Leading with Trust

Improving Your Value to Your Customers

The following is a guess post from Nat Greene based on lessons and concepts in his new book Stop Guessing.

stopguessingbookcoverAs a business leader, one of your key responsibilities is ensuring that your customers see huge value in your offering. In the hyper-competitive landscape of 21st century business, you have the difficult tax of constantly increasing your customer value. Many businesses focus primarily on reducing their cost to customers: if a customer gets the same product for less money, they see greater value in the investment. But merely driving down costs makes for a low-margin future, and strategically locks you in an ongoing price war with your competitors.

A far more effective–and enjoyable–path is seeking to improve the value of your product, so your customers are getting more for the same price. Doing this creates greater customer loyalty, improves your margins, and improves the satisfaction of your team, knowing that they’re better serving your customers rather than simply trying to be the lowest-cost provider.

You have certainly already put significant thought into this, and realized there are many different options by which you can attempt to improve your value to your customers. If you have spent time on search engines looking for ideas, you have likely found pithy lists or tips that will give you even more ideas to try out than you already had. But you have limited resources, and you know that what works well for some will not necessarily apply to your unique business and unique customers’ needs. How can you choose what’s most effective?

Learn How to Improve Customer Value

As for any problem you’re trying to solve, approaching the problem with the right behaviors will help you find the most effective solution for your unique situation. Rather than trying out different ideas that others have tried before, you need to understand your problem by observing it thoroughly and learning as much about it as possible.

To do this, get close to your customers. Don’t just ask them what they want from you: they are not likely to be able to conjure up in their minds what you can do for them. And that’s not their job: it’s yours. Understand how your product or service interacts with their business, and what changes would make the most impact to them. Approach this investigation by starting with the following questions:

  • How do they use your product?
  • What about their business are they trying to improve with your product?
  • What resources do they deploy by working with your product?
  • What do they have to do internally in order to work with your product?
  • What is their experience trying to acquire your product?
  • What is your customer’s biggest pain point that your product interacts with?

By understanding the answers to these questions–and more that arise during your investigation–you will be able to understand what you can change about your product that will most improve your value to your customers, and you’ll find yourself not only holding on to customers you may have been losing, but you may also find yourself at a higher price point.

Case In Point

One business I was working with made high-performance coatings for products like ships, jet planes, and equipment that underwent lots of stress, such as heat. In order to improve their cost competitiveness, they were planning on moving their operation from Western Europe to Eastern Europe, where labor costs were lower. The operation would have taken years and of course entailed significant capital costs to implement.

When they instead found out what was most important to their customers, price did not rise to the top. Instead, they found that the biggest stress to their customers was their own supply chain: these customers wanted to get their jets, ships, and heavy equipment out to their own customers reliably on time. Each of these manufacturers had to buy dozens of parts to assemble at their own facilities, and they felt constant stress that any late delivery would impact their own production timeline.

The coatings business decided to instead focus on perfecting its in-full on-time (IFOT) delivery performance. We worked together to solve logistics problems that caused some of their shipments to arrive late, and they were able to quickly boast the best IFOT in the industry. Their customers were thrilled, as they could be confident that at least the coatings part of their sourcing operation was something they never had to worry about. They stayed in Western Europe in order to keep their lead times low, and were even able to increase the price of their own products, without a grumble from their customers.


Nathaniel Greene is the co-founder and current CEO of Stroud International, and author of Stop Guessing: The 9 Behaviors of Great Problem-Solvers. Nat has a Masters of Engineering from Oxford University and studied design, manufacturing and management at Cambridge University, in addition to executive education coursework in Harvard Business School’s Owner/President Management program.

Building Rapport Shows Employees You Care – How to Get Started

rapportIf you’re a senior leader in your organization, chances are the vast majority of employees don’t view you as a real person.

Research by Nathan T. Washburn and Benjamin Galvin shows employee perceptions of senior leaders are governed by mental models they form through incidental interactions with the leader, such as emails, videos, speeches, or other impersonal means of communication.

So what should you make of that? First, it should make you question the level of trust people have in you. Second, you should know that without trust it’s virtually impossible to influence and inspire your team to follow your lead. And third, it should prompt you to consider ways to build a more personal relationship with those you lead.

But where to start? Start at the beginning. Start with building rapport.

Merriam-Webster defines rapport as “a friendly, harmonious relationship; especially a relationship characterized by agreement, mutual understanding, or empathy that makes communication possible or easy.”

Rapport is a fundamental component of having a connected relationship with someone, and the lack of personal connection is the reason people view their leaders as impersonal avatars. Research has shown the importance of warmth as a critical factor in building trust. Your team members are wanting to know that you care about them as individuals and not just nameless worker bees showing up to do a job.

People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

It doesn’t matter how brilliant or charismatic you are as a leader; if your people don’t think you have their best interests in mind and truly care for them, they won’t give you their trust, loyalty, and best performance. Establishing rapport with someone creates an environment of warmth and safety which allows trust to blossom.

Building rapport isn’t rocket science but it takes an intentional effort. Here’s a few easy and practical ways to foster rapport with someone:

  • Remember and use their names
  • Learn something about their life outside of work
  • Share information about yourself; show some vulnerability
  • Strike up a conversation (about them, not you)
  • Identify mutual interests

When clients tell me their organization is suffering from a lack of trust between senior leaders and front-line employees, the first area I explore is the sense of connectedness between the two groups. Almost always the issue boils down to the front-liners not having any semblance of a personal connection to senior leaders.

It’s a predictable dilemma. The further up a leader moves in the organization, the wider her span of control becomes and the harder it is to have a personal relationship with each employee. However, through effective communication techniques, conveying a sense of authenticity by sharing information about yourself, and intentionally making the time and effort to connect with people as much as possible, you can develop rapport with your employees that leads to high trust and loyalty.

Depressed Over Losing a Star Player? Consider These 5 Benefits

star-playerA few years back my team underwent a tremendous amount of change as several of our long-term, star players moved on to other opportunities both in and outside the organization. For several years the composition of my team had remained relatively stable, but we entered a new phase of growth, which was both scary and exciting. It seemed like each day I was having the old Abbott and Costello “Who’s on first?” conversation with my managers, as we tried to sort out who was going, who was staying, and how we were going to get our work done.

It’s easy to get discouraged when top performers leave your team. The immediate reaction is often to look at all the challenges that lay ahead — How do we replace the intellectual capital that’s walking out the door? Who is going to cover the work while we hire replacements? Will the new hires be able to match the productivity and contributions of the previous employees? All those questions swirl through your mind as you ponder the endless hours you’re going to have to invest in recruiting, interviewing, hiring, and training new team members.

Rather than being discouraged, I get energized and look forward to the future because the long-term benefits outweigh the short-term difficulties. Here’s five benefits I see to losing top performers:

1. It proves you’re doing something right. Huh? Doesn’t it mean that something must be wrong with your leadership or team dynamics if you’re losing your top people? Well, if you’re a toxic leader and your team’s morale and performance is in the tank, then yes, there’s something wrong. But if you’re doing a good job of leading it means you’re hiring the right talent and developing them to high performance. I take pride in knowing that other leaders see the immense talent I have on my team and they want to hire them away.

2. Your team is better off for their contributions. The contributions of my star players have helped raise the level of professionalism, productivity, and capability of my team over the last several years. They have redefined what “normal” performance looks like and we’ll be looking to existing team members and our new hires to reach that same level. We are better off for having them on our team and I believe they are better off for having been on our team.

3. It provides a chance for existing team members to step up. Losing valuable contributors is an opportunity for other team members to step up their game, either by moving into higher levels of responsibility or by taking on short-term duties to cover the gap. When you have several high-performers on a team, it’s easy for other valuable team members to get buried on the depth-chart (to use a football metaphor). Losing a star player allows second-team players to step into the limelight and prove their capabilities.

4. You can bring in new blood. Having long-term, high-performers on your team brings stability and continuity. However, stability and continuity can easily become routine and complacency if you aren’t careful. Hiring new people brings fresh perspective, a jolt of energy, and a willingness to try new things you haven’t done before. Teams are living organisms and living entities are always growing and changing. I see this as a new era to bring in a fresh crop of star players that will raise our performance to even higher levels.

5. It facilitates needed change. Bringing in new team members is a great time to address broader changes in your business. You have new people who aren’t conditioned to existing work processes, systems, or ways of running your business. They aren’t yet infected with the “that’s the way we’ve always done it around here” virus that tends to infiltrate groups that stay together for a long time. It’s a time to capitalize on the strengths and ideas of new team members to help you take your business to new heights.

Losing high-performers is never easy but it doesn’t have to be devastating. I’m grateful to have worked with star players that are moving on to other challenges and I’m excited about developing a new wave of top performers that will lead us in the years ahead. It’s time for change…Bring it!

6 Strategies for Leading When People Won’t Follow

stubbornLeadership can be a pretty enjoyable gig when your team is 100% behind you. It seems like every decision you make turns out to the be the right one, morale is high, people are engaged and productive, and everyone is rowing the boat in the same direction.

It’s a different story, though, when you’re trying to lead people who don’t want to follow. Work slows down, decisions are questioned, and people get disgruntled. Leading in this kind of environment can be arduous, painful, and a test of your patience and commitment.

If you find yourself in this predicament, it’s imperative you proactively address the situation in positive and constructive ways. It likely won’t resolve itself on its own, and if left unattended, will severely hinder the performance of your team and cripple your leadership effectiveness. Here are six practical strategies you can employ:

1. Make sure the goal and expectations are clear—Just because you’ve shared a PowerPoint presentation of your strategic plan a few times doesn’t mean people are clear on how it specifically applies to them on an individual basis. What appears as resistance to your leadership may be a lack of clarity. People who are clear on what’s expected can make a decision on whether or not to get on board, and it makes your job as a leader easier to evaluate their performance.

2. Determine if it’s a can’t do or won’t do problem – It’s important to understand the difference between can’t do and won’t do performance. Can’t do performance is due to a person not having the skills, training, or ability to follow your leadership. Those individuals need direction, support, training, tools, and resources to help them perform. Won’t do performance is an attitude or commitment issue. These individuals have the skills and abilities to follow your leadership, but for whatever reason they are choosing not to get on board. It’s important to know the difference because you need to deal with them in different ways.

3. Engage with a few resistors who carry great influence—It’s important to understand the perspective of those who are resistant to your leadership. Actively engage a few key resistors to understand their point of view and to encourage them to get on board. If you can win them over, they can use their influence to positively influence their peers. But don’t let the tail wag the dog. Spending too much time trying to convert the non-believers can distract from moving forward with those already in your camp. See the next point.

4. Focus on creating positive momentum—Nothing creates a positive team culture like winning. We see it in athletic teams all the time. Winning seems to cure all ills, and if you can create positive momentum with your team, it will spread positive morale and silence the doubters.

5. Incorporate the team’s input as much as possible—People will be more likely to follow your leadership if they have a hand in shaping the plan. I love the saying that goes “people who plan the battle rarely battle the plan.” People will own what they create, and the more you’re able to foster a sense of ownership among your people the more they’ll be inclined to follow your direction.

6. Be willing to make a necessary ending—There will be some individuals who won’t ever follow your leadership no matter what you do. For those people you may need to consider a necessary ending, a concept I learned from Dr. Henry Cloud. Leaders should do all they can to help team members to succeed, and when those efforts don’t improve the situation, it may be time to part ways.

Trying to lead people who won’t follow is a tremendous challenge. It’s time-consuming and exhausting, yet following these strategies can help you navigate the situation. Feel free to leave a comment with any suggestions you have for tackling this issue.

Halloween News Alert! 4 Warning Signs Your Boss is a Zombie

ZombieOrganizations around the world are reporting their leaders are turning into zombies at an alarming rate. Formerly healthy, productive, and capable leaders are falling victim to the Zombie Plague, a deadly disease that is spreading uncontrollably across the globe.

Leadership development experts recommend everyone be on alert for the symptoms listed below. If your boss demonstrates any of these behaviors, please consult a professional immediately.

1. She is running on autopilot – Zombie’s are empty vessels with no willpower or mind of their own. They wander about aimlessly with no clear purpose other than to satisfy their basic needs for survival (mainly terrorizing and eating humans!). Zombie leaders have become complacent and stopped investing in their own growth and learning. They do the minimum amount of work required to keep the ship afloat and they’ve stopped pushing the boundaries to innovate and adapt to new realities in the marketplace. If your boss is content with doing the same ‘ol, same ‘ol, she might be infected.

2. She is a doomsdayist – Healthy leaders are purveyors of hope and positive energy. They cast a compelling vision of the future that inspires their followers to commit to the goal, team, or organization. Zombie leaders tend to have a sense of doom and failure. They waste their energy focusing on all the reasons why something can’t be done rather than working to find new solutions. They’re often heard saying “Why change? That’s the way we’ve always done things around here.”

3. Her relationships are strained and difficult – Zombie leaders tend to have a low EQ (emotional quotient) that makes them ill-prepared to develop strong interpersonal relationships. They fail to build rapport with their followers, don’t collaborate well with colleagues, and have a low self-awareness about how they “show up” with other people. In fact, zombie leaders reading this right now probably fail to identify with any of these qualities and instead are muttering to themselves “I wish my boss was reading this article.”

4. She’s in a “trust-deficit” – Leaders infected with the zombie virus are notorious for breaking trust with their followers. Failing to follow through on commitments, taking credit for other people’s work, not “walking the talk,” and withholding recognition and praise from others are all ways that zombies erode trust. The low-trust relationships that zombie leaders have with their followers results in reduced productivity, gossiping, questioning of decisions, and low levels of employee morale and engagement.

Various remedies are available to prevent leaders from contracting the Zombie Plague or to treat those already infected. The therapy plan extends over the course of a leader’s lifetime and requires constant diligence to ensure the disease stays in remission. Treatments include ongoing learning and self-improvement, building trust in relationships, and adopting a servant-leader philosophy.

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