The Trustworthy Entrepreneur

Let’s give credit where credit is due. I recently listened to a podcast by Reid Hoffman– he was the co-founder of LinkedIn and an early board member at PayPal. Hoffman made a profound statement that goes like this. “Trust is consistency over time.” As entrepreneurs one of our biggest hurdles is creating trust – trust with our team, our investors, our bankers, our customers and our prospective customers. Without trust, we will flounder around and never gain traction. And trust is a very fragile thing. It takes a while to build trust, but it can be gone in an instant.

Consistency. We all know what it means. We also know how hard it is to achieve . . . consistently (pun intended). We trust McDonalds because every meal in every restaurant around the world maintains the same standard of quality. Forget whether or not we actually like the food – we know exactly what to expect. We trust products from Johnson & Johnson, General Mills, Netflix, Adidas and Dove because we know exactly what to expect. Our enterprise struggles when our standard of quality is inconsistent, which in turn degrades the trust our customers have for our product or service.

I’d like to take Reid Hoffman’s mantra one step further. Commitment + Accountability leads to Consistency. Commitment is where every member of our team agrees to perform at a level that is necessary to always deliver our product or service at the highest quality possible. It’s critical that we clearly define what this level of quality means. It must be broken down in exquisite detail. Training must be directed to ensuring that each team member fully understands the detail and how to execute on it. And then the team must practice, practice and practice some more until delivery of the product or service is standardized. The bottom line – we can’t commit to something if we don’t understand it or haven’t been shown how to do it.

Next comes the Accountability part of the equation, and here it gets trickier. Once every member of the team has agreed to delivering the expected level of quality for a product or service, how do we make sure that each person lives up to his end of the bargain? Part of our responsibility as an entrepreneurial leader is to develop some quality control systems and processes. This serves as a backstop for the customer to make certain that something substandard doesn’t leak out into the marketplace. Should we have to spend time and money to create this redundancy? Maybe not, but if we really care about the customer we have no choice but to do so. This also becomes a method of accountability. We’re able to spot deficiencies before it’s too late, and we can identify the weak links in our system. This allows us to get to the root of the problem. Is it an issue of training? Is it a misunderstanding? Does someone not have the proper tools or adequate resources? Is it the fact that someone on the team simply doesn’t give a damn about what they are doing? We can take steps to correct all of these obstacles which help to further tighten our commitment.

Our Commitment to deliver a standard level quality of product or service, and the accompanying Accountability gives us a fighting chance to reach the holy grail of Consistency. And it’s this consistency that will build Trust with everyone in our orbit. Team members learn to trust each other. Customers trust our product or service. Our investors and bankers trust us because we are doing what we say we are going to do.

We let our consistency do the talking for us. We’ve all seen marketing that includes phrases like, “most trusted,” “your honest car dealer,” “honest and trustworthy,” and on and on. I’ve always been wary of any business that needs to beat its chest about how honest and trustworthy it is. It somehow feels like they “protesteth” a bit too much. Perhaps they think they need to advertise this way because they don’t actually deliver consistency with their products and services.

Trust truly is consistency over time. And consistency is the product of commitment and accountability.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 16 – A Punch in the Mouth.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

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I’ve had many aspiring entrepreneurs express frustration over their inability to gain traction in the marketplace with their products or services. Sometimes they tell me that others in their organizations won’t take them seriously. I can remember my early days in business – especially during my twenties – when I was treated like a little boy and being patted on the head periodically. I would work my tail off only to have the client want to talk about his property with our CEO and not me. At times it felt downright condescending.

I finally (and painfully) realized that everyone at my age was experiencing the same thing and much of this treatment was simply a function of youth. But the other lesson I learned was that of credibility. While there are many elements to credibility there is a primary formula that I discovered.

Results + Consistency = Credibility

Let’s break this down further. Results do not necessarily correlate with effort. Yes, I like members of our team to work hard and make a great effort but that doesn’t mean the job gets done. There were times in the past where it was difficult to terminate an employee because I knew that person had given his all and no one had worked harder. Unfortunately, even with all of the blood, sweat and tears this person still wasn’t getting the necessary results. It was kind of like studying diligently for an exam in school and still getting an F. The professor really didn’t care about the three all-nighters; only that in the end the answers were wrong.

Results are produced through a combination of skill, perseverance, creativity, timing, risk management, training, attitude and yes, effort. If any aspect of this combination is out of whack we might fail or barely produce an acceptable outcome. This leads us to the second factor in the formula – consistency.

Here’s an obvious statement. When we are hit or miss with our results we are thus inconsistent which damages our credibility. The goal is always to produce high quality, consistent results. How does McDonald’s turn out the same identical hamburger no matter what store we visit? It’s accomplished through a fanatical adherence to specific standards and delivered through comprehensive systems and processes. McDonald’s uses the very same equipment at every location. They purchase in bulk the ingredients used to make the hamburger and are extremely exacting in their specifications for the quality and composition of these ingredients. Employee training is intense and standardized. Quality control measures are baked into their culture. Everything they do is geared to providing a consistent high quality customer experience.

When we can “McDonaldize” our operations we greatly improve our chances to achieve consistency. But it’s not enough to just be consistent. There are some companies that are consistent . . . they are just consistently terrible. For example, why is it that so many of the cable television providers receive consistently terrible customer service ratings? Ditto the U.S. Postal Service? When I send a document via FedEx or UPS I know that it will arrive exactly when it is supposed to. But a similar delivery by the USPS has always been consistently inconsistent for me. I speculate that this may have something to do with business models and customer focus. A business model that is designed around selling a product or service – i.e. cable TV or overnight letters, is less likely to generate consistent quality results. By contrast, an enterprise dedicated to delivering an amazing customer experience is more likely to far and away be the winner.

Our credibility is built on a foundation of producing consistent high quality results. Implementing strong systems and processes focused on wowing the customer helps maintain our hard-earned credibility.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

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