Change requires selling a new idea to a Board of Directors

The challenge is how?  Well, as a start, I would suggest we do it carefully, but in reality, there are many nuances to this question and irrespective of the nuances, it’s not an easy question to answer. However, some guidance can be found when considering The Trust Equation.

Why? It depends on a number of factors:

  • What is the product you are you trying to sell?
  • What are the risk implications combined with the risk appetite of the company and the Board?
  • How familiar are the board of Directors with the ‘new idea’?
  • How much ‘we’, as the person / people selling the ‘new idea’, are trusted?

My assertion is that, while you can tick the boxes on all of the above (or may even have an impeccably argued and persuasive business case), if a decision is needed quickly and the idea is new or unknown – it comes down to whether you are trusted or not.  

Introducing the Trust Equation

Developed by David MaisterCharles Green and Robert Galford; consider the trust equation as part of the selling process and think about how your organisation stacks up in this equation. Initially proposed as an equation for Consultant/Client relationships – instead, I think the equation is appropriate wherever there is an element of ‘selling’ and whether or not the ‘seller’ is heard primarily based on the perception of whether they can be trusted.


The Trust Equation: T = (C + R + I) / S

In essence, the Trust Equation determines that the level of ‘Trustworthiness’ (T) of a person is equal to the sum of Credibility (C = it speaks to words and credentials), Reliability (R = how others perceive the consistency of our actions, and our actions’ connection with our words, Integrity and Intimacy (I= how secure or safe someone feels sharing with us, a reflection of how well you are able to build a meaningful connection with people, irrespective of whether you see yourself as an extrovert, introvert, or a combination of the two), divided by Self-Orientation (S= relates to our caring, and is revealed in our focus – is it about myself or others?) Most of us lead with the first two factors – credibility and reliability. These are quantifiable and “rational”, but tend to be overrated. Potential clients aren’t comfortable “confessing” that they have feelings, intuitions, instincts and chemistry. They don’t want to reject someone based on “we just didn’t have a good feeling for you”. But most humans buy from the heart, and justify it from the head. That means the Intimacy and the Self-Orientation factors are very powerful in selling. Rational thinking (including C and R) is about defining benefits and payoffs. But any expected value must be discounted by the client’s confidence that they’ll get the results promised. The I and S factors speak to this. Can I collaborate and be honest with this person – and he with me? Do they actually care about this organisation, and myself or are we just means to their ends? The trust equation reflects the human balance of mind and heart. Together, it creates powerful economics. Many con men are credible, and sharks are reliably shark-like. But if we get a sense that the ‘seller’ understands and appreciates us – and that they seem to have our better interests at heart – then we allow their intelligence and dependability to be of service to us. A mismatched motive will undo ALL of the previously hard won trust earned by building a reputation of credibility, reliability and intimacy. If the Board sees you as having your own agenda, your own self-interest at heart, and the motive is not clear and transparent; then you are unlikely to get the idea sold. So what can you do to increase the above-line factors – reliability, credibility and intimacy? And the below-the-line factor of self-orientation? Next time you need to sell a new idea to your Board, and once you’ve done the obvious – developed a compelling business case, considered the appetites of the Board, etc. – it would be worthwhile thinking about how trustworthy you show up as. But it may be too late by then; it’s time to start working on this now!