The Making of Trust. A Habit. A Priority.

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On a perfectly sunny Singapore Sunday afternoon over a sumptuous Turkish lunch, an aha moment. This was his newest creation – the art of food. This, apart from the 2 generations worth of trusted carpet and lamp stores he owned that dotted the street. Mirz (identity protected) and I have now known each for a little over 12 years. Each time we meet, we inevitably end up sharing our experiences.

 

This time, he had the most fascinating story I had heard of all the times we’ve interacted. As I narrate parts of this story, I do have to protect identities and maintain that trust. Thus, all names are changed and some context has been made discreet.

 

5 years ago, Mirz chanced upon an odd-jobs worker (Jal) at a hotel. Liking his demeanor, Mirz offered him a job and a room to stay in at the topmost floor of the shop.  I’ve met Jal a few times when he’s come over to our house to deliver and install some items I purchased. He always came across as very respectful and hard working. Now, Jal is in jail after having betrayed Mirz and his family over the 5 years he worked there. Listen on…

 

Over the initial years, Jal made a handsome salary, joined his employer’s family for dinner almost every day, and made enough bonuses to send some back home; there were many smaller gestures, gestures that couldn’t possibly all fit in the limited space we have here.

 

One day, Mirz’s elite customer dropped by to buy an expensive carpet that he had selected earlier. Here’s the twist – it had gone missing. When Mirz  asked around, he noticed Jal trying to hide a strange, sheepish expression. Mirz’s brother had noticed it too. After much ado, for the first time in over a decade, they decided to take out the stock register and do a check. Up until that moment, they had never felt the need to do so in a family run business based on an old school of trust.

 

The stock check revealed several hundred carpets worth over $2 million missing over the 5 year period that Jal was there. Modus operandi? During the early hours of the morning, Jal made it a habit to climb out of his window, walk across the tiled roof to the adjacent shop window, squeeze in, and steal carpets at regular intervals. At some point in his time working there, he was brainwashed and embraced by a ring of external racketeers who would sell those carpets off in various countries. The carpets were rediscovered under Jal’s bed which, soon after police investigations took place, were identified to be a mere fraction of the stolen goods that were later found to be scattered across his home country, stores in Thailand, Indonesia, etc. Thankfully, many of these carpets were recovered by the international police network. However, that didn’t stop my jaw from dropping as the details unfolded; A sure shot Academy Award winner.

 

In business, trust means everything. Trust is earned, trust is built. That said, it takes a few, if not just one wrong move to wipe clean the entire foundation that the trust is built on. In the above story, if stock checks were performed frequently alongside some automation with sales and inventory data, maybe the problem would have been caught early on, saving millions.

 

In my own business, I had a “moment of truth” with a special integration effort that has been ongoing for the past 12 months. We had acquired another company’s business unit and as part of that I had to be out there listening to Customers and providing the assurance this is for the larger good. On one such occasion, during an executive meeting with one of our largest clients, we listened and understood their wants and needs. The Senior executive candidly stated that we were slow to get issues resolved and were not listening to their needs and intent which depends on their end Customer.  While we enjoyed a captive share in the account, it became clear, that what got us here would not get us where want to be and be able to scale, while being nimble. If you quite don’t have a seat at the table, or/and it’s on and off, then carry a folding chair with you.

 

We got a few things moving. We assigned highly skilled resources to be on the ground, structured updates and telling the truth with what is working and what needs to be worked on, executive updates covering  major initiatives, resourcing, and the associated success; direct communication to the top at frequent intervals. And, a few other things that eventually resulted in improved outcomes and built the trust further and removed the early concerns with M&A.  As a new company (the acquirer) it is important to do that, and not take things for granted. This was validated by  the client’s Senior executive sending a note thanking us.

 

Always listen! If we had not absorbed their feedback at that meeting, as well as the underlying tones of doubts that seemed to be building up, it might have been a different story altogether. Learn about what the environment entails and deploy relevant actions thereof. Value will follow where trust is earned.

 

On another recent visit to a client, he made a statement that meant so much: “Rajesh, thank you for listening to us the last time we met. The flexible software licensing model you and your team tailored for us, was very meaningful.

 

Before this meeting, I had asked my regional team, “why would the client buy from us  when they had options for a lower cost solution, from other reputed (perceived brand) suppliers?” I was told that they simply trusted us more. Only now have I connected the dots with what our leaders had been strategically executing, executing well. In essence, making false promises, not delivering, being there to make a quick sale, not understanding what sticks etc., are clear behavioural traits that lower any company’s reputation and an individual’s brand value. As a companies scale and agility is challenged, with that comes one of the biggest challenges – How to keep the front end innovation and value realisation going ?

In summary:

 

  • Take No Prisoners. First the mindset. It does not matter if we are underdogs or the Goliaths, a ruthless sense of winning all, and behaving as such is fundamental.
  • The art of listening. It is the next step to recognising what matters, and the curiosity to learn gives what matters a form and shape i.e. recognising needs, understanding them, and doing something about them.
  • Humility allows us to listen. Without humility it is impossible to listen, the humility to confront brutal facts and know that it’s a learning curve.
  • Trust is earned, and so is respect. Easily broken. To earn trust deliver value over a sustained demonstrable period. This consistency comes with discipline. An operational discipline requires a hard mind and soft heart. Eventually it will become habitual and in the sub-conscious.
  • The love for being curious along your journey, will also allow you to learn more and deliver accordingly.

 

Image: Ingredients towards realising sustained Trust.

 

Thus, an age old saying stands: Use data, process, and consistency to develop good habits. This eventually earns the trust and respect. Trust is an outcome of distinguished value delivered and realised.

 

Glad to see how things are working out and in the right direction with our leadership team, and our embraced L3V2 (Listen, Learn, Love. Voice & Value) sub culture.

 

 

Credit: Pixabay for the featured image.

People & Culture: The Value System

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One morning a team member walked into my open office, “Rajesh, I need 5 minutes to discuss something.” “Discuss” and “Something,” meaning the joy in seeking to understand the unknown, a yearning to unravel what and why. I ushered Shahid in and we got talking. He wanted to write a book on a technical subject, about which he was passionately curious about. All ears, I listened and we agreed that it addressed his deep inner belief to learn and explore this topic, and that I would happily support some flexible work hours. A year later, Shahid’s book – Roaming in Wireless Networks–was published by McGraw Hill, and continues to sell for USD 116/-; he is officially a guru in the industry. The book turned out to be a strong reference book on the subject, also helped our business as his voice earned him a seat at every table, sometimes even allowing for him to chair said meetings!

 

That being said, let’s dive deeper into some of these keys aspects and characteristics in order to better understand our learning/teaching model as well as the type of people we look to work with within the business.

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Less is More. Measure and Scale.

Monsoons, are generally dull and boring. I had to keep seeing the beauty in things, the beauty in nature that surrounded me, as I hopped, skipped and splotched along the puddled, graveled road. My morning walk during my holiday break, in a remote town in India. 

 

The sky, a giant canvas that blotted grey ink in twenty shades, the trees swaying like the fans meant for Gods. As the morning light peeped in and out, the vastness of the paddy fields, foliage and sounds of the birds, a perfect pantomime that swathed another 20 shades of green. And as though that wasn’t enough, the small town that this was, was peppered with color that even the Gods would be blinded by.

 

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I Am Your Idea. I Won’t Stay Hot Forever.

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I’m in Japan, at the back of a table amongst the wise people of Oceans 13, listening and learning. What seems like eternity and several slides later from one on our own team, the sharpest of the clients I have known, and quiet all this while, springs out of his chair like a jack in the box and takes over. He shifts track and focuses on a business problem he has now, one that will peak in 2 years when a major sporting event stages the world.

 

An “Aha!” moment from the vastness of that hour of canter and banter. This is Japan. One rarely sees such public display of emotion.

 

As I hurriedly scribble some notes, my mind races back to 2003, a time when I led the Professional Services Consulting Practice at Agilent. Anderson Consulting had just turned into Accenture and they had launched this advertisement that stuck in mind – “I Am Your Idea. I Won’t Stay Hot Forever,” written on a cup of coffee. How true, in the realm of business and innovation.

Credit: Y&R, New York for Accenture

Timing is everything, as I’ve mentioned numerous times. Time is the only constant. But what relevance does it hold regarding that “Aha” moment that was just experienced?

 

New opportunities arise from innovation driven by the realization of a need, a problem. The Web – there is great advantage in being one of the first few to monetize an idea. In 2003, Google AdSense brought an explosion of ad-driven content via websites and blogs. In 2008, it was the app store for Apple’s IPhone, followed shortly after by Google’s Android store.

 

This trend has been graphed into what is known as Technology/Innovators S curve.(click here to learn more). I have adapted this to what I call the Business S Curve

 

 

The Business S Curve, shows timing is everything; and the why and how to ensure we keep ideating and moving an opportunity along.

 

It is said that smart people ask high impact questions and discover the pain and needs? An opportunity is sensed at time = T0. “Problem Discovery/Opportunity” in the illustration above.  This is when we sense the warmth of an idea or a problem. Maintaining/increasing that discovered warmth requires rooted passion and an endless pit of belief, that which deploys a complex algorithm that includes validation, initiative and problem solving at every turn – a smooth road never came to those seeking success; a phase I call the chasm of business. Many don’t make it across this chasm for a number of reasons. The two most important ones I find are:

 

  1. The Idea or problem isn’t “hot” enough: it lacks the right amount of impact. It is not a priority, perhaps a ‘pipe dream’, one not endorsed by management. There lacks a sense of Validation

 

  1. Someone outpaced you– they pinpointed the matter before you, potentially maintaining better/consistent engagement and Stickiness.

 

Interestingly, if you look into the sales funnel, you will notice that 60-70% of your opportunities lie in this very business chasm– the Qualification and Development Phase.  Opportunities can stay there forever or drop off steeply. Alternately, if you manage to maintain the essence of time and pursue the pace, you will eventually gain that ‘stickiness’, in turn earning the right to put your proposal.

 

A common mistake I’ve observed sales people doing is jumping straight to ‘solution mode’ within minutes of unearthing the Client statement or a problem while still standing within this chasm period. A right to the solution is not handed to anyone, it has to be earned. There is a time for everything.