Broken trustA long time ago I worked for a guy who talked a great game. He talked about a workplace with great culture…about transparency and trust…about being the kind of place the best and brightest wanted to work.

That’s what he said. But he rarely delivered.

Once every couple of weeks he would make the rounds, sticking his head into everyone’s office. “How is everything?” He would awkwardly linger making small-talk for what his keen intuition must have told him was long enough to communicate serious interest, and then he’d muster his best managerial-tone; “Well, if there’s ever anything I can do to help you, just let me know.”

Few took him at his word more than once. It didn’t take long to recognize that the offer — indeed, his entire approach to management — was empty talk. Scripted leadership. And juxtaposed to the reality we knew.

Once in response I mentioned that the flimsy chair I’d been using for a year or so didn’t support my back; and, if there was any possibility, I’d appreciate an upgrade.

For twenty-four more months he continued making his rounds. But I never heard a word about the chair.

Saying It Does Not Make It So

Whenever the two are not aligned, the experience delivered will always be more eloquent and resonant than anything we say.

Client-centered, a commitment to value, the pursuit of diversity, transparency — we might create compelling prose around any number of issues and ideas; but to an audience oft burned, it is going to take something more than words to break through the cynicism.

The same is true inside the organization.

Years ago a friend told the story of being responsible for the fiscal health of a growing partnership. In the course of reconciling expenses he detected and eventually confirmed that someone was raiding the firm’s snack closest. Specifically, chewing gum was being consumed at an impossible rate — enough Juicy Fruit to stock an entire little league team was being lifted.

My friend’s solution was to lock the snack closet, requiring every employee to ask for the key, thereby intimidating anyone taking more than a reasonable share of any item.

The glitch in this solution came when the senior and founding partner of the firm responded to the cost-saving strategy with something less than enthusiasm.

That’s an interesting idea; but be sure to let me know the day the lock is on the closet because that will be my last day at this law firm. I won’t be part of communicating to our entire staff that we don’t trust them with our snack inventory.”

The equity of a brand — personal or institutional, inside an organization or in the heart of the marketplace — is created in the context of the experiences delivered.

Inside, trust is one of the things that differentiates a handful of great organizations from those that are just good enough.

In his book Leaders Eat Last, leadership and organizational growth consultant Simon Sinek underscores the reality that individuals go above and beyond in organizations where they feel safe.

Build an organization around fear and mistrust and be prepared to deal with consequences in the form of high turn-over, employees that watch the clock and seldom give up anything for the good of the whole.

And when it comes to a go-to-market mission, the experience we deliver is how clients and prospects learn what it is like to have a professional relationship with us. Are we trustworthy…do we keep all of those promises we make in marketing copy and proposals?

The aligned organization pays careful attention to both messaging and client/customer/colleague experience. Otherwise all of the investments in messaging are little more than cheap talk.