaled means of building trust exists.  It isn't easy.  It demands humility, and selfless action.

Trust will not germinate in a classroom.  It cannot be built by listening to an expert or reading their book.  It must be earned through witnessed, consequential actions in the field, solving problems together, under duress.

Having worked directly with Special Forces personnel on matters of personal safety and survival, I've developed an appreciation for the unique lens through which they learned how to adapt to life.  Experiential training, which they almost took for granted, prepared them for anything... until they transitioned back to a US corporation.

Why are they so bonded to their units?  It's not what you think... combat, the horrors of war.  No, it's how they spent time preparing for battle that built their bonds.

Together.  Connected.  Committed to each other.


Where victory is celebrated... like family, not co-workers.

Make 2019 your Year of Trust Building, and build an unbreakable edifice to stand the test of time.


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