In his well-known book, The Trusted Advisor, David Maister explored the paradigm of that very important business relationship, using the professional services paradigm as a basis. His book covered some key components of trust (the trust equation), the process of creating trust (including the most common trust-breaking mistakes and this post includes a good example).
Trust is not a soft or an ambiguous concept – and it should not be. Some years ago I attended a one-week leadership course by an American trainer – Ken Blanchard (not the writer). During the course we did a trust exercise and the one take-away learning was that trust is an absolute concept. You can think clearly about it and be seen as a trusted advisor by your clients.
Disclaimer: It has taken me some time to process this story. To protect the guilty some details have been changed.
As Head of HR, I was in the midst of new business acquisition and we were reviewing the new structure for the business. Fairly early in the process it was evident that some new staff would have to be moved into other roles.
It is not uncommon to receive calls from recruiters and a search consultant phoned me for new business, having completed a search assignment a few months prior. On a confidential basis I mentioned to him discreetly, that should he run into a good technical production manager in New Zealand we might be interested.
Imagine my surprise when I got a call from the MD early on a Monday morning, asking me why we were advertising for a Production Manager in Australia. It seemed that the Production manager saw her job being advertised and obviously were a bit nervous, to put it mildly. Staff knew that roles were being reviewed, but no consultations have yet commenced.
When I phoned the recruiter he informed me that one of their clients withdrew an advertisement at the last minute. The recruiter, a senior consultant took the opportunity to insert an advertisement at no cost to the company. He inserted this advertisement without authorisation from the company but, did so believing he was adding value by giving a free advertisement to the company.
Following further investigation, it emerged that the advertisement on the jobsite was approved by the recruiter, but the location was not reviewed by him and his assistant took the initiative of loading it with the specific location, and made it obvious to all and sundry which company was advertising as there was only one production site of that specific technology at this specific location.
At no time did the company authorised this advertisement. The recruiter unreservedly apologised for any embarrassment their actions have caused.
Now we all know we don’t live in a perfect world and things can go wrong. I just wonder if we do learn from our mistakes. This reminds of a study
done earlier this year at Harvard Business School.
It would seem that people do not learn from failures. Too much self-rationizalization perhaps? Then again, some people may learn more from our success than from our failures.
I phoned the recruiter after receiving their letter of apology and told him the matter was closed. We sorted out the matter with the production manager. But the trust was destroyed and we will never do business again. Once the trust is gone, it is difficult to maintain the relationship. There is no anger, just sadness.
Sadly, core values such as honesty and integrity are in short supply in today’s business world. The rapid decline of trust is all too visible. The paradox is that the more we are trusted by our clients, the more business we will get from them, and the more we will benefit both professionally and personally.
How much are you really trusted by those clients you deal with?