Trust – A Foundation for Change

By Cindy Vallance

Recently in our Change Academy blogs we have discussed principles that inform a thinking environment to foster change, overcoming myths about change, and have shared a range of perspectives on change.

For instance our 26 March blog on management with facts emphasises the importance of  trust which enables us to look at facts together to inform productive discussions.

The reality is that there can be no change without risk. And there can be no appetite for risk-taking without a strong foundation of trust.

Trust has something in common with the weather and motherhood…it is widely talked about and widely assumed to be good for organisations. ” Parke & Miller, 2000.

In the next few blogs, I will discuss why we trust, how we define trust, strategies we can use to build trust, and what we can do if trust has been eroded or broken.

“You must trust and believe in people or life becomes impossible. ” Anton Chekhov


Management by fact or management WITH facts?

In a recent discussion with colleagues, we considered the management approach taken by a progressive university in the US to enable change and improvement. One element of this change was a philosophy of ‘management by fact’. This particular university had found this approach to be helpful and made a difference to the way they made decisions and identified improvements. What had made a difference was not only that they used facts, but that they looked at those facts and considered them in a sensible (and helpful) manner.

But what are facts and why are they useful?

The sky is not less blue because the blind man does not see it.” (Danish proverb)

“Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please” (Mark Twain)

“It is not the facts which guide the conduct of men, but their opinions about facts; which may be entirely wrong. We can only make them right by discussion” (Sir Norman Angell)

Of course any person works and makes decisions using facts – don’t they? In reality people can use, ignore, interpret or distort facts. An emphasis of ‘facts’ can sometimes actually disguise a lack of understanding or  can be merely a knee-jerk demonstration of what a person sees as ‘effective’ management. In these cases the shortcomings are  inevitable:

paralysis by analysis’: an inability to consider options or initiatives if there are not facts to back-up the case. Analysis continues to be pursued ad infinitum (many organisations have missed major opportunities as a result).

deferred decision-making’: a continuation of paralysis by analysis. Decisions are only made when there is enough data to support them, so consequently no decision is EVER made.

If we can’t measure it we can’t manage it’: a mentality which although apparently plausible is simply not true; it just gives an excuse for not attempting to manage difficult things like behaviour, culture, trust, respect, potential, commitment, opinion, loyalty and reputation: ‘the sky is not less blue….

Management by numbers’: a command-and-control approach that expects people to jump through hoops to reach their targets. This only drives behaviour to get the numbers, but if those numbers measure the wrong things…

Game playing’ (or at least one variant): distorting numbers to make an argument (see Mark Twain’s quote); this can be creatively negative or positive, but both risk giving a warped sense of reality, and is an approach which is often fairly annoying for other people  and undermines trust and collaboration.

For the university in the case study (and it is a real institution), successful management-by-fact required a fundamental foundation of shared values & mutual trust between colleagues. Trust is important – it helps to avoid playing games with numbers or using numbers as sticks to beat over the heads of other people. Trust enables us to look at the facts together and have a discussion (see Angell’s suggestion above). We should use what we know and be ready to discuss the issues; as the case study university itself prefers to describe it; management with facts.


Further Reading:

Change Academy Recommended Resources,

Pfeffer, J. and Sutton, R.I. (2006) Why Managing by Facts Works, Strategy & Business enews, Booz & co.

Putting into practice all 10 thinking principles

By Cindy Vallance

In the past ten blogs, I have discussed Nancy Kline’s 10 principles for a thinking environment (

Why not come up with your own way of remembering and practicing these 10 principles? Make them real by thinking for yourself and making them your own.










Incisive questions

And finally, there is much more in Nancy Kline’s book Time to Think, but to end this series, I will conclude with the practical tips that may make some of your meetings a more conducive environment for thinking:

  • give everyone a turn to speak
  • at the beginning ask everyone to relate something that is going well in their work or in the group’s work
  • give attention without interruption to every open discussion during the meeting – try framing agenda items as questions
  • when permission is given use incisive questions in pairs or with the larger group’s permission to help each other remove limiting assumptions
  • when thinking stalls, divide into pairs and give each person five minutes to think out loud and without interruption about the topic
  • go around in turns intermittently throughout the meeting to give everyone an equal turn to say something if they choose to
  • encourage diverse views and information sharing
  • permit the expression of feelings
  • end the meeting by asking everyone what they felt went well and what they respect or appreciate about the person next to them
  • do what you can to create a space for the meeting that demonstrates the value you place on the people


Do Our Assumptions Limit Us?

By Cindy Vallance

The tenth and final principle by Nancy Kline to build a thinking environment is about the power of asking INCISIVE QUESTIONS.

We all make assumptions. We couldn’t get through a day without them. But do we limit ourselves with our assumptions or do we expand our own range of possibilities and help others to do so through the power of positive assumptions?

An illustration:

Person A  I would like to share an idea I have with my line manager but I can’t.

Person B Why not?

A I believe s/he will laugh at me.

B What are you assuming to believe s/he will laugh at you?

A I am assuming s/he will think my idea is stupid.

B Why are you assuming s/he will think your idea is stupid?

A I am assuming I am stupid.

This is usually when the questioner might say something like ‘Of course you aren’t stupid. Go talk to your manager!’ And we may or may not take this advice and talk to our manager.

But what if Person B said instead:

B Do you really think it is true that you are stupid?

A Well no…

B What are your reasons for not thinking you are stupid?

A Because I (person fills in the blank)…

B What would you have to assume instead for you to share your idea with your line manager?

A I would have to assume I am intelligent.

B So if you knew that you are intelligent, how would you take that step to share your idea?

A I would simply talk with him/her. My manager might not agree with my idea but I would certainly feel like I was making an effort worth taking seriously. 

Of course, there is no absolute guarantee that the manager won’t laugh at Person A’s idea. But if that is the case the person suggesting the idea can still walk away knowing they have genuinely made the effort. They could also use the opportunity for a further discussion. And, on the other hand, just think what positive results might occur if the manager did support the idea and what opportunities would be missed if the idea had never been shared?

A health warning on incisive questions. They don’t work by stealth. The two people engaged in this type of exchange need to both agree up front that they want to have this kind of conversation and that it is okay to question the other’s assumptions. If this agreement doesn’t happen the questioner can come across as either overly aggressive or attempting to practice amateur psychoanalysis, neither which is useful. But when two people are both willing to try it out, testing assumptions through incisive questions can be very powerful.


The Importance of Place

By Cindy Vallance

PLACE is the 9th of Nancy Kline’s principles for a thinking environment. What does a place need to offer to help us think? In her book, she compares two locations – a boiler/storage room used as a meeting room and a sleek designer spec office tower conference room. Which was better? In these instances, for her, the answer was neither. Why?

From boiler room

The reality was that it wasn’t just the appearance of the space that was important. It was the sense in these instances that the people didn’t matter – form over function at two ends of the spectrum.


to Boardroom?

The reality is that we may or may not have very much control over the physical space we inhabit – especially at work.  But when others come into our ‘space’ what can we do with what we have available to us to show people that they matter so they can think better?

Can we rearrange the tables to make the room for a meeting more welcoming or perhaps more informal? Can we do anything to manage light and temperature to ensure optimal comfort for them? Can we simply offer a cup of coffee, tea or a glass of water to welcome the person to our space?

We think better when we feel respected and that we matter. Place counts.


Fan the flames of enthusiasm or quench them with the ‘fear factor’?

If we mention change, what are the words that spring to mind? Improvement, Worry, Fear, Concern, Waste, Challenge, Opportunity, Re-birth?

Fear (or at least ‘worry’) is, I suspect, a common response and is certainly a term often mentioned by commentators on organisational change as being an issue to handle with care. ‘Resistance’ is another common term which in some cases may be fear disguised as bravado (although remember that resistance may also be a source of strongly held, and potentially helpful, alternative views – see: Resistance is useful: a new assumption?).

This begs a question – is fear the dominant emotion of a changing work environment?

The answer for any organisation lies in the culture (norms, behaviours, values, rules, conversations) that is promoted (largely by leaders). Is change a difficulty, a problem, a challenge, an opportunity or something that you are just going to have to put up with? What are the messages, stories and perspectives that we demonstrate, repeat, encourage and expect? Is it possible to eliminate a sense of fear by the way we explore and discuss the issues of change?

Of course our views and behaviour are only part of the wider picture. There is also the fear of stepping out and being different, or of ‘raising your head above the parapet’ by doing things differently (with the implication that your head is likely to get shot off!).

It is also not unusual to stumble across incidences of fear being applied (by ‘management’) as a tool to get people to do things.  This might be apparent in the way in which meetings are constructed, how conversations are initiated by leaders, in the ways that objectives are set, in responses to feedback, ideas or proposals. When established behaviours contrast with the stated expectations (for innovation, improvement, sharing or other working values), we need to be ready to challenge the old orthodoxy.

Every manager needs to understand, as Frederick Herzberg noted in his landmark 1968 Harvard Business Review article, if you kick a dog it may move (out of fear) but is NOT motivated. Fear causes a fight/flight response in people, which focuses on generating action to avoid the cause of the fear and not on producing better work or doing things more effectively (Aguayo, 1990). The fight/flight response driven by people who use fear often causes hiding, running or cheating and none of these things lead to positive change which is what the organisation really needs. Sometimes leaders need reminding of this again and again; Herzberg’s 44-year-old article has been re-issued at least five times (most recently in 2008) and still remains relevant; people are motivated from within – they themselves must want the change and it is these motivations which will make things happen.

Aguayo R. 1990, Dr Deming: The American who taught the Japanese About Quality, Mercury, London.

Herzberg, F. 1968, “One more time: how do you motivate employees?”, Harvard Business Review, vol. 46, iss. 1, pp. 53–62

Seddon, J. (2005) Freedom from Command and Control, Vanguard Press, Buckingham, UK.