The Thing About Advice: Who Do You Trust?

Last week, when I read Seth Godin's blog post, "Most Advice is Bad Advice..." it got me thinking about advice in general.

I'll cut to the chase and say that I don't agree with him. At least not completely.

The problem is knowing whose advice is safe to take and who's isn't - which makes it all about trust.

And don't think that this is a "challenge." It's a problem - at least for you - because if you trust the wrong person, take their advice and it goes wrong, it's you who takes the hit. Not them.

You decided. You take the consequences.

So let's go back to that trust issue and figure out how to reduce the risk when you're making the decision of whom to trust - or whether to take any advice at all (which is also a perfectly acceptable decision).

Trust, as I've written in many previous posts and articles, is behavioral. But, in the case of advice-giving, underneath the behavior is the intent of the advisor - and that's where your smarts and instincts have to come in. Ask yourself:
  • Why did you choose that person to ask?
  • What have they done that led you to think that they know or will have good input about what you need to know?
  • Do they have a reputation of being trustworthy?
  • Are they a role model in the realm about which you're asking?
  • How well do you know them?
  • How well do they know you?
  • What are their goals?
  • How are they rewarded - particularly if they're part of your business life?
  • What's in it for them to give you the advice?
  • Will you make them look good...or better?
The more you understand your chosen advisor's underlying intent, the more you can protect yourself from taking advice that is well-meaning for them but not, necessarily, for you.

Something to think about. Especially before you ask...or you advise.

Can Sony Win Again?

There's a great video report by Reuters on how Sony lost its cool.  The question is: Can it get it back again?

The short answer is: Yes.

This is the dilemma of every company that focuses on "quality" and then commoditizes it into nothing.  That's what happened at Sony.  They lost their focus on creating exquisite, innovative products with an exquisite user experience and went for speed-to-market instead.

This was a multi-faceted mistake.

  • First, for those who trusted the Sony brand, the company has as good as lost that trust - and it's WAY harder to regain trust than it is to establish it.
  • Second, for those who didn't know the brand - most importantly, the young consumer - all they know is that Sony doesn't cut it in experience or innovation.
  • Third, even while they were cutting their quality to near nothing, they kept their prices high.

What that left them with was a company that doesn't produce anything consumers can be excited about buying at too high a price to want to pay for it anyway.

Real good strategy, Sir Howard.

The good news is, the company is going back into the hands of the Japanese.  Their new CEO, Kazuo Hirai, is a "detail" guy, according to Reuters - and that puts the Japanese right back into their comfort zone and where they perform best.

I worked with Sony before Sir Howard Stringer took over as CEO.  Even then, they were looking with awe and envy at what the Silicon Valley was able to achieve - and rightly so.

But, what they forgot in the process is that they do things with their way of doing business that, demonstrably, take markets worldwide.  But only when they work to their strength.

Can anyone say Toyota?

So, good luck Sony.  I'm rooting for you to find your cool again.

Accountability and Being Thrown Under the Bus

It's fascinating.  Depressing, but fascinating.

As I sit and watch the UK Parliamentary hearings of the Home Affairs Committee, it's amazing to watch the genteel way that those who know how to play the game so willingly throw their colleagues - and others - under the bus.

The former Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police (aka Scotland Yard), Sir Paul Stephenson, did so by implicating - but never directly, of course - two of his former subordinates and, oh, possibly, the Prime Minister's senior staff.  Which, of course, keeps that key question alive of what the Prime Minister knew - and when - about those whom he chose to surround himself.

Next came Dick Fedorcio, the Director of Public Affairs and Internal Communications for the Met.  He's not famous or powerful so the Committee members felt free to make sure he stayed under the bus under which he had already been thrown.

Now, we have the previously highly regarded John Yates (aka, in his heyday, Yates of the Yard!) saying that he was no more than a "post box" in order to take himself out of the firing line from the previous two witnesses.

So much for having been seen as a hero.

In Britain, their use of the language is an art form.  Argumentation and debate, in particular.

But it doesn't matter.  Because throwing under the bus is throwing under the bus - and that's what everyone is doing to everyone else right now.  Which doesn't serve justice at all.

The phone hacking allegations against Rupert Murdoch and his News International organization are bad enough.  They caused this hearing to be necessary.  As a result of their reported too close relationship with the police, everyone is implicated.

Granted, a lot of people who should have known better made bad decisions - both public and private sector players.  But the decisions were made - and they're the ones who made them.

It's a sad fact that in the guise of "remorse," "hindsight," and "lack of knowledge" what we're really seeing is a lack of accountability by everyone involved.

And that makes trust harder to establish and maintain than ever.

Moody's and the Telegraph - Despicable Choices.

This is going to be a short one - because I've recently written about fear and how it solves exactly nothing in your organization.

So, stick with me while I rant for just a moment - because we've got a choice of who's more despicable to discuss.

The Situation:

The headline financial news story in the Telegraph newspaper today is "Time is Running Out for the West."

The story is that Moody's, the US ratings agency, says that due to the government borrowing that has occurred during the Great Recession, the AAA ratings of various countries in the West - including the US, UK, France, Germany and Spain - are at a fast-forwarded risk.

The Questions:

Which of those institutions - the Telegraph or Moody's - is the more despicable?  and
Why should we trust what either of them says anyway?

The Thinking:

The Telegraph is fear-mongering to scare up (no pun intended) more readership.  They need the money and they figure fear sells.

Moody's is one of the ratings agencies that was the cause of the "Great Recession."  Had they done their jobs and not given the banks and other financial institutions that were clearly leveraged beyond their means - and just waiting to create a crisis - the much vaunted AAA Ratings, we wouldn't be in this mess now anyway.

The Actions:

  • Do what you need to do but don't create fear in your enterprise.  Focus on solutions.
  • Don't do business with organizations you don't trust.  They don't solve anything and they will, undoubtedly, create problems for you.
  • Any organization or individual that creates fear is not one to be trusted.  Especially when they provide no solutions.  Just fear.
It's a sad, sad day when the sources you're supposed to trust and depend upon are the ones that give you all the reason in the world to distrust them.  Today's news story is both egregious and despicable on all fronts.  The Telegraph and Moody's should both be ashamed.

BP and Corporate Responsibility: Avoiding Present and Future Tragedy.

What's going on in the Gulf right now is a tragedy.  There are few other ways to describe it.

It's a tragedy because of the human lives that were lost and the lifelong grief that the families and friends of those who died will endure.

It's a tragedy because of the devastating impact it is having - and will continue to have for years - on the environment into which the oil is spilling.  The death it brings and suffering it is and will continue to have on the animal, bird and plant life - due not only to the spill but to the actions being taken to address it - is incalculable in any currency.

It's a tragedy because of the livelihoods of those who live in all the areas impacted.  Generations of fishermen for food and sport, the associated industries - from hotels in the vicinity to manufacturers of parts for fishing boats that may never be needed again, the many and varied members of the supply chains that have supported the movement of the fresh food caught to the worldwide audiences who enjoyed them.  All and more will suffer for years to come.

And it is most of all a tragedy because it was avoidable.

We do not know the full facts, yet, of what led up to the blowout preventer's failure.  While that is and will be important, what's far more important is what the now consistent drip, drip, drip of information that is coming to light means for corporations and the governments who regulate them.

Each time Tony Hayward, BP's Chief Executive, makes another statement, the trust and belief in everything from business success to corporate R&D is eroded that bit further in the public's mind.  Globally.

Worse, deservedly.

As statements such as his financial breakdown to BP shareholders reporting the very small percentage of the cost of the Gulf Spill to date on the company's profits are made public to a much wider audience, the lack of care that is perceived for the human race and the planet becomes palpable in the public's mind.

BP, like Enron and others, become the name-brand entities that neither can nor should be trusted.  They become the public watchword for how corporations aren't simply uncaring.  They are destructive and dangerous.

From an organizational perspective, this has incredibly and increasingly large implications.

Those internal memoranda and reports as well as the witness testimony being provided in the early-stage hearings simply dig a deeper and deeper hole into which BP, Halliburton, TransOcean and Cameron are falling in the public's mind.  And as they should also in each and every corporation's mind.

Because those data show a continued focus on cost and time.  Not on safety and care.  The arguments and pressures that are reported - within and across the organizations involved - make a compelling case for profit.  Not safety.  The deals cut and pressures put to bear - even on regulatory agencies, which, on many more human levels, deserve distrust and contempt - show that speed was the thing.  The fastest speed to profits.

Back to the corporations, they made promises to regulators which those same companies involved now seem to be saying - and demonstrating - couldn't be kept.  Even whether the disaster-recovery plans that were put forward in case of an emergency were adequate or workable weren't known to be workable.

In effect, prior to drilling, 200 feet was the same as 5,000 feet.  Now that a disaster is in play, there's a really, really big difference between 200 feet and 5,000 feet.

Somehow that wasn't the case just a few months earlier.

But we have what we have - and it becomes a lesson to executives, if you're paying attention.

Pay attention - because on everything from a smaller to a same scale, this can happen to you.

First and foremost:  Never put profits before safety.

That means that, no matter what your organization does, you make sure that policies and procedures in place are designed to ensure the safety of your employees and of the end-users.  Then you make sure that those policies are enforced.  Always and consistently.

Think about it.  From Toyota having to recover its reputation as the highest quality automobile manufacturer to Chinese manufacturers of toys and toothpaste to BP and its now much-publicized "safety" record of deaths in their operations, more time, money and reputation (the three most valuable corporate currencies) is spent on the fix after the fact than would ever have to be spent if the problems had been addressed from the first - when they were identified.

As well, the fix isn't a fix in the eyes of the public.  Toyota will always have a question mark over its name now.  Chinese manufacturers are actively distrusted.  And BP is becoming known as a death-trap for employees and the planet.

That's not going to go away.  In fact, every time any industry in the same sector does something wrong, these examples - and more - will be brought up again and again.

Second:  Suspend disbelief and plan accordingly.

Ninety-seven percent (yes, that's 97%) of what happens in an organization is predictable.  It may not be what you want but you can predict it.

That means that there is only 3% that you can't imagine ever happening.

What that also means is that, because there have been oil spills and drilling disasters in the past, the Deepwater Horizon disaster was part of the 97%.  It was predictable.

Even the failure of the blowout preventer was predictable.  After all, they, too, had failed in the past.

As an executive - and with your executive and management team at all levels - you have to look at what is to determine what can be.  You may not like it, but it's predictable.  And that means that, sooner or later, it's going to happen.

The only 3% component of this disaster is, possibly, its extent.  Possibly not.  After all, BP knew what the oil reservoir was that it was drilling into.  Their scientists also knew the pressures and temperatures at which the drilling would be taking place.

All of that was known prior to any of the consequences that are now in play.  That means that the disaster recovery plans were knowingly inadequate too.  And that's a corporate decision.

Third:  Take the hit.

If your organization does something wrong - from a mistakenly filled order to creating a human and environmental disaster - own up to it.  Not just in pretty words - but, consistently, in your actions as well.

BP seemingly continues to try to game the system for its own and its shareholders' purposes.  From using a dispersant known to be illegal for use in the company's home country to requesting a specific judge to oversee all the future cases brought against the company to trying to settle the early and current cases out of court as quickly as possible, all it looks like is that - even while Hayward continues to say that it's BP's responsibility and it is taking all the actions it can to stop the leak - behind the scenes, all he's trying to do is do further damage to and cheat the people most impacted by his company's actions.

If, on the other hand, you take the hit and own up, customers know that when something goes wrong, you're on their side to fix it.  That has a value far beyond any immediate or mid-term gains - because rather than being remembered for what you did wrong, your organization will have the invaluable reputation for one that is committed to making things right.

Which brings me to the fourth lesson - and it is a personal one.

Think about your legacy.

Within and outside your organization - public or private sector - you're going to be remembered for what you do.  It doesn't matter whether it's wholly internal or splashed all over the online and other media.

Did you keep your word?  Were you fair?  Did you bring an integrity to everything within the organization?  Do the people whose lives you touched - within and without - think well of the organization you led because of your leadership?

Corporate responsibility sounds like a typical "blah-blah-blah."  It's not.  It's all about you, who you are and what you stand for.

CEOs, of course, have a responsibility to their shareholders.  But as a corporate leader, executives and managers at every level have a greater responsibility.  That's to the much broader defined population your organization and its products and services touches.

So, when you think corporate responsibility, think your responsibility and legacy.  Think about what your kids would think of you - knowing everything there is to know.  Then think about how you want them to think about you:  honest, trustworthy, thoughtful of others and others' needs.

There's no reason that can't be your corporate legacy.  It can.  But to get there, you have to actively and conscientiously lead your organization there - every step of the way.