How Can I Help?

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

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

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

They key is not the phrasing but understanding the intent.

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

“How can you help?”

Improve the Value of Your Attention

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

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

  • Credibility
  • Reliability
  • Character
  • Intimacy
  • Focus

In formula it would look like:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Attention is the Currency of Relationships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Earn the Right to Answer

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

Have you earned the right to answer?

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

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

So what to do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are your team’s relationships holding you back?

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

IT Team Plan to Improve Organizational Trust With Our Internal Customers

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

It’s all about relationships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Stop Focusing on Yourself!

Do you focus on others or yourself in your relationships?

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

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

What’s your intent?

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

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

Aren’t people always aware of our intent?

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

Sometimes we fool ourselves.

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

Organizational Self Interest

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

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

Friends, colleagues, clients and …

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

Organizational Trust

Evaluating the trustworthiness of organizations

By Gary Heusner with contributions from Leeann Enright

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

Organizational Self Orientation

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

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

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


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


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

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

Credits and sources

Friends, colleagues, clients and …

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


Want a better relationship with your clients?

Then you need to improve your Service Relationship Level!

I recently published a small article on building your trustworthiness.  This is based largely on the readings and then trying to use the readings I had from several great sources.  I have been growing new skills in the areas of business development.  One of the critical ideas shared not only from Maister and Green in Trusted Advisor and Sheth and Sobel in Clients for life, but also through Bill Bartlett owner of Corporate Strategies and Solutions teaching the Sandler method, was the concept of the service relationship level.  It describes what level of service people will actually “buy” from you and how they behave towards you.

You start at a level. You build trust following the concepts like those in Improving your Personal Trustworthiness and by the way you behave and what your client needs, you can move up, or down, a scale that reflects trust and the level of interdependency with your client.  We all have clients at work.  This is not limited to business development with external clients.  I want to share some of these concepts as they are fundamental to understanding service relationships.  I contend most IT teams exist to provide services within companies or to customers, and therefore I see this as widely relevant.


Figure 1: Service Relationship Model


At the bottom of the pyramid is the vendor relationship.  You are a commodity. Here you are selection E5 right next to E4 in the snack machine.  You compete on price.  Quality must be passable, but when people evaluate your nearest competitor they are think you are the same and which service can I get cheaper.

Problem Solver

The problem solver is someone who is known for solving a specific problem.  When you have that problem you are happy to have them around, but when you don’t have that problem you don’t think about them.  Price is less of an issue than quickly making the problem go away.  Imagine you are a newly hired and talented IT professional who solves a requirements gathering problem for a new team.  You will be known as that person even though your real experience is over 10 years in resolving complex service delivery issues for CIO’s.  People will not seek you out for your other skills until you change you behavior.  More on that later.


The consultant is someone who is revered for their thinking across problems.  They tend to ask more why questions and facilitating learning and discussion rather than being the expert with the right answer all the time.  It doesn’t mean they aren’t a problem solver, but rather that they are viewed by their client as someone whose thinking across topics helps them to solve problems.  Most service groups would love to be considered consultants.  They are worth more than problem solvers or vendors.


This is a level of relationship where your client is actually concerned about your business success as well as their own.  Your mutual success is important to both of you.  They provide references, they coach you, and they fight for you internally.  Not necessarily because it’s the right thing to do, or because they have personally taken a shine to you as an individual, but because the perception and performance of you as partners is viewed by others as indivisible. Many relationships will seem like this, but few actually reach this level.

Trusted Partner

Whole books have been written about it.  My favorite example is from a friend, Bob Zimmerman, “You walk in the door and before you can say high, your partner says ‘shut the door and sit down. I have got to talk to you.’ and it doesn’t have anything necessarily to do with business”.  Maister refers to this as the pinnacle of “romance”.  In Clients for life, it is about reaching a breakthrough relationship.  At the end of the day this becomes a deeply personal and caring relationship between both parties.  The amount of trust extended, success and risks overcome are significant for the most durable Trusted Partner relationships.

Can I jump a level?

I’ve asked and I am asked, can you move up or jump a level of relationship.  Yes, up and down is the answer. But it depends on both you and the other person. On your part, you need to act differently. On their part, they need to see you differently and then accept the changes and treat you differently.  You can’t control this by yourself, because it is a relationship.

If someone who is already high on the relationship scale introduces you and speaks on your behalf, you can start at a high level.  After that it is up to you.  Ever wonder why referrals are so valuable?

So how do I grow in the relationship?

You need to change first.  You need to be able to build personal trust.  You need to overcome organizational trust dysfunctions.  You need to behave differently.  And there is a lot to this, but let’s look at just a few things and leave the in depth recount to the aforementioned published experts.

First, you need to make your interactions about the client, not about you. If you need something, you need to expose your intentions clearly. This is probably the hardest thing to think through, as it is hard to shut down our inner voices, focus and then listen actively to other people.

Second, you need to understand who you are dealing with and what they care about. From a high level, say interactions within an IT department for example, here are some concepts based on a typical hierarchical organization.  You create your own map based on who your customers are to see if it helps you to walk a little in their shoes.  This is all part of building understanding and empathy for your client’s situation, so you can behave differently by thinking differently to help build insight into their challenges.

Figure 2: Responsibilities and Concerns within a Hierarchical IT Structure

Spending time in a larger IT organization trying to convince the CIO to buy certain developer tools that offer new code check in procedures is likely to frustrate you both.  So prepare for what they care about, understand them and you will be on better footing to relate and understand the issues they are facing.

Third, you need to act like the level you wish to become.  Each level up can grow on elements of the one below.  However, if you have a partnership and then begin to argue price as the sole determinant of continuing the relationship, you can drop quickly by behaving incorrectly.

  • If you want to be a vendor worry about price and talk about features until you are blue in the face. But if that is your go to market strategy, make the most of it when you have the chance as you can win business. It will be focused mostly on a transaction at a time, unless you can get long term commitments from your bidding.
  • If you want to be a problem solver, be an expert, and offer your opinion and what you see as the obvious solution to the problem. This roles has real value in the right situations.  But balance it against where you want to be in your relationship.
  • If you want to be a consultant, ask why, again and again until you feel you get to really understand the problems.  In addition as a consultant, it is better to explore problems collaboratively, than to take the reins and try to drive the discussion like an expert.  Your insight begins to set you apart.
  • Partners are looking at the business situation together and collaboratively resolving issues with an understanding of what that means for the other.  Mutual sacrifice to preserve the partnership and help it grow is not uncommon.
  • A trusted Advisor worries as much about the person as the professional elements and has earned the right to do so.

Figure 3: Service  Relationship Level Attributes


So when you look at your customers, external and internal, can you see them differently?  I know I have and it has allowed me to focus on the value of relationships to a far greater extent.  I have become better at listening and thinking not so much about the problem as I was trained to do for years, but what the impact would be professionally and personally to my clients. It’s still up to you and me to do the work, but once you understand where your relationships are really at on the pyramid, then you can work to make the changes to improve them.

Credits and References

  • Friends, colleagues, clients and …
  • Bill Bartlett – Owner Corporate Strategies and Solutions,
  • Bob Zimmerman,
  • Green C. H. & Howe A. P. (2012). The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook: A Comprehensive Toolkit for Leading with Trust. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley
  • Maister D., Green C.H. & Galford R.M. (2000). The Trusted Advisor. New York, NY: Free Press
  • J. Sheth & A. Sobel – (2000). Clients for Life. Evolving from an Expert for Hire to an Extraordinary Advisor. New York, NY:  Simon and Schuster



Build your Trustworthiness

Moving beyond credibility and reliability

Every relationship needs to be built on trust.  Professionally I can’t survive without it.  Personally I can’t thrive without it and I would argue I can’t survive either but that begets a long discussion on survival which I will avoid, sorry hair-splitters and nit pickers!

But how do you build real trusted relationships?  I find these core concepts around individual trustworthiness invaluable for self improvement.  Especially as an IT professional, where I’ve spent my life making problem solving a priority over relationships.  But as I work to become a better leader and to provide opportunities for others, I find these concepts have more weight and bearing on success.

From the work of David Maister and Charles Green in their works The Trusted Advisor and later Green’s The Trusted Advisor’s Fieldbook, an individual’s trustworthiness can be equated to the following

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

I contend that the formula actually should include character – the exercise of integrity over time from Gus Lee in his work Courage, but that can be a whole additional post.  It would look like the following.

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

I have presented this concept during several presentations and it is always refreshing to see how engaged people suddenly become as this crystallizes a concept for them.  Let’s look at each of the elements of individual trust building.


Reliability is the easiest component to quantify. Simply put, do what you say you are going to do when you say you are going to do it.   One of my colleagues, Ken Pedersen, has helped introduce valuable language around making and honoring commitments.  He explains we often end up in situations where we have commitments, best efforts and good intentions.  A commitment is something we do come heck or high water ‘I’ll get it done, no matter what’ and is vital and in our power to execute upon.  A best effort falls a little short of that, ‘It’s important;  I will do my best to get to it’ where maybe it is not as critical. And then good intentions where we don’t have complete control even though it may be really important ‘I strive, -but I don’t control the outcome’.


Are you qualified?  When working in software development do you have the education, approaches and track record to be credible to people? It is the area we most often work on as professionals by taking that course, this certification or working hard to build our track record and best practices.  This is also relatively easy to quantify so people gravitate to it.


This is not about physical intimacy but more about being a whole person and sharing of yourself, so that others will share with you. We have to risk and be vulnerable to build trust.  I like to use the Pinocchio analogy that we can often be wooden and not sharing of ourselves at work. This is off putting for people to get to know us and thereby share themselves.  Instead, I make the effort to be a ‘whole person’ as opposed to a ‘pure professional’ or to carry the analogy to conclusion, a real boy instead of a wooden one. It’s a risk we need to take in each new relationship.


I’ve introduced character to call it out specifically, though Maister and Green may have included this in credibility.  From Gus Lee, character is defined as integrity defended over time.  For me this is crucial to allow you to build up the good will you engender with people.  Without integrity you are never able to build good will that is enduring.  Integrity inconsistently defended seriously undermines your efforts while evidence of character can help correct for temporary imbalances in other areas.

Self Orientation

Self Orientation is the ultimate divisor of trust.  Everything we do in interacting with people can be undone if we are doing it for ourselves. We need to focus on others not ourselves in order to promote trust.  Even the most benevolent act is devalued if it is done for egotistical or selfish purposes.  As someone learning about business development this was a huge eye opener about how important something was to me, could shape and then derail my relationships and best efforts.

If you can focus on these areas in self reflection and then build a plan of action, you can build trust and even recoup trust.

Warning! You can’t fake it!

Make sure you understand your motivations for what you are doing and why; even why you are suddenly interested in building trust.  When in doubt as to your intent, if you are self aware enough (I keep trying. Luckily, I’ve been told it is a journey not a destination.) expose your motivations and intent.  This will engender honest and open engagement and allow you to work with other people to build trust even when you feel something is really important to you and maybe not the other person.

In my next post I want to explore a twist on this concept, Organizational Trust and the ramifications for IT organizations.

Credits and References

Friends, colleagues, clients and …

  • Ken Pedersen, COO Geneca and much more
  • Green C. H. & Howe A. P. (2012). The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook: A Comprehensive Toolkit for Leading with Trust. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley
  • Maister D., Green C.H. & Galford R.M. (2000). The Trusted Advisor. New York, NY: Free Press
  • Lee G. & Elliot-Lee D. (2006). Courage the backbone of leadership. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass