Stripped-Down Service: The Benefits of Transparency

Chief Learning Officer magazine interviewed Patrick Lencioni about the concept of corporate transparency and what it means for CLOs.

<p>If the financial scandals of the past few months have taught us anything, it&rsquo;s that honesty really is the best policy. Just ask Patrick Lencioni, founder and president of management consulting firm The Table Group and author of <em>Getting Naked</em>, a book about the advantages of open and honest client service. <em>Chief Learning Officer </em>magazine interviewed Lencioni about the concept of corporate transparency and what it means for CLOs.<br /><br /><strong>Q: </strong>Where does the phrase &ldquo;naked service&rdquo; come from?<br /><br /><strong>A:</strong> Naked service is a term that refers to the idea of being vulnerable with clients, being completely open and honest with no sense of pretense or cover. The concept comes from the approach that we adopted more than a decade ago to work with our clients at The Table Group. We help CEOs and their teams build healthy organizations, and we found that by being completely transparent and vulnerable with clients, we built levels of trust and loyalty that blew us away.<br /><br /><strong>Q: </strong>What makes naked service different from the way most people provide service? <br /><br /><strong>A: </strong>Many service providers and consultants feel the need to demonstrate that they have the right answers and that they don&rsquo;t make mistakes. Not only do clients see this as inauthentic, they often feel they are being condescended to and manipulated. We&rsquo;ve found that what clients really want is honesty and humility. <br /><br /><strong>Q:</strong> What are the three fears that prevent learning professionals and internal and external consultants from developing trusting relationships and loyalty?<br /><br /><strong>A:</strong> People spend most of their lives trying to avoid awkward and painful situations, so it&rsquo;s no surprise that we are all susceptible to the following three fears that sabotage client loyalty:<br /><br />&bull; <strong>Fear of losing business:</strong> No service provider wants to lose clients or revenue. Yet it is this very concern that prevents them from having the difficult conversations that actually build greater loyalty and trust. Clients want to know their service providers are more interested in helping them succeed in business than protecting their revenue source.<br /><br />&bull; <strong>Fear of being embarrassed: </strong>This fear is rooted in pride. No one likes to publicly make mistakes, endure scrutiny or be embarrassed. Naked service providers are willing to ask questions and make suggestions even if those questions and suggestions turn out to be laughably wrong. Clients trust naked service providers because they know they won&rsquo;t hold back their ideas, hide their mistakes or edit themselves to save face.<br /><br />&bull; <strong>Fear of feeling inferior: </strong>Fear of being inferior is not about being intellectually wrong, it is about preserving social standing with the client. Naked service providers are able to overcome the need to feel important in the eyes of their clients and basically do whatever the clients need to help them improve.<br /><br /><strong>Q:</strong> What does being naked look like in practice?<br /><br /><strong>A: </strong>Naked service providers and consultants kindly confront clients with difficult information and perspectives, even if the client might not like hearing it. Naked consultants ask potentially dumb questions and make potentially dumb suggestions, because if those questions or suggestions ultimately help, it is worth the potential embarrassment. They also admit their weaknesses and celebrate their mistakes. Even before landing a client, naked consultants will demonstrate vulnerability and take risks. They will give away their best ideas and start consulting to the prospective clients during a sales call. In fact, they&rsquo;ll do no real selling at all, instead simply looking for a way to help the client even if that client never actually becomes one.<br /><br /><strong>Q: </strong>How can a CLO begin &ldquo;getting naked&rdquo;?<br /><br /><strong>A: </strong>The key to becoming a naked service provider is being true to yourself and your clients. When adhering to some of these ideas, make sure it comes from a place of serving &mdash; not following a prescriptive plan. CLOs can start building trust and loyalty from their internal customers right away not by making an announcement or starting a new service initiative, but rather from simply being transparent and honest in the way they provide offerings. The more the CLO is able to embody honesty, transparency and vulnerability, the more others will be inclined to follow suit.<br /><br />It may also be helpful to hold reading clubs and share stories about how using these concepts have worked and the positive client relationships that resulted. This can jump-start momentum. <br /><br /><strong>Q: </strong>What are the benefits?<br /><br /><strong>A: </strong>If all this sounds a little counterintuitive, even crazy, that&rsquo;s because it is &mdash; at least to many consultants and service providers. But the rewards are significant. Those who practice the naked approach will find it easier to retain clients, and it also allows them to be more open, more generous and less desperate in the sales process.<br /><br />Even beyond the world of clients, being naked has its benefits and advantages. When we can be vulnerable with the people we live and work with on a daily basis, we build stronger relationships, demonstrate our trust and inspire them to improve by being vulnerable themselves. And that is certainly worth getting naked for. </p>