Posts Tagged ‘relationship building’

TrustTrust. I know it’s kind of a tricky word to begin with. Trust can have many different meanings to many different people. The dictionary definition is: firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.

Back to our opening salvo: Why should they trust you? The answer is that if they don’t know you there is no reason for them to trust you. Why not? I’m going to grab onto two of the words in the definition of trust here: reliability and ability. If they have no knowledge of your ability or reliability they have no way to judge your trustworthiness.

Think about when you say “I trust she’ll get it done” whether at work or in your personal life. What are you basing that on? You’re probably basing that on experience. Positive experiences to be precise because we know that negative experiences bring distrust.

Trust we know is the foundation of a good relationship. And good relationships are the key achieving great things. When trust exists in a relationship people will allow you to act in ways that would not otherwise be allowed, and they may follow guidance they otherwise may not. It can mean the difference between getting lip service or feelings of coercion and getting well-intentioned investment. So how are you going to build trust?

Essentially you need to prove yourself. A good reference can get you in the door but only trust will keep you there.

But how do I provide good experiences if they don’t trust me with the opportunity? An age-old conundrum, for sure. Well, there are ways to open the door. Here are a couple thoughts.

• Start with education or coaching before asking them to do work or asking for work. Take in the environment and the context. What are some of the activities you foresee? Based on these, introduce concepts that open the door to the knowledge around these activities. Provide illustrations and anecdotes about how they work elsewhere. What this does is begin to establish a link between your knowledge and the ability you want them to trust you with.

• Give without expectation. Find a problem that they need solved that you think you can help them with. This problem may or may not have anything to do with your mission to help them, in fact the benefit to it not being related is that it eases feelings that an agenda is being pursued. The goal is to demonstrate ability. Keep your eyes and ears open. When you find something make an offer to do some research or an analysis.

• Show that you’re listening. Pay attention to dialogs that are occurring. Look for topics where you might be able to provide insight, especially those not tied to your mission. Look for topics where you may be able to refer them to someone with knowledge or insight. This provides glimpses into your knowledge and experience and also shows good will. Needless to say that piping in about everything might back fire when you end up looking like a know it all. So step gently.

• Common ground. Look for places where your experience and their experience overlap. This will undoubtedly happen. Highlight a few where you can tie back to education and concepts. Everything in moderation, of course.
• Be human. You have a personality. So do they. You have a personal life. So do they. Acknowledge that. Inquire. Share. It’s the little things.

• Deliver. Do what you say you will do. It doesn’t get any simpler. Delivery builds trust. Non-delivery destroys it.

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It’s so easy to get caught in the trap of focusing all out energy on the team members who we are asking to change. They’re on the front line. If they’re not engaged and bought in, nothing happens.

We tend to give managers a pass as long as they consent to the project or mission of change. In fact sometimes we like it if they consent and then go away. Life is easier that way, at least until management balks at the proposed change or doesn’t get it.  Then that’s not so great. It’s actually quite frustrating.

So we need to address the obstacles of management as much as the obstacles of the team. We need to have an approach with them as well.

Again, the context and the environment will obviously need to be assessed. Let’s look at a couple familiar things we can do.

Strengthen Relationship with Managers

Managers are often stretched thin and will have limited time to work with you. Do you already have a relationship with management? If so, that’s a bonus. If not, you need to begin to build some bonds.

I like to start by telling them what I think I am going to be doing. This is especially important if they didn’t ask for your help. Set the expectations. And then expand the expectations and tell them what I think they are going to be doing. They might disagree. That’s OK. Time for some negotiation. Dialog around the expectations can be a good way to increase understanding of the process.

Then I shoot for some education. Here’s what we’re going to do and why. I don’t want them to just nod in understanding. I want them to regurgitate the ideas and concepts. Then I want them to explain it to the team so the bond between them, the team and me is strengthened.

Communicate and Continue Education

Communicating often to management on progress is important. Find as much one-on-one times as possible. Unfortunately, the project update seems to be the only exposure you have to them.  Take advantage of it.

I’ve found that bland project updates on tasks and milestones, while necessary, leave so much opportunity for improved understanding on the table.

Keep educating. There is so much more to learn as you get deeper and deeper into a project, the nuances and detail that drill down beyond the high level concepts.

Take your status update and make it an education tool. We completed this task. This task is important because we learned this and sets us up to do that in line with this concept and goal.

For example, we put in data collection around A, which allows us to track B which allows us to trend C which allows us to make better decisions on D. We‘ve created a feedback loop that allows us to become a learning organization. This allows us to go on to the next task. Badda bing! We’ve expanded and reinforced understanding.

Remember, change is about education. Education for everyone.

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Convincing people that things need to change is hard. Convincing them that change is good is harder. Convincing them that they should actively pursue change is hardest of all.

There are so many good methods and techniques and tools for pursuing change. They are, however, of limited value if you can’t get your team to take the change steps willingly.

It comes back to trust. And this time it is two kinds of trust.  The trust that they place in you and the trust they place in themselves.

Trust can be built in many ways. One way to build trust is by giving without expecting. For example, if I am working with a team I make sure to understand the people, the process and the current environment. I learn about things related to what I am there to help with and but I also learn about unrelated things and general conditions. I look for things that they are struggling with and I try to find a way give them something to help.

Perhaps a contact to reporting resource. Hey, I think Bob might have data on that topic. Or a link to an article on how people are dealing with a customer service problem. Or maybe I take some of their data and do an analysis and create a chart that says hey look I noticed this trend you might be interested in.

Just give it to them. Don’t belabor it. Let them take from it what they will. That’s it. You can do this for the manager. You can do it for a team member.

Here’s what that just accomplished. You showed them you are paying attention. You gave them some of your expertise without asking for anything. You’ve demonstrated your capabilities.

This might sound disingenuous but it’s not. It is good human relations. When building a relationship with a friend you do things for them you think they would like. It makes you feel good to do this. You get a serotonin boost. It makes them feel good. They get a serotonin boost.  You don’t ask for anything in return. You’re trying to build a bond. The bond is what you are getting in return.

And it’s not disingenuous because everyone knows you are there to get things done so no one is going to be surprised when you finally ask them to get involved.

Then there is the trust they have in themselves. You can help them with that. Because the more trust they have in themselves the less daunting the challenges of change will be.

Find out what their skills and capabilities are. Illustrate to them how those will translate to even unknown future tasks.

And if you find out they might be missing a key skill, then do what you can to help them acquire it. Provide education, examples, practical application. Build their knowledge, build their confidence, build their trust in themselves.

When in doubt, lend a hand.

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Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a change agent?

The Secret in Secret Change Agent

Is a change agent a job or is it a role? Do we approach change management as a project or is a project endowed with change management?

A true secret change agent has a secret mission.  Except that it’s not a secret.  Anyone can manage a project that will change the organization.  The change may be as small as verbiage on a letter template or as sweeping as shutting down a department.  But without a secret mission, it’s just another disruption to the team members. The role of a secret change agent is to transform every project into something greater by becoming part of the team, by building trust with them so you can promote change from the inside. You are doing the project with them, not to them.

So what is your mission, should you choose to accept it?   

The key difference between a Secret Change Agent and your run-of-the-mill process engineer is the mission.  And the mission is to change the culture.  It doesn’t need to start as radical change – we’re not talking “smash the state” kind of culture change.  Think of it more along the lines of “gradual enlightenment”.   With every problem identified, the organization has an opportunity to grow.   Our reflex may be to slap a band-aid on the problem and desperately hope the blemish never shows its ugly face again.  But the opportunity presented is one of learning.  It’s not just about solving the problem, but rather about furthering a problem-solving culture.

I love it when a plan comes together

Every secret mission needs a good plan. Your job is to look at the project and the secret mission and figure out what lessons can be learned about problem-solving. It could be one simple process method. It could be a set of tools to use. It could be feedback loops. You could even be planting seeds for future learning. And as always assess the current capabilities and understanding of the team members. Your job is to set them up to succeed in the learning because that feels good, creates a sense of achievement that they’ll want to repeat.

So bring the people in 

By involving the people who live the problem, hopefully the people who identified the problem in the first place, you are taking the first step toward an inclusive learning culture.  People are always sensitive about projects and change so it’s your job to bring the right attitude. It’s your job to guide them not drag them. Take time to understand both the people and the process. Then make an effort to let them know you understand. They’ll appreciate that and you’ll build the trust necessary to move farther and farther ahead.

Today’s blog was a fun collaboration with Megan O’Neal. Megan is seasoned business engineer from Minneapolis. Thanks Megan.