How to be Intimate
post # 114 — June 21, 2006 — a Client Relations, Managing post
Brad Farris writes in to ask:
I have used Trusted Advisor in my work for several years. The Reliability and Credibility factors you talk about there have always seemed like “table stakes” to me. The third component, A Low Self-interest, is sometimes less obvious, but once considered is equally non-controversial. The fourth factor, Intimacy, is always the one that gets people hung up. “Why intimacy?” they ask, “Why do we need that?”
What things would you recommend that companies of any size can do to be more intimate with their customers, employees and community? If you are a company who needs scale to survive, is it a given that you have to leave intimacy and trust behind?
For me, the secret to the ‘intimacy’ aspect of trust, whether dealing inside or outside an organization, is the simple act of getting out of role-to-role interactions, and making them encounters between real people. In other words, treat me like a person, not an ‘employee’ or a ‘customer.’
Viewed this way, the issue of creating intimacy is less one of systems, procedures and processes, than it is one of attitude and style. The famous examples are the cabin attendants and pilots of Southwest Airlines, who (according to their reputation) can make announcements conveying serious information but with humor, personality and individualism, proving that you don’t have to be robotic, bureaucratic or rule-driven to get something done. And Southwest is one of the largest airlines out there. It’s all about attitudes, mentality, empowerment, self image, and keeping things in proportion.
As I’ve written many times (and never tire of preaching) it’s the RULES that grind us all down, and they tend to accumulate and take over when organizations grow. If managers only focused on WHAT needs to be done (superbly), and WHY it needs to be done (superbly), then they could empower and trust the front-line staff to figure out for themselves HOW to do it. And if, as a staff memeber, I can then do it MY way, I’m going to make it more real, more human and more intimate for both the customers and for myself.
What about the effects of scale? In my book Practice What You Preach, I studied 139 businesses analyzing the relationship between attitudes and financial results. While there were examples of great intimacy (‘human scale’) the overall trends were a clear decline with scale. In larger offices in general, people did, indeed, give lower scores to such things as:
- Management valuing input
- Management listening to people
- Management being trusted
- Management practicing what they preached
- Management being successful in fostering communication and loyalty
These all declined with larger offices, even though I was able to prove that doing well on these things was a significant predictor of better financial results.
In addition to my statistics, the book contains portraits of nine of the highest-performing businesses I could find in my database. I interviewed not only the managers, but many other people who worked in these nine office.
One of the absolutely fascinating outcomes was that, in line with your question, everyone was worried that they could only achieve their level of excellence because they were ‘small’ and had a strong sense of community and purpose – or, if you prefer, intimacy. But this reaction was expressed by offices that had over 300 people!
This convinced me that creating a sense of intimacy is a managerial phenomenon, not one simply determined by scale. It can be achieved by managers who know how to manage.
So what did the ‘great’ managers do to overcome the effect of size? None of it was very dramatic. Most of the (hundreds) of specific messages are contained at the end of the book could be summed up as “Be human and never forget that we are, too.”
Some specific advice to managers in the book?
- Do your own photocopying occasionally. Wash your own cup
- Don’t hesitate to jump in and help and prove you’ve still got it
- Keep a level emotional keel, don’t over-react to either triumphs or disasters
- Take work seriously but don’t take yourself seriously
- Treat people as adults
- Let people know you as a human being, not just as their manager
- Believe in, and keep the faith with what we are doing
At the risk of repetitiousness, I must stress that these lessons from the book are NOT that these are ‘nice-to-have’ behaviors, but that they are EXACTLY what the managers of the financially highest performing businesses in my database do.