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, billb@corporatestrategies-il.com
  • Bob Zimmerman, www.gettingpredictable.com
  • 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

Multitasking Cripples our Effectiveness

What used to be seen as an advantage is actually limiting our capabilities

In meetings all over we see the distracted individual who is listening and checking quick notes or messages on a digital device. I know I do it from time to time. People tout their ability to perform multiple tasks and get more done in less time. I remember it being a badge of honor! But all research into the subject shows the opposite. In fact our brains are not wired to be able to make clear decisions while multi-tasking nor effectively process information when we selectively attend to tasks.

Why do we do it? The research points to the fact that we actually get a burst of dopamine in the brain when we quickly respond to messages. We are looking for good news. Something that says we are making progress and in control. But while physically this is what happens in fact our control, the quality of our thinking and our contributions are slowly being diminished as we lose the able to focus and concentrate.

As a senior IT leader and especially as an IT consultant I know I need to be able to listen intently to verbal and nonverbal queues. I need to silence the inner voices and participate collaboratively with my clients for more than a 30 second conversation. As I work to become a real partner if not a trusted advisor, I know I need to become excellent in these capabilities. I think we must avoid the multi-tasking trap.

So can we examine our own ability to focus concentrate and listen in our meetings? Can we make our meetings a chance to develop new capabilities and to contribute? If we are rushed to attack a critical solution during our meetings can we have everyone in the meeting collectively take a couple of moments of quiet to center ourselves and quiet the inner voices. Would we agree to close our devices and make them silent? Even for note taking?

We can focus better, add more value and deepen our relationships at work if we are able to avoid the multitasking trap.

Sources: (Just a few of many I found in very little time with a simple google)

What We Do Matters

The Age Old Question of What Makes People Happy is Alive and Well in the Workplace

People are changing jobs within the information technology field at a rate not seen since the dot com boom and Y2K phenomenon of the late ’90’s.  Perhaps one factor in this trend is that more people are thinking about the value of their jobs beyond the workplace and, unfortunately, age old reward systems are simply not providing fulfilling answers.  In many cases, traditional reward systems are not enough to keep people happy.

 Understanding the Purpose and Impact of Our Working Lives

Because we spend a lot of time at work, most of us need to understand how our work provides value.   (As I will explain later, an element of this is about the impact we make and the reach that impact has in the world.)

The first thing we need to understand is that we are all connected.  The work we do matters.  Our actions ripple outside the walls of our offices and conference rooms.   Once we understand this, it can be a source for inspiration and, by extension, our work (even the more mundane activities) becomes uplifting rather than draining.

Knowing that our work has value enriches us once we understand the connections.  But sometimes we cannot see the value of our actions or the impact we have in the world.  Maybe we were never shown.  Maybe it is not obvious.  In an environment where someone writing a piece of software for their organization can literally impact millions, you have to wonder how we cannot see it?  But, I would contend that this blindness is endemic within the working world and many managers don’t see the importance of communicating this message.

Communicating Value

Ok, I understand that sounds like another ivory tower proclamation.  So let me put a real world example forward.  A team of people (contracted through consulting company A contracted through consulting company B via individual contracts on an H1-B visas) are assembled to support a software development initiative in Healthcare.  The work is break/fix and small enhancement work that will be given to them a drip at a time. The team gets no big picture understanding of the grandiose initiative.  But, they accept their work. They show up on time. Within the context of their narrow perspective, how do they prove their value?  Typically, by being the best they can be at the technical tasks in front of them.   (Thank goodness for cultures that support hard work or this would easily turn to chaos soup about half way through day two.)

Now imagine this same group assembled the same way.  But instead of being told they are being hired as software developers for break/fix work, they are told they are working on a major Healthcare initiative that will improve the lives of tens of thousands of people by making it easier to use their Healthcare benefits.  For example, their work will help the overstressed mom in the emergency room to receive the care she needs for her fevered 3-month old daughter without a call to a benefits help desk. Or maybe they will help a man who has just been told that his wife has a serious illness by allowing him to focus on helping his wife instead of arguing with his Healthcare company about a Declaration of Benefits statement.

Wouldn’t this be worth putting in a few hours each day in the life of the average IT professional? What if you kept a scorecard on the number of problems removed?  I think it would be very powerful and give the team renewed perspective on their personal impact.  (Especially if another company calls with an offer for more “exciting” or “valuable” assignment).

But our value in the workplace goes even further. While most of us understand the value of our jobs for our own families, what about the impact we have on our coworkers and their families? (Some great insight on this is Three Signs of a Miserable Job by  Patrick Lencioni).    Do you ever think about how you  affect a co-worker’s ability to  send their  children to college?  What about the families of your clients or our clients’ customers? The events of the recent recession have pointed to how tightly connected we are and how the ripple effects of a small group of peoples’ actions can affect huge numbers of people, positively as well as negatively.

People Want to Do Their Work and Go Home, Right?  Nope.

Positive Psychology is the study of happiness.   Over the past 35 years  this research has given us  tenants that can be applied to the workplace to enable employees to feel connected, have autonomy, pursue mastery and work towards a find meaning beyond self benefit.

So how do we address the challenges of workplace turnover? How do we get engagement from employees and make them happier?  Maybe one answer lies in getting a new perspective about what we do and its ripple effects. Start by communicating how our work adds value to co-workers and the world beyond. What we do matters when we understand our impact and the reach we actually have to make a difference from the work we do.

Reference material in addition to the inspiration of my colleagues and clients:

About the Author:

Mr. Heusner has over 16 years experience in all aspects of software development and technology leadership.  He has successfully led software development teams from multiple industries in startups, midsize companies and the Fortune 1000.  Currently, Mr. Heusner is a Client Partner at the Chicago-based custom software development firm Geneca, and plays an instrumental role in the adoption and success of Geneca’s unique Getting PredictableSMb best practices.

Special credit to Jessica Chipkin for her assistance in editing and helping me to be a better blogger!

Increase Your Job Satisfaction all by Yourself

Finding the simple way to evaluate your daily progress

I’ve recently spent time helping people to understand how they add value in the work that they do for a living. Not from an impact point of view, but how do they know that they are doing the right things and making progress. In Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi ‘s book flow he identified that if people are to pursue mastery in their work it is imperative for people to have clear goals and feedback on their progress.

However most people haven’t even ever really been able to implement crisp goals, measure and then stick to them. We want feedback but are rarely able to get all of the feedback we require and each person’s needs are different at different times. But what if there was a small step you could take? Such as creating a system of self measurement to fill the echoing silence of the feedback we crave from others.

Ok, before you stop reading because you think this is another goal setting idea, let me explain. Most jobs people perform are done in large groups. The roles to be performed are often smaller portions of very large types of work. One person doesn’t build and maintain enterprise ERP system by themselves. And one person does not build and manage a fortune 500 company’s web presence as a solo act.

So maybe you help a group do things. How do you know you are doing the right things? What the heck do you measure at the end of the day that tells you you’re on the right path when these systems are always evolving? The How do you know to go on home knowing you’ve done A+ work and can relax after a job well done?

Each role in a work environment has something to measure. But what’s important? To add a wrinkle, what about jobs where you are not sure how to measure your progress, like management?

Measurements must be concrete available daily or at least weekly and must have value to the organization and why it exists.

If you can sit back for a minute and review what you do, you will find outcomes you can measure. Ask yourself, what would they do without you? Most businesses have been pared down and no longer have redundancy. If they do it is often short lived. If you don’t produce something maybe you earn something with a customer? Customers can be internal or external.

Thought of a few things? Go ahead I’ll wait. Now if you have one or two things or even nine, can you write them down? Can you group them? At the end of a workday could you tally a score? If so you have a start. Over time you can look at the value of what you are measuring.

But what if you are still having problems? Here are some additional examples. In customer service, how often did someone say “Thank you!”? In sales how many times did you add value for someone in your network today? In management, how many people did you make happier even a little bit today? Or how many roadblocks did you remove?

With simple measures, all you need to do is reflect for a few minutes at the end of every day to see your progress. Then adjust, self correct and see what you can do tomorrow. Over time these simple daily scorecards can be additive to other more formal scorecard and goal concepts, but it is such a low barrier to entry to start to track your activity and to give you immediate feedback. Once you know you won’t have to wait for that random pat on the back from someone else to tell you how productive you’ve been.

Credit goes to colleagues, clients and…

Mihaly CsikszentmihalyiFlow – 1991 Harper

Patrick Lencioni – Three Signs of a Miserable Job – 2007 Josey Bass