Change and the knowledge iceberg

So, is management by fact a bit simplistic? What about the emotional aspects of work; trust, appreciation, excitement, fear, worry, concern? How can these things be properly addressed. A lot of these things will be more or less important depending on how we see the world. And most people see the world differently to everyone else!

If we want to improve anything it is best to make those improvements from a perspective of understanding – using knowledge. Unfortunately we live in a world of incomplete knowledge and, dare I say it, differing perceptions (we all see things differently). Deming suggests that we work on the basis of a decent theory of knowledge – but what does he mean? I use the iceberg analogy:

* A start point is to understand that there are things that most of us know – obvious, like the peak of an iceberg.

*Next there are the flatter ice floes, which a good ‘spotter’ on a ship might notice bobbing in the waterline. It is important that we know about these and we should get better at spotting them.

* However there is also sub-surface ice (in this analogy) – things not visible to anyone but which we need to delve into or at least give consideration (we have a decent hunch – or ‘belief’ – or ‘theory’ – or experience – that they will be there). Effort is needed either to seek them out or at least think properly about how we might have to deal with them. If we blindly sail through areas were sub-surface ice may be lurking, on the assumption that what we don’t know will not hurt us, we  would be a little foolish.

* There is also stuff that we don’t know … and need never know… it is out of our sphere of influence and we cannot do much to manage it – so don’t worry.

* Deepest of all is the ‘unknown’ – we will never know about it – (so again don’t worry)

In summary we should seek reasonable knowledge when we make decisions; we should not ignore things which are too difficult to understand and we should be honest when we are making assumptions. If we do this, then the outcomes of change, whether good or bad, will be better understood and will help to inform us in the future. If we need to broach sensitive subjects: trust, appreciation, excitement, fear, worry, concern, then a conversation is a good start point.


More reading:

Covey, S. (1989) 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Simon & Shuster, New York, NY.

Deming W.E. (1982) Out of the Crisis, MIT CAES, Cambridge MA.


Trusting Types


By Cindy Vallance
There are many types of learning styles – and none are better than any other. Some people prefer to focus on PRACTICAL TIPS, others want to understand the IDEAS behind the practice and still others prefer to focus purely on their own EXPERIENCE – those who prefer the last probably aren’t reading this at all.
I personally like all of these styles so be warned – this blog is just about ideas, with not a practical tip in sight. In my last blog, I mentioned that it is possible to trust and distrust the same person in different contexts. Why is this the case?

When it comes to trusting iINDIVIDUALS, there are two types of trust.
Cognition based trust (thinking)
– is typical of many work-based relationships
– is often limited to specific exchanges
– depends on the reliability and integrity of the individual’s past performance
– may depend in some cases on professional credentials or sources of proof such as certification
– will often occur when there are social similarities between the two individuals
Affect based trust (feeling)
– often develops as time goes by in later stages of work relationships
– may occur as relationships get closer and personal knowledge between the two individuals deepen
– can depend on the frequency of the interactions
– are supported through the personal motives of the two people
– depend on interpersonal care and concern
– demonstrates organisational citizenship behaviours
A third type of trust can also occur at the ORGANISATIONAL level..
Institution based trust
– is grounded in organisational level systems
– is demonstrated through the organisational culture
– sets the stage for other types of trust
– is also based on broader societal and legal systems
Now that we have considered the ideas behind different types of trust what are some practical tips to build it at the individual and organisational level? That will be the topic of my next blog.

Service Excellence – Are People the Problem?

Recently, a colleague helpfully forwarded an interesting link on Service Excellence (see  below). Like a lot of research on Service, it throws up more questions than answers. The researchers had analysed a range of studies of service performance and had identified a number of issues.

 The headliner was that 80% of employees think service is great whilst only 8% of customers think the same. The researchers’ observations were that customer service employees have a misperception of how good they are. This interpretation seems a bit clumsy. The mismatch in this data should not really be a huge shock;  to some degree, employees will tell researchers what they think they should hear – if you asked them in a pub on a Friday night they might rate service differently. The likely cause of this conflict of opinion? The fear factor – who wants to admit that they do a poor job or that their organisation is a bit rubbish?

The researchers described how “Managers are using too much stick and not enough carrot, berating staff with complaints league tables, missed targets and unfavourable mystery shopper reports. Line managers care more about targets than people, as there is data to report, processes to police, bosses to please and larger than ever teams to keep to targets.” This is a very relevant observation; however what becomes frustrating is the way that this research appears to FAIL to identify the link between symptoms (“indifferent staff”) and causes (the list of line management behaviours and protocols presented by the researchers themselves).

Even more worryingly (to use the researchers’ own phrase) the research report states “More worryingly, even when employees were shown facts about customer dissatisfaction, they were twice as likely to blame the organisation as to accept responsibility.” To say this is worrying is INCORRECT – it is not worrying it is in fact highly probable that the workforce have got it spot on; 90% of problems are caused by the system, not the people – so no wonder employees think that it is the company that is the problem!

The fundamental difficulty with the research observations is that they present PEOPLE AS THE PROBLEM, which in 80-90% of cases is unlikely [see messages repeated by heavyweight thinkers like Deming since the 1950s, Senge and more recently Seddon].

So, in summary, although the research article found out some truths, unfortunately they have only one eye open to what they are seeing. They recommend giving people (service staff) a kick as implied by their term – ‘improving attentiveness’ (how do you make people more attentive?) although like any modern HR practitioner, they include some soft and cuddly stuff (still ‘kicks’ actually), such as “Managers need to engage employees and treat them as you want them to treat customers, coach staff to think more commercially and show why giving your full attention to customers is so important.” To be fair they go on to urge managers to do less reporting on sales figures and more observing and guiding their front line colleagues.  However, in any type of organisation, if you do all these positive things but don’t remove all the conditions of targets, scripts, reports, procedures and sanctions then nothing will change – except employees will get even more annoyed and will feel under increasing pressure – and this will be observable to customers, eventually, as even WORSE service. There is still a lot to learn.

To see the original summary of this research, go to the article on the site:

Better insights on service can read here:

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



Building Success by Building Trust

By Cindy Vallance

What do surveys about asset management firms and the NHS have to do with the topic of trust?

As outlined in an April 2012 Harvard Business Review blog, more than 100 asset management firms around the world were surveyed for the strength of their cultures and for the effectiveness of their leadership teams. One of the top success factors was that “There is a high level of trust among team members. ”

Those conducting the survey stated “Over time, the team must develop trust by having clear rules of engagement and accountabilities. This trust then allows the team members to move beyond “politically correct” conversation or “politically incorrect” confrontation to fruitful debate and dialogue…leaders show an unusual commitment to getting the trust factor right. Our interpretation of this is that it relates to other surveys of investment professionals which indicate that their top desire for improvement in their firms is to achieve more open communication and debate…these cannot occur in environments with low trust.”

On the other hand, a March 2012 People Management blog reported on the results of a recent NHS survey. Here the results highlighted that “the survey identifies a lack of trust in managers’ abilities which undermines trust and could stall change.”

The comparison of these two surveys reinforce the importance of trust for organisational success. If we reflect on the four aspects of trust highlighted in my last blog: ability, benevolence, integrity and predictability, how can we improve on any that are lacking?

Ability – this aspect of trust is perhaps the most straight forward to rectify, although not necessarily easy. Providing or taking advantage of training and guidance and then identifying specific goals and working towards these over time should improve ability.

Benevolence – to increase benevolence it is critical to get rid of any sense that either party has a hidden agenda and instead highlight areas of common interest and mutual benefit.

Integrity – increasing integrity requires a willingness to engage in open discussion to arrive at common principles and to set boundaries for mutual expectations.

Predictability – only the repeated demonstration of positive behaviours will help others to be confident that what they have seen in the past will be repeated in the present and future.

The reality is that trust and distrust are not opposite ends of the spectrum. The same person can be trusted or distrusted in different areas. I may trust my accountant to get me a good tax rebate but I certainly wouldn’t trust her to perform brain surgery on me. In my next blog, I will discuss different types of trust.

In the meantime, are you currently facing any situations where you could work to improve some aspect of trust?


This post is part of the HBR Insight Center on The Secrets of Great Teams. Do take a look at their other posts for practical team building ideas.




When I say I trust someone, what I mean is…

By Cindy Vallance

While by no means definitive, here are a few possible responses to the question  I asked in my last blog: “When I say I trust someone, what I mean is…”

“I feel that I will not be taken advantage of.”

“I will find in someone’s behaviour what I expect, not what I fear.”

“I believe that the individual I am trusting will consider my interests and my welfare.”

“I know I can rely on their opinions, actions, and integrity.”

How do these answers define the meaning of trust? What they share is the expectation that the other individual’s behaviour, in relation to the respondent, will be positive.

A more formal definition for trust would be be “a willingness to accept vulnerability based on positive expectations of the behaviour or intentions of another individual, irrespective of the ability to monitor or control that other person.”

Coming back to the concept of risk-taking that I mentioned last week, we can see why trust is critical. If we take a risk, we expose our vulnerability because there is always the possibility of failure with risk. Why would we willingly expose our vulnerability to anyone we didn’t consider trust-worthy? When we are dealing with someone we don’t trust, we rightly wonder “If I fail, what will happen to me?”

But when we consider that someone is trust-worthy, what qualities are we looking for? Research* identifies four key characteristics:

ABILITY – competence in meeting our expectations

BENEVOLENCE – positive orientation towards us

INTEGRITY – commitment to commonly accepted principles and  behavioural standards

PREDICTABILITY – consistency of positive behaviours demonstrated over time

It is easy to consider these qualities when we are evaluating others’ behaviour  – and perhaps find them wanting. However, there is much more we can do by starting with ourselves.

Reflect on the four qualities. Ask – Am I demonstrating these qualities so that others will trust me? What evidence do I have that others trust me? What is the basis of that trust?

And what can I do if I believe I could improve in the demonstration of any of these components of trust? I will come back to that next week.

*In addition to research by A.R. Elangovan, also see Hope-Hailey, Veronica, Ros Searle and Graham Dietz. Organisational Effectiveness: How Trust Helps. People Management, March 2012.

Trust and Consequences

By Cindy Vallance

I have been interested in the subject of trust for some time but have struggled to find the best way to discuss it. Who would come to a meeting to discuss trust? Yet trust is in short supply in nearly every strata of society and in nearly every organisation and institution.

Why is trust so important?

In the absence of trust, what do we get? Cynicism – especially towards change, low motivation and commitment, lack of confidence in the organisation, a reluctance to take risks, and an enormous cost in untapped potential and possibility.

It can actually be easier to trust than to distrust, since in practice no one can constantly monitor another’s behaviour. Trust therefore can act as a substitute for control. The trouble is that at this level trust is really no more than indifference.

However, there are many more positive and important reasons to consider the value of trust. In a group or team situation, the presence of trust will improve the group’s cohesion , errors and failures will be better tolerated and ideas, opportunities and problems will all be more readily shared.

Language is important and we all attach different meanings to the same words. Next time I will share some responses to the question below and will discuss some meanings of trust. In the meantime, think about your own response to this question or consider using the Comments section below and share your thoughts.

“When I trust someone, what I mean is … (fill in the blanks) …”

I would like to acknowledge that this series on trust is based very much on my own learning from Professor A.R. Elangovan, Associate Dean and Director, Peter B. Gustavson School of Business, University of Victoria, Canada who generously shared his research interests on this topic when I was a student there and who truly walks the talk of what he teaches.


Betrayal of Trust in Organizations, A. R. Elangovan and Debra L. Shapiro The Academy of Management Review, Vol. 23, No. 3 (Jul., 1998), pp. 547-566 Published by: Academy of Management.


Is it an egg?


One item is ovoid, solid, brown, less than 10cms tall; another is about the same size and shape but a striking blue. Here are the two items; similar, but different. Lets take the one on the right – is it an egg? Yes it looks like an egg, but what about the second – is it an egg? Probably? Possibly? But what about that colour? Maybe the shape is not quite right too.

A perceptive person may seek out other information:

• is each item heavy or light?   –   actually they both weigh the same, about 60 grammes;

• are they rough or smooth?     –    generally smooth, but both are slightly matt to the touch;

• cold or hot ?     –   both are cold, but warm up easily enough in your hands

Who cares?

When my 12-year-old son is feeling cheeky, and thinks that he can catch me unawares, he will secretly pick up one of these, suddenly shout ‘hey Dad!’ and throw it at me to test my reflexes. He knows that he will get a reaction – I might laugh, get cross, duck, catch it, jump out the way or use any combination of these behaviours.

And what happens if it hits me or I drop it? With the brown one – well, nothing ; no mess at all because despite being the right shape, colour, weight and texture of a chicken egg it is rubber. Until it bounces off the floor you would never really know, even if you look at it closely. However, the strange blue egg will make a terrible mess. It is of course a duck egg. Thankfully my son has never tried to throw one of the blue eggs at me!

When we say we ‘manage by fact‘ what do we really mean? The facts are obvious aren’t they? Like the eggs, facts are probably not obvious – we usually work on the basis of our best ‘knowledge’ and that knowledge can be very variable. Knowledge ranges from pure facts to pure guesses; from fixed perceptions and preconceptions to a broad balance of possibilities; from empirical evidence to ‘belief’. The most surprising thing is that, to some degree or another,  none of these things are necessarily ‘better’ or ‘worse’; ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.

A belief might be well founded, based on experience or relate to something that is essentially unmeasurable or unknowable – we have to go with a reasoned belief. The problems arise when people use beliefs (and I am not talking about religious beliefs) in the face of contradictory, reliable evidence.

For example, if a manager believes people are motivated solely by money, that manager does not have helpful knowledge of motivation  and will therefore end up working with people in unhelpful ways (for them and, ultimately, for the manager too). The evidence concerning what motivates people at work is out there and should be sought by that manager, be understood and applied.

In another case a person may believe that female workers are more efficient than male workers, so that person’s behaviour towards workers of different genders may end up being distorted and again will ultimately be unhelpful.

At the other end of the scale we have facts; and ‘knowledge of facts’ can equally be an area of difficulty. Surely, if sales this month are up 10% on the same month last year, that’s a fact – but what does the 10% difference really mean (and I am not getting philosophical here)? Look at the diagram here – one person might see the last data point circled in red for February as great performance compared to Feburary in the previous year; others might be less sure.

As for the rubber egg – seeing that as a real egg is surely wrong (other than for use as a ball to bounce at your Dad perhaps)? Well not exactly. If you want to collect eggs from a broody hen, it is important that you replace her freshly laid egg with a replica that is such a good copy that she is convinced that it is a real egg.  Now what does that mean for management by facts?

Further reading:

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

MacDonald, J. (1998) Calling a Halt to Mindless Change, Amacom, UK