Trust and the human condition
To some degree we can be successful in a challenging environment but it’s often hit or miss, and a lot of hard work, and frankly, I’d rather not expend that kind of energy if I don’t have to.
The following vignettes are drawn from life experience and describe six working scenarios. The vignettes describe the challenges that work against trust and how I managed them, for good or ill.
You make up your mind.
My first introduction to the cosmetic business was a bit of a surprise.
It was a retail business in rapid growth with a managing director I couldn’t decide I liked or feared, or whether I was just fascinated. In the end fascination rose to the top and I began to respect her for making decisions where none would, and for having ideas and “wanting them now”.
She was, in turn, always respectful. Where others struggled I warmed to her management style and looked forward to the Monday huddle.
She always came prepared. She always had a list. She always was on top of her game. Her directions were simple, and short, and she left you to figure out the rest. And, she gave feedback. Who could ask for more?
The only other time we heard from her was if we hadn’t met her deadline. Generally it wasn’t pretty at that point so we firmly limited that eventuality.
I remember her for saying “are you ready, you should be by now”, and “what other options did you look at” and “does everyone agree?.”
Yes, there was a pretty large sword of Damocles hanging over our heads but she was concerned about how we worked together and the working process. And, in the end she respected what we said and what we recommended.
When we did the right thing we knew it!
Good job team.
“The minute you settle for less than you deserve,
you get even less than you settled for.”
I sat down in his office and put my 90 day plan on the table and he said “before we get in that let’s talk about how you see yourself fitting…I want to make sure you get the right start in the department.”
How often have you had a boss say that to you?
How often has your boss expressed some form of concern for your success and well-being? Fit doesn’t happen by itself. Success is work.
The good news is that for the most part I’ve worked for individuals who believed in their team, believed in how the team functioned together, and understood the value of alignment. Team Alignment enables teams of all types, at every level of the organization, to rapidly accelerate performance, deliver consistently higher business results, and work together as unified, self-directed entities.
The leadership of most companies talk about it but, in practice, it seems to be largely missing.
In this particular situation it was recognized that I was highly independent and could work with little direction. And I did. He was happy. So was his boss. We trusted each other and all was right with the world.
But with all good things comes change. That change was fairly radical and took the form of a new SVP.
You’ve all been there – that first team meeting and the troubling sense that life would never be the same. Anxiety descends upon the floor. Ambiguity replaces clarity. Trust flees.
Needless to say it was time to make a change. First my boss did, and then I and others followed.
In the end she pushed herself out.
“I’m working with two speeds today;
slow and fuck you. Which one do you want?”
I went to work for this company because I perceived a tremendous potential for the company based on reported marketing investment. I engaged friends to introduce me into the company and the VP of marketing.
Over a six month period I interviewed with more than 15 people, and for more than four roles and opportunities. Feedback was always the same – “we were really impressed by your background but we are just finalizing the department structure and can’t move forward right now”.
I was still wanted to be there!
Finally my hire was confirmed for a long term analytics contract. The confirmation came indirectly and in what I was soon to learn was the style of my manager, the VP of marketing.
Trust would never develop on this ground.
My relationship with her was built on benign neglect. I was irrelevant unless needed. Initially I took this personally. Don’t we all want to believe we are at the center of the universe sometimes?
There were insiders and outsiders in the marketing department. The insiders heard the news first, got to discuss the direction of the department and gossiped about those they perceived as having a weakness. And, you just live with it. I was just a contractor and didn’t have a chance.
In some respects this made my work easier because her focus was always on the task and the immediate deadline. Help couldn’t be expected but the good news was that I rarely needed it. If you delivered to deadline there were never any challenges.
As time passed and as I was entering my 3rd year with the company I saw very little of her. Status reports were sent; feedback was given; new projects came; results were delivered and presentations made. The numbers were very solid and well received by the executive leadership.
But neglect, however benign, does take its toll even if you are doing a good job. Indifference follows and then it’s definitely time to move on because self-destruction sets in.
“You know, I used to think it was benign neglect, but now
I see that you are intentionally screwing me.”
The first sign –
I was walking from the Penn State Smeal School of Business with the President of the company to the parking lot when he paused and turned to me saying:
“you shouldn’t trust me…you really shouldn’t…I’m not a very nice person”.
I paused, tried to be polite, smiled weakly and said something about not believing him.
We continued our walk, got into our mutual cars and went on our way.
Those 13 words resounded in my ears and screamed – ‘Get out!’
The second sign –
Just after I started with the company I presented to my boss a schedule for touchbase meetings and marketing finance reviews. He said it was too much. He then said:
“you and I don’t need to meet very often when something is wrong I’ll find you…”.
Getting out was doubly reinforced.
Trust in a job is a fundamental. And we all learn from various small signs to not trust. This was definitely one of them and only into my first 60 days.
My work carried on. I met deadlines, worked within impossible budgets and worked diligently behind the scenes to find another job.
On the positive side there were two senior managers I reported into and who I have kept touch with to this day. The heads of product development and EMEA marketing.
Both looked for value and added value to the working lives of the people around them. Both are now working for ‘A’ list companies and are in ‘A’ list roles today.
They deserve it! I’m honored to know them.
I’m sick of giving creeps money off my soul.”
I’ve always moved from job to job because I’ve known someone.
Through a referral I was introduced to the head of omnichannel. I’d heard good things and thought this would be a tremendous opportunity.
A mentor once told me : “In an interview process we learn 30% about and opportunity. The balance is either a terrible or wonderful surprise.”
On the one hand I was able to practice some of the more sophisticated CRM strategies I had in my kit and on the other I was able to watch up close a boss who was so totally unlike me as to be incomprehensible.
His starting point was always “I have an idea…, or meet you in the meeting room…” The challenge was that it was typically the day before whatever we were working on was due.
I come from a world of pre planning. I’ve been very well trained. I had terrific mentors. I’ve worked for big companies that believe in minimizing risk. Direct marketers do this extremely well. The time line drives everything and those timelines are sometimes very long.
I was entering new territory here — a world of hyper last minute.
My biggest challenge was trying to determine if we were working together. Alignment is very powerful and critically important for a successful executive leadership team. Some days, as I would stand in my boss’s office drawing org. charts, or discussing goals and objectives, I would think I’m supported, valued and trusted. The feeling looked mutual in those instances.
At other times I would see his self-interest in his own agenda emerge. At those times I would be thrown under the bus. The good news is that I did, for the most part, see it coming and could struggle with evasive actions. But there wasn’t a lot of trust.
This went on for 4 or more years. The ideas and the frantic pace continued.
In the end his self-interest won and trust went out the window as he sought to protect his acolytes. I had been recruited out by that point and was able to watch with some neutrality as the department imploded.
Does trust exist where trust is fleeting?
“I’m not upset that you lied to me,
I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.”
I was fascinated by the intersection of entertainment, marketing and personality. The work was easy, the organization less so.
The witty repartee that I was introduced to ran in parallel with strategic conversations and planning meetings. It was a heady mix. But what was most fascinating was the shining political acuity.
“Let’s see what we can do…” was a frequent starting point. He was never really about producing work himself but he was good at keeping the priorities straight and managing up. The operations teams viewed him as a hothouse specimen but he was tolerated and sometimes respected.
But it was still the trust problem.
I’d learned from my history. I worked at building commonality, shared intent, and a high level of comfort in order to support a high level of mutual trust. But the mutual part never happened.
I was expendable. So was my team. They knew it.
So I thought that if I delivered outstanding work, quickly, that this would mitigate the expendability problem. It looked like it did for a while but it was just an illusion. While he said “great work” what he really meant was don’t lose me any points.
It was just as well that the project ended.
“Truth is beautiful, without doubt; and so are lies.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Work is all about trust in my view.
Building it. Maintaining it. Adapting it to changing circumstances.
Trust is what keeps you at the job, generates the most rewarding collaborations, and delivers the highest level of innovation.
And trust will not exist when there is no trust at the top – the president, your boss, the COO. If your boss is a no trust kind of guy you are, to some degree, sunk before you get into the boat. Yes, sometimes you’ll manage through, but frankly, that’s just because you’ve been lucky.
Or, maybe you are both not trustworthy and you both manage to get along just fine.