Joining me on this week’s episode is Roy Reid, a senior fellow with the Stockworth Institute, and he is recognized as one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business. He discusses a number of important ethics issues, including:
- What to do when your client asks you to besmirch the competition
- How to effectively and ethically build trust
- What to do when employees, clients and partners break your trust
Why don’t you tell us a little bit more about yourself and your career?
I’ve been in the public relations business for a little over 30 years now in both corporate and agency backgrounds, a partner in a PR firm for 13 years, and an executive with Advent Health, a large, not-for-profit healthcare system. I parlayed that experience recently to pivot into the executive coaching, training, and education space, and so that’s what I’ve been doing for the last year.
The one that came to mind was early in the agency days, when you’re working really hard to bring in business and try and find that work, I remember meeting with a potential client, and the president of the organization specifically asked if, within our scope of work, we could execute a campaign that was clearly not ethical.
He wanted to be utilizing, for lack of a better term, and this will certainly date me, op-eds in a local newspaper to try and besmirch their competition. As you know from our ethics, both in how you represent yourself, how you communicate, and protecting the public interest, all of those were violations of what we subscribed to, and so we had to walk away, just absolutely say no to that. That was a deal breaker.
You said it’s making a hard decision. It sounds, in a way, like a black-and-white decision. What made it difficult? Was it the revenue implications?
When you’re starting out, you’re paying your bills by what you’re bringing in. There were other entities involved that had brought us to the table, it was a referral from a friend. All of these things are playing into it, and I’ve got to be the guy that says, this is not right and here’s why. If the potential client doesn’t adhere to that, it is certainly an easy decision internally, but then externally, you’ve got to help bring everyone else along, you’ve got to help educate to it. You’re responsible now for not just exhibiting the behavior but being the advocate for the behavior as well.
How do you recommend bringing others along?
Three things. Number one, I think it’s incumbent upon us to think of the way we behave and the way we do things. One of the benefits of the Accreditation process is you have to explain why and how you’re making your decisions. We have to remember that not everyone we work for or with are communicators, so it’s being able to explain those actions and put the why behind it.
Second, it’s to provide a picture for the people that you’re talking to through some of the stories that we learned throughout our career, and what the implications are for violating those ethical steps.
Lastly, do not berate them. It’s important that we do it in such a way that we are responsible, we’re stewards of this industry. With the world in the state that it’s in today, I think this industry and our pursuits have an opportunity to transform the way people see communications on a day-to-day basis.
I definitely agree with you, don’t push back and say, you’re being unethical, because the minute you start off that way, people get defensive. It’s like saying you’re fat and you’re ugly, it isn’t usually a good way to start a conversation.
What are you seeing as some of the key ethical challenges for today and tomorrow?
We’ve been through so much in the last five years. When I teach my course, The Trust Transformation, I use an illustration to kick it off. I tell the story of the 1964 earthquake that took place in Alaska where the damage was severe, it was about 9.2 on the Richter Scale. A lot of things went badly in it, but what was most interesting is two things about it in terms of the damage to people. There were 130 deaths associated with it, but only nine during the four-minute event. Most of the other deaths occurred in the tsunamis that took place in the days and weeks that followed. And then, second, when those who were responsible for the area went to rebuild, they discovered that parts of the state of Alaska had moved 50 feet.
And so, the lesson, or the illustration, here is that it’s not the event itself that causes the most damage sometimes, it’s what takes place in the aftereffects, the years, and the months that followed. So, I believe that while going through COVID, the political unrest, the social unrest that we had and we would look back on it and say how bad that was, it’s incumbent upon us to be very diligent in the way we manage communication now because people have moved. The traumatic effects have moved them to different places. We can’t compromise on how we communicate, and yet we see it happening every day. We need to be the people that help ring the bell and say, this is what’s right and this is why.
How have people moved?
There’s a lot more distrust in what authority says. If you look at Edelman’s Trust Barometer year over year, it’s been significant. The biggest finding they had was a couple of years ago, where they claim that distrust has become the default human emotion. In a conversation with a business consultant that I shared a client with one day, we came to the conclusion that when you meet someone new, you’re already behind, so you’ve got to work harder.
Part of my calling in life now is to give people the tools to help them understand how trust works and what responsibility we have in building it. When we take it upon ourselves to take responsibility for relationships, we move the needle. We can’t solve everything, and you can’t fix everything, but you move things forward, and it impacts not just the person that you’re dealing with, but everyone around you that’s watching, because now more than ever, we are going to be judged by the behavior matching up with the words that we say.
Performative action never was acceptable and it’s even less acceptable now. Let’s talk more about your calling in life. Tell us more about The Trust Transformation.
I wrote a program back in 2007 that I started using as a means to help our clients understand why the important investment in trust pays off, not only in the short term but in the long term. We did a lot of crisis and issues management. It’s a whole lot easier to recover from an issue or a crisis when you have a high-trust relationship with your audience, with your employees, and others. Then in 2016, I was recruited to come work at Advent Health, and partnered with their education team and their publishing team to add a few dimensions to the program that also addressed health and wellbeing.
In 2017, we launched what’s now called The Trust Transformation as an internal training program for employees today. I’ve since left the organization, and now use this as a foundation for teaching training and building cultures within organizations, and then coaching the executives that I get to work with on the things that they’re working and struggling with to both improve their health, wellbeing, and their performance, and to provide a framework for how to build a high trust culture.
What are the barriers that people face? What are the pitfalls where they may not live up to their aspirations?
So much of what we put together in this program is common sense, but common sense is not common action. One of the biggest mistakes that we make in our relationships is that we make assumptions. We’re not dialed in or tuned in, intentional or otherwise, with the relationship, and so one of the things we have to remember is that everything that we say or do is contributing to or taking away from the trust that people have in us. We might make a passing comment one day to somebody, but they perceive it as a significant thing, and their belief, their perception, their behavior, are impacted by that. And if it’s a thoughtless, cruel, or oversight on our part, then we’ve done damage to trust. Stephen Covey and the seven Habits of Highly Effective People write about the emotional bank account. Trust works that same way, we’re making deposits or withdrawals every time we interact with people, so it’s that oversight or that lack of connection that can be the first mistake people make.
We all make our snap judgments. How should we avoid them?
Two things really become instrumental tools in this journey. One is humility. When you engage in a conversation, or any engagement with somebody, take a step back and say, it’s not about me. That then engages those muscles that we learned for active listening, really engaging with that person.
Then, we have four guiding principles in the program. The first is that we build trust from the inside out, that we have to get it right within ourselves, be trustworthy with ourselves, before we ask that of others. Second is to take responsibility for the relationship. They’re not transactional, they’re meaningful, they matter, and when we get a task to do, that we’re engaged as much for the relationship as for the outcome that we’re striving for.
Number three is that we keep our promises and communicate consistently. There are two parts to that one, because you and I both know we’re going to fail, we’re going to drop the ball, and we’re going to miss a deadline. If we’re communicating consistently, we’re managing expectations. And then, lastly, be a good steward of your trust. The gift of trust is influence. Influence is leadership. What do you do with that? Who do you surround yourself with and create accountabilities for how you build trust and how you’re living your life?
Within those guiding principles, there’s a toolbox that we have to be able to act in a way that’s consistent and makes a difference.
Tell me more about the toolbox.
Within the program we break trust down into small, digestible, actionable things. When I say, I want you to be trustworthy, it’s a few specific things.
- You have to live your life with integrity, you have to be consistent in what you do, and so subscribe to some measure of ethical behavior, but also create a consistency in your routines that help feed and build that.
- The second part of trustworthiness is your attitude. Some may say, well, attitude and integrity sound like two very different things. They are, but attitude is the first impression that you’re going to make on people, and whether or not they’re going to trust you.
- The third attribute that we talk about within trustworthiness is that you’re focused. You’re focused on the right thing right now.
- We also talk about the idea of taking the initiative, not waiting for things to get fixed, but being the person that steps up to fix it. Trustworthy people also bring insight to the table. So, who are you mentoring with? Who are you mentoring for? How are you growing in your knowledge and your capabilities for what you do?
- We look at the fact that trustworthy people have a vision for something bigger than themselves.
When you can break it down into those smaller pieces, you can then also use it as a prescription to say, if I’ve broken trust with somebody, if something’s gone wrong in a relationship, what is it that I need to fix? And so, in the same light, we have smaller pieces for authentic relationships and behaviors, we have the same breakdown for being dependable in what you do, and having the other attributes address that way.
That is a great individual roadmap. How do you help the people you manage, and your company understand and implement that same trust roadmap?
When I come into an organization and I’ll work with a team, we will train and develop as an output of our training a trust contract. It takes into consideration all of the things that they’ll learn through the program and then aligns it to their cultural construct that includes mission, vision, values, service standards, and other things. They’ll develop, say, 10 agreements on how they’re going to focus on building a high-trust culture together. These are the expected behaviors that they’re going to have when they deal with good things or bad things. Everybody signs the contract, it’s adopted, it’s put into context with all of those other culture items that we talked about earlier, and it makes a difference.
I get with the CEOs and the C-suite folks that I work with on a regular basis, and they’ll share stories on how there’s been a great transformation from all of this. I worked with a CEO about a year and a half ago who went into a hospital, and the hospital was performing poorly. It was in the lowest 25% as it related to patient satisfaction in the emergency department, it was in the lowest 5% as it related to hospital-based infections. I met with them a year later, and in the patient satisfaction realm, they moved to the upper 25%, so a 50-point jump in one year in terms of how the patient experienced what they did.
But even more important was, on the hospital-based infection side, they had moved from the lower 5% to the upper 95% in performance, and when he came to meet with me, they were six months with zero hospital-based infections. I asked him about it, how do you correlate this to what we did with your leadership team? And he said, Roy, it’s kind of simple, but when they act according to these ideas that we laid out, when they’re consistent in that behavior and they feel that trust with everything else, all of it works better, every single part of it.
There are three things that I believe are important in that regard. First of all, if we’ve broken it with them, we take responsibility for it, you need to address it and admit it. The longer you let unmitigated distrust sit, it’s like a cancer, it starts to eat away at every other thing. There’s that inconsistency, and nature abhors a vacuum, so people are going to assume that that’s just how you are, and you don’t care. You must address it first.
The other thing is to exercise an effective and sincere apology when you’ve made a mistake or done something wrong, then correct it and make sure that you communicate that correction when it’s done.
When somebody breaks trust with you…all it out. We want to call it out in the right way, but one of the attributes is having authenticity in our relationships for transformative trust, and within authenticity is the idea that we can both be candid, but we do it with respect. If we’re leaning into being trustworthy, we’re going to do it then figure out how we rebuild it.
If we own it, then we offer that apology and we fix it. If somebody else owns it, then we need to hold them accountable, because we are going to be judged in terms of our trustworthiness as much as by the company we keep, and if people surrounding us aren’t acting consistently in that way, or we’re allowing toxic relationships to feed into us, you’ve got to break free from those.
The Trust Transformation is a template for your own behavior, and also a means by which to hold others accountable for their behavior.
What is the best piece of ethics advice you ever received?
I’ve been very fortunate in my career to have wonderful mentors my whole life, and I think that as I look back on my professional career in particular, it all started at the very beginning. I went to work for AT&T as an intern here in Orlando, and my boss sat me down on day one and said a couple of things that have resonated with me, and while they may exist a little bit on the periphery of our topic, I think they speak volumes to the importance of it within it.
First, he put a notebook in front of me and said, everything you’re working on for me goes in this notebook. If you’re not here, all I need to do is open it up and I can figure out where we are with it. That was accountability, that was integrity in my actions and consistency in my work.
The second thing he said is, the most important asset you have for the rest of your life, and going forward, is your network of relationships. It is what will get you through the most difficult times, and what will help you propel through the best of your times. Focus on building that and building it in a meaningful way.
As I look at that as a framework, it speaks volumes to the importance of ethical behavior.
Is there anything else you wanted to highlight that I didn’t ask?
I hope that everybody leans in, as we go into the new year, with a focus on developing higher trust in all their relationships.
The last thing I’ll share is that you don’t always have an opportunity to become your own patient. In 2019, I suffered what’s called an acute aortic dissection, so my heart was splitting open. I had to have emergency open-heart surgery, was in a coma for a week, and in the hospital for a month. When I was discharged, I had to learn to trust myself very differently than before, and it was an incredibly important lesson in that idea. And so, I would encourage people to find that place, to lean into learning as much about how you trust yourself, and doing the things, creating those consistent routines in your life, that’ll help better manage your health and your wellbeing as well.
Where can people go for more information?
In the next few months, there’ll be a lot more online content for it. I will provide anyone checking in with what I call the CEO Trust Blueprint.
Listen to the full interview, with bonus content, here.
- One key PR ethics lesson from the Pulse nightclub shooting – Ann Marie Varga - February 26, 2024
- People Are Not Props – Christie Goodman - February 12, 2024
- How to Build Trust Ethically and Effectively – Roy Reid - January 22, 2024