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It's a Trust Fall, Baby

🎶 Picture a place, somewhere else far away… where you know what they mean, and they mean what they say to us… and would that be enough? 🎶

These words echoed through Citizens Bank Park recently as P!nk performed Trustfall. While I was there rocking out to a hometown rockstar (yes, we went to rival Bucks County, PA high schools) and sharing in my daughter’s first concert experience, I was struck by the sheer magnitude of the trust fall concept. I have never, ever been able to do a typical trust fall where I just lean back and know someone will catch me. Seriously - no one. Ever.

Explain to me a million times with data, hook me up with tech, but I still can’t fall back. This hit me as pretty ironic the more I thought about a trust fall in the context of corporate strategy. 🤔

Nyla Beth Gawel and her daughter at the P!nk concert 2023

The concept of trust is one that is exceedingly important in the field of corporate strategy. Specifically, those who must implement a strategy - whether for the purpose of scaling, growth, transformation, or even divestiture - need to be trusted by an array of stakeholders to inspire action. Such corporate trust is not given blindly by investors, employees, clients, or customers. It is earned. It comes after these stakeholders experience a pattern of behavior and resulting outputs and outcomes that are consistent, reliable, high-quality, and ethical.

🔗 Here I find another interdependency between strategic success and leadership capability.

Think about every market analysis presentation through which you’ve sat. Remember the reams of PowerPoint slides, graphs, charts, and spreadsheets so complex that they’ve outpaced most professionals’ Excel abilities. These are all ways that organizations bring data and proof to gain support. Yet it is their leadership behavior that is more likely to engender trust. A good strategy will outline goals, objectives, and supporting initiatives and organizational values required to achieve a mission. However, the strategy doesn’t make decisions; leaders do. Trust therefore isn’t given to the strategy; it’s in whether the leadership will be consistent in its decision-making, accountability, and standard for excellence. Their actions alone need to ‘mean what they mean and be enough.’ 🎶

P!nk performing Citizens Bank Park 2023

This theme of trust is front and center in this week’s edition of Fortune's CEO Daily by Alan Murray, in which he summarizes his takeaways from a new book by Bethany McLean and Joe Nocera entitled The Big Fail - an examination of the US response to the COVID pandemic. While I have yet to read the book (just out), I’m very interested given what Mr. Murray gleaned regarding trust. His article notes that, “In fact, the only variable that seems to explain COVID-fighting success is social trust. Societies with relatively high levels of trust—in each other, in their governments, in science, etc.—did better than those without.” He continues, “It’s hard to build trust at a time of tribal warfare, when both sides are determined to tear each other down. Positions become overstated, mistakes get exaggerated, and everyone ends up losing.”

P!nk performing Citizens Bank Park 2023

💡 This sounds eerily familiar to my experiences in corporate politics when building and implementing a growth strategy for the ‘good of all’ (customers, employees, shareholders) is viewed by entrenched leaders as a threat to their status quo power hierarchies. I’m no health policy expert, but the corollary is clear to corporate leaders who rely on PowerPoint and Excel to promote a strategy with often disregard of their own actions that can undermine stakeholder confidence. This creates more than stakeholder frustration. It weakens a company’s performance.

Performance against strategy can be tied closely to how well leadership gains trust and drives alignment through the organization, as noted in Align by Jonathan Trevor, associate professor of Management Practice at the University of Oxford’s Said Business School. While the majority of companies likely struggle with alignment as a facet of leadership and strategy, many do get it right. Business Insider reported previously on the top 25 companies with the best leadership teams according to employees. The common theme of transparency and general trust in leadership underscored the ranking’s commentary. It’s no surprise perhaps that these companies, led by CVS Healthcare, also are all top performers in their industries.

A successful strategy doesn’t just state the destination; it charts the journey. A leader doesn’t purely follow the path, but actively aligns decisions and investments. If you are responsible for growth, transformation, or operational excellence and require the trust of your employees, clients/customers, and investors, remember:

💪 A trust fall doesn’t happen because you believe in the velocity and speed of your fall compared to the strength and agility of the person catching you (data). It happens because you intrinsically believe that someone’s arms will be there based on their past record of behavior.

👀 Every business decision from micro (meeting agenda development, bid decisions, performance management) through macro (incentive structures, acquisitions) is watched and experienced by your stakeholders. If you and your leadership’s words and actions are not consistent in all actions, trust will not ensue.

🎶 If your actions don’t align to the company’s strategy, remember that “you can call [the strategy] irrelevant, insignificant, [but others] won’t call on you at all.” (Thanks, P!nk, for Irrelevant) Eventually organizations that don’t align decline, a performance and trust failure for all.

As a corporate exec strategist passionate about leadership and alignment as means to market growth and dominance, I challenge everyone to rock out to Trustfall.

P!nk performing Citizens Bank Park 2023

“It’s a trust fall, baby.” NBG Strategy Consulting is here to catch you by creating successful growth strategies and develop and align your leaders for success.

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