Trust within business is under the spotlight like never before. Around the world, trust in business has declined in ten out of 15 industry sectors from last year, according to the latest Edelman Trust Barometer.
However, trust remains at the heart of the management accountant's role: It describes one of the four Global Management Accounting Principles; and ethics, integrity, and professionalism are the foundational building blocks for the CGMA Competency Framework.
This is the backdrop to Trusted: The Human Approach to Building Outstanding Client Relationships in a Digitised World, written by Lyn Bromley, FCMA, CGMA, together with colleague Donna Whitbrook. The book examines how individuals can build trustful relationships and develop growth mindsets, and how leaders can change business cultures.
After becoming qualified as a management accountant, Bromley followed her interest in finance and systems, and she developed a career in professional services consultancy at Cognos before working for and then running First Impressions Training, a consultancy specialising in people development. Trusted is a distillation of her work there with large, midsize, and small clients.
Becoming trusted on an individual level, Bromley said, relies on five elements: mindset, communication, interaction, behaviour, and professional image. In that list, developing the right mindset is the most important "because that ultimately links to confidence, and if people are not feeling confident in what they are doing, then they're never going to fulfil their potential". Mindset isn't a stable state but can vary throughout a career and fluctuate during the course of a day, she explained.
The concept of a growth mindset was popularised by Stanford University's Carol S. Dweck in her 2006 book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. In Trusted, Bromley says people with a growth mindset believe that intelligence can be developed, they relish challenges, and they learn from criticism.
Bromley's view is that building trust within an organisation should be led from the top and "modelled by the behaviour of the leadership team" — a process that requires "a lot of small actions over a period of time".
Leading change is also about inspiring a team to have growth mindsets. She explained: "You can certainly inspire people to want to change. ... We do tend to be driven very much by calendar and by results, but it's really important to be praised for the work that you're actually delivering, the teamwork, the effort that you are putting in, as well as the actual results."
Leaders themselves should also show vulnerability, which encourages teams to share with colleagues how they have overcome challenges. "That, in turn, helps build trust, and it also helps people move towards a growth mindset," she said. Celebrating wins, creating "healthy" conflict, and "moving forward with a consensus of opinion" are also good behaviours that leaders can foster.
The impacts of creating a trusting, open, and transparent culture are many. Bromley gave the example of a client, UK law firm Band Hatton Button, where the benefits of more engaged staff, greater teamwork, and fewer customer complaints have been pinned on the growth of trust within the business. She added that additional gains come through less sickness, lower staff turnover, and reduced recruitment costs. A trusted culture also helps build and keep a company's relationship with its clients.
Businesses today often operate within the global economy, but face-to-face meetings remain the most effective method of communication. Bromley described research at Beijing Normal University that discovered that face-to-face communication differs from other forms in two main ways. A greater degree of multimodal sensory information can be obtained from a face-to-face meeting than from a phone call or email. "It also involves more turn-taking between the participants. ... If you're on the phone, you can't always [anticipate] if the other person wants to interject, whereas when you're face to face, you can notice by the body language that someone wants to speak."
Bromley points to a second piece of research by professor Alex "Sandy" Pentland, who directs the MIT Connection Science and Human Dynamics labs in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the US. "[Pentland] found in his research that [a face-to-face meeting] allows more eye contact. That builds up more trust and encourages group members to confide and co-operate within their group, so there's much more teamwork and much more creativity when you make time for face-to-face meetings, as well."
She also made the point that for important conversations "sometimes you just need to jump on an airplane and look each other in the eye and have that conversation". She added: "I think a lot of people will just dash off an email or a text even these days, or just pick up a phone, although that's becoming less and less nowadays. ... In the current generation, people just want to email and often are frightened of picking up a phone."
With most job interviews still taking place in a face-to-face setting, losing the ability to communicate in this way could be to people's detriment. "So, although people sometimes might think, "'Oh, it's not important. I've got my qualifications. I've got my great technical skills,' it really is important because, actually, [hirers] already know about your qualification and experience — it's on your CV — and they're making [a] decision on that human interaction they have with you in the room."
5 tips to improve your emotional intelligence
Lyn Bromley’s strategies for improving emotional intelligence include:
- Make self-reflection a daily habit to raise your awareness of your current mindset.
- Practise greeting people by name.
- Aim to respond rather than react.
- Go for a ten-minute tour of your work environment with the sole aim of connecting with people.
- Observe social interactions between other people.
Moving to a growth mindset
Lyn Bromley’s strategies for overcoming limiting beliefs include:
- Raise your awareness. Simply understanding that people have elements of both a growth and a fixed mindset enables you to challenge your thinking and produce incredible results.
- Become aware of triggers. Do you shrink when you meet someone in your industry at a networking event who appears more confident and polished? Do you become defensive when you receive a complaint?
- Give your fixed-mindset persona a name. This might seem a little odd, but it can help with the next step of educating your mindset.
- Educate your mindset. Take your persona on the journey to grow your mindset, eg, find a mentor to support you, ask for 360-degree feedback, or work on positive affirmations and visualisations and on removing limiting beliefs.
To inspire a team to have a growth mindset, Bromley’s tips include:
- Promote problem-solving when failure occurs.
- Praise teamwork and effort, not just outcomes, and celebrate team wins.
- Show vulnerability and allow team members to show vulnerability, too.
- Coach employees on how to benefit from feedback.
- Encourage healthy and open debate and conflict, thus avoiding groupthink.
Trusted relationships: The 5 building blocks
Here are the five areas explored in Trusted: The Human Approach to Building Outstanding Client Relationships in a Digitised World.
Mindset: Most people are not aware they can manage their mindset so that they can feel confident, have a positive mood, and set themselves up for success.
Communication: Listening effectively and knowing when to pause so that the other person can speak are great skills to master.
Interaction: Dedication, energy, and thought are needed to create strong, lasting business relationships. Interactions with colleagues and partners are as important as those with clients and prospects.
Behaviour: Along with product and brand, behaviour is one of the most important differentiators of a business.
Professional image: How we dress not only affects how others perceive us, but also how we perceive ourselves.
Oliver Rowe is external affairs content manager for FM magazine. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact him at Oliver.Rowe@aicpa-cima.com. Trusted: The Human Approach to Building Outstanding Client Relationships in a Digitised World (Practical Inspiration Publishing) was published in November 2017.