Career DevelopmentCommunicationDPM Podcast

Why Should I Trust You (with Mike Clayton from OnlinePMCourses)

By 13/01/2020 No Comments

Ben Aston:

In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Coby writes that trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships and as project managers, having the trust of our clients, our teams and our bosses is critical.

It’s critical for us in delivering our projects because being trusted, means we get on with our work, we get on with the business of delivering projects without having to continually try and convince people to do what we want them to do.

But trust is something that we can take for granted and we rarely think about earning it, maintaining it, or perhaps most crucially how we can lose it. So keep listening to today’s Podcast to discover how you can build and grow trust to make managing your projects easier.

Thanks for tuning in. I’m Ben Aston, founder of the Digital Project Manager. Welcome to the DPM Podcast. We are on a mission to help project managers succeed, to help people who manage projects deliver better.

We’re here to help you take your project game to the next level. Check out thedigitalprojectmanager.com to learn about the training and resources we offer through membership. This Podcast is brought to you by Clarizen, the leader in enterprise project and portfolio management software. Visit clarizen.com to learn more.

So, today I’m joined by Mike Clayton. Mike is a doctor and he is the founder of onlinepmcourses.com and the site provides courses, tools, and resources for project managers at all stages of your career. Mike has got stacks of courses, he’s also written 14 print books and was for 12 years a PM what with Deloitte. Hi Mike, thanks for joining us today.


Ben, good afternoon. It’s a pleasure to be here and happy new year.

Ben Aston:

Well, thank you very much. And so Mike, I want to ask you to start with, what is new for you. This is a new year, this is 2020, what is new for you?


Lots going on. Firstly, my main focus for this year, I’ve decided is going to be my YouTube channel. Some of your listeners may know I’ve got an online PM course YouTube channel which has become a lot more successful over the last 12 months and I’ve seen that growth and I decided to invest a lot more time into that.

So, just at the end of the autumn, I ramped up from one to two videos a week and now be aiming to continue that throughout the year and invest in bigger and better videos as well. The other aspect is that I’m actually launching another YouTube channel.

Two YouTube channels. Well yes, because it has struck me for a long time that as project managers we are not just managers of our projects, we are also managers of the people on our projects and for young project managers getting good knowledge about basic people skills is difficult.

Not everyone is fortunate to get courses from their employer and there’s a lot of stuff on the web, but it’s expensive when you look at all of the different management disciplines and there’s a lot of stuff on YouTube, but it’s all very disjointed.

So, Management Courses, my new YouTube channel will be targeted at giving structured management training for anyone, but it will be particularly suitable for young professionals like new project managers who don’t have the management experience. So, a busy year coming up.

Ben Aston:

Nice year, it sounds like you have got your hands full and… But I want to go back to… Obviously, you’re a trainer now, but you didn’t just decide to be a trainer you spent some time doing some work and in the trenches first. So, can you tell me about your first day as a project manager and maybe how you got into it and what was it like?


I probably not alone in that. It’s very hard to put my finger on what my first day as a project manager was because my first day in the career that led me to project management, my boss would’ve said, “Oh, Mike’s not doing project management.” And I gradually ramped up what I was doing and at some point anyone would have said, that’s project management.

But I suppose my… I think of the first day as a project manager was when I was working on a project, I was a project team member and we were doing a very specialized project and the project leader was not a project manager by training.

He was a project, sorry I… Technical specialist in the topic that we were hoping to help our clients to manage project and he clearly wasn’t listening to the client and the client got very frustrated and when we went back to the office he wanted to carry on as he had been carrying on before and I had to speak to one of my senior colleagues that I trusted and say, I think we’re about to blow it.

And after a conversation with the client, it emerged that the client recognized there was only one person from our side of the… Around our side of the table in that meeting who was actually getting what he was saying, which was that I need someone to help me manage the project. I don’t need technical experts. I’ve got armies of those in my own organization, thank you very much. And he very specifically said, I want Mike to be managing this project, he is the only one that understands what we really need.

So, the next day I went in, ignored the most senior member of the team from the point of view of our organizational hierarchy, I was a consultant at the time with Deloitte, but now I was formerly the project manager and I had all of that responsibility was suddenly dumped on my shoulders with a team of people who… Some of whom felt that as more senior people in our organization, they shouldn’t be working for me, they shouldn’t be taking instructions from me. But the client was clear and the client gets what the client wants when you’re in professional services.

Ben Aston:

Yeah, definitely. And so, what would you tell your younger self now, looking back out on that day that you went in and you became not just a member of the team but you became… Maybe you weren’t even then called the project manager but you are someone who is managing the project. What advice would you give yourself? For someone starting out, who’s suddenly become a PM and that’s the case for many PMs, I think it’s… They are someone who is somehow managing the project and then they get given the title later. What would you tell yourself?


I think for me, the thing I most needed to learn was that once you take on that project manager role, you need to put aside your desire to hide in the technical details that you’re good at. Whether you’ve come up through software engineering, architecture, product maintenance, as a construction engineer, whatever technical background you have, once you take over leadership for a project, that becomes secondary to your responsibility to the project which means that you can’t do… What I ended up doing for a while, which is staff coming up and asking me questions even sometimes clients coming in and asking me questions, I’m gritting my teeth and just wanting to get back to what I was doing because that’s no longer your job.

Your job was no longer to do stuff. Yes, there is stuff to do, but your job is to manage a project and lead the people on the project and everything else is secondary to that. And your success is key to how well you lead other people. And if you haven’t got time to get your own stuff done, then you need to find solutions that don’t involve you doing it but involve delegating it and managing it as a project manager rather than being that specialist which is, I suppose for many of us when we first moved into project management, our comfort zone.

Ben Aston:

Yeah, definitely. It’s easy to revert back to those hard skills that have brought us into the industry or the role in the first place. So, yeah, I can definitely empathize with that. And so I’m wondering now in terms of… You’re PM-ing yourself, in as much as you’ve got a training consultancy but as a PM, what historically was in your toolkit and what do you still use from that yourself now to manage yourself and your projects, which are your now your two, new YouTube channels and whatever else you’ve got going on. How do you manage the madness?


I really love that you use the word toolkit because when I talk about project management and as a trainer, I think in terms of giving people toolkit because as a… Whatever you’re doing in life, nobody can train you by telling you what you are going to need because every situation is different and every person’s approach to the situation is going to be different.

So, all you can do as a trainer is give people the biggest bunch of tools you can so they’ve got the most flexibility. So, I suppose the question isn’t really what’s in my toolkit because I hope and by any measure, it’s a huge toolkit. I suppose, is what do I use most. And I still think that for a young project manager the tool that you’re going to use… You’re going to need most, but you’re going to be more reluctant to use at the start of your career, is the set of tools around engaging with stakeholders.

Really, really find out what… In my context, your customers, your clients want and perhaps an internal context what your users want and stay in touch with them, keep them informed and we’re going to… I know talk, you can ask me about trust in project management and that’s the key part of it as well.

And the other thing I suppose you asked me, how do I control the madness? My personal tie… I’m pretty tight on personal time management and my personal time management approach lifts from the basics of standard traditional project management and I use what I call the oats process for managing my time. I think about the outcomes I need to generate in the next day or the next week.

What are the activities I need to do to achieve those outcomes? I think about how long it’s going to take them, and then each one of those is going to take then I schedule them in and I call that the oats process. And it serves me very well in terms of planning my… And these days I tend to plan a week at a time and so I start the week on a Monday morning knowing exactly what I need to achieve by the end of the week to get me where I want to go and broadly in half-day chunks, what I’m going to be doing each day.

Ben Aston:



To get that done, what the priorities are.

Ben Aston:

And so, I’m curious, that’s interesting I think this is something that PMs continually struggle with. I struggle with it’s… We have our outcomes, we know what activities we need to achieve to deliver on those outcomes, is estimating the amount of time it takes. And I think often when we have lots of outcomes that we need to achieve, particularly when you’re more junior and maybe you’re managing multiple projects.

How do you deal with the scenario where things take more time than you were expecting them to. So you bail this nice plan for your week, you chattered everything out in half-day chunks. But on Tuesday morning the thing that you chattered in for half a day ended up taking the whole day and it still isn’t done. What’s your triage process?


In my weekly planning for my week, I apply the same process I used to apply with client projects I’ve always had proud boast that I’ve never delivered a client project late ever and I’ve had some pretty, hairy, large scale projects to deliver. But that’s probably I suppose a function of, I didn’t have a choice because my specialism as a project manager was always a time-critical deadline-driven project.

So, I made my career name I suppose, delivering the year 2000 project for anyone who’s… Any listener who’s old enough to even remember the year 2000 and so being 10 minutes late would have been disastrous for our client. And the way I do it, and it’s based broadly on the principle of a critical chain, the idea that you create series of tasks that need to get done in the context of perhaps a week’s planning for my current work, I’ll think about everything I need to get done.

But then I will put a chunk of time at the end of that which I refer to as islands of stability where in truth nothing critical is scheduled. There was plenty that could be done in adding up, but nothing is scheduled. And that way if something does overrun, then there’s no contentment, it’s a bit like a firebreak. There’s no contamination to the next sequence. So, basically Friday afternoons, I don’t schedule anything other than admin.

Ben Aston:



It means that if everything goes well, I can leave Friday with a very, very tidy desk and all my admin has done and feeling really good, not having to worry about it next week or if I feel very virtuous but a little bit exhausted, I can kind of take Friday afternoon off but if something goes wrong and Tuesday morning turns into the whole of Tuesdays you suggest then I can either finish the Tuesday stuff on Friday afternoon or I can bump everything around so that I use Friday.

So, it’s having that kind of firebreak so I get to the end of the week and I’ve… Unless something really disastrous happens then am never going to find against the end of the weekend, haven’t done what actually sets about, giving myself a big chunk of contingency, and of course you’re right to pick on estimating it’s hard… The hardest discipline of technical project management is estimating and I think it’s something that’s under-taught and I do worry that actually, our project manager is hearing the whole hashtag no estimates thing.

They’re going to think about it… Well, it’s not a skill I need to acquire because we don’t need to do it. I think that’s Frankie Peyton nonsense, we do need to estimate. It’s the degree of precision that’s appropriate for the situation that we need to be thinking about and what things need estimating. And of course, the other thing we do… The tip I always give people is, it’s if you’re managing your own time, everyone, everyone thinks that they are better, more effective, more efficient, right in their colleagues.

So, if you are fortunate enough to work with colleagues, instead of asking yourself how long will it take me to write this project report, look at your colleague who is doing a broadly similar job and say, “How long will it take him or how long would it take her to write this project report?” Because we tend to have a much more realistic estimate of what our colleagues are able to do than we do of ourselves.

We think we’re some kind of superhuman and “Oh, I could get that, I’ll just get that done in two hours.” And if anyone asks, you say what your colleague would say, “I’ll do, I’ll take them three or four.” But I’m different I could get it done in two or three. No, actually estimate for yourself the amount of time it would take your colleagues.

You can feel smug if you do get it done early. But realistically the chances that anyone individual listening to this Podcast is significantly faster at anything much than their skilled colleagues is pretty remote. So, that’s my top tip on estimating.

Ben Aston:

Yeah, that’s great. I think what you say there about… I like how you’re suggesting building in this, this firebreak or this buffer at the end of your week. And I think it’s interesting that you… And by earmarking that as admin, it means it doesn’t impact too much on anything because I think one of the things that as project managers when we become too overwhelmed, often I think the thing that goes out the window in my experience anyway, is the managing and controlling aspect of the project.

And now we’re going to talk about trust in a minute. But what happens when things begin to become mismanaged or things start getting out of control, as the project manager, we might not know that the project is not in a good place or we might not just have that awareness and a knowledge of what’s going on the project. And we’re saying things to our client like, “Yeah, things are going all right.” Because we don’t have that situational awareness that we should do.

Effectively managing our time to make time for managing and controlling our projects and building that into our schedules so that we can build trust and so that we can have the things that we say have some integrity I think is really important. So, let’s get back to your post on this topic of managing trust, and in your post you’ve talked about trust.

You provided an equation for us, which I always like was, trust is equal to the sum of your credibility plus reliability plus your intimacy with the other person all divided by yourself orientation. Do you want to just give us an overview of that equation and why you think that’s valid, why you think that is trust.


Well, for a start I need to say I may have provided it to your readers, but I didn’t say it or like it. The credit must go primarily to David Meister and also his co-authors, Charles Green and Robert Galford who wrote a wonderful book called The Trusted Advisor. Meister, in particular, specializes in writing books for professional services people.

So, if you are a project manager who sees your role in life as being a project manager and providing that service, even if you provide that service internally to an industry sector that isn’t professional services, a lot of his stuff is going to be worth reading. And I think The Trusted Advisor is the best known of his books and it’s certainly the one that really stuck with me and I’ve got three of them on my shelf and please don’t ask me to name the three of them.

But the trusted advisor really focuses on, if you are going to advise anyone and as project managers we advise our clients, we advise our sponsors, we advise our bosses, we advise the corporate governance of our organizations. If you’re going to advise anybody, you’ve got to have their trust.

And they looked at what are the components of trust. So, let’s start with the components, and then I’ll give you why I believe actually they’ve got the equation broadly right although I think they would never say you should use it literally as an equation and I would say. So, the first thing is you can only have trust if you have credibility if people actually believe that you know what you’re talking about.

And for us as project managers, I think there are two elements to that. Firstly, we have to know our project management, we have to have the skills and experience. And people say to me, is it worth getting qualifications? Because I haven’t got any, one of my great regrets as a young project manager was I had the chance for Deloitte to sponsor me through the PMP when it was… We were still on PM book one and it was 170 pages, a tiny document compared to now.

Those qualifications, whether it’s an actual qualification or a predictive qualification, whatever segment you’re in, if you’ve got qualifications they say, you do have some credibility. But we also need to have credibility in understanding the nature of the project we’re delivering in, delivering. And I’ve never as a professional project manager for Deloitte, delivered a project where I’ve been a skilled technical link, but going in.

So, a part of it is about how do you build that knowledge and how do you build the links with your team so that you can draw on that. So, credibility is vital. Secondly, reliability and people… A lot of project managers will say, “Well, that’s what we’re good at, we do what we say we’re going to do, we schedule stuff, we get it done, we are just doing it JFDI people.” Which is absolutely right.

So, reliability should be, a slam dunk for us as project managers. The problem comes is we forget that reliability isn’t about how reliable you are, it’s how reliable the other person sees you as being. So, when you’re beavering away getting stuff done with your head down in your computer or your team heads down in their computers or whatever it is that you’re doing, and you’re not talking to your stakeholders, they’re thinking, what’s going on?

Ben Aston:



You know, you’re doing everything you should be and everything is on schedule and your stakeholders haven’t heard from the project manager or I think something’s going wrong. So, a big heart of reliability is demonstrating that you aren’t doing.

So, communication is vital to demonstrate your reliability and it keeps your… I’m sure like me, you’ve worked in a lot of situations where there’s been a lot of change and people get scared when changes happen. And the worst thing can happen is that people don’t know what’s going on and so they gossip and they rumor-monger and I expect the worst. So, reliability is about giving people good quality information that they can trust.

Ben Aston:

And I think one aspect of that reliability as well is that whilst we might be reliable and I think what you’re right is that it’s all about perception, right? So, yes the client might… They might think we are reliable, but our liability is also contingent on our team’s reliability or our organization’s reliability. So, whilst from, we personally might be reliable as the face, as… If we’re in professional services or an agency, we’re the face of the organization or that agency.

So, our reliability is contingent on the team and the organization, which is very hard for us to control. And we try and set ourselves with people who we think are going to be able to deliver the project. We try and set up our team so that we can reliably deliver. But often the cases it might be a resourcing challenge, it might be someone… Another project that’s more important comes in and suddenly our reliability is totally short because we said we’d be able to deliver and now we can’t because someone else is more important.


Absolutely, and that gets to the crux of what our job is really as a project manager, which is to solve those problems and to not say, “Well, it’s just all gone horribly wrong and it’s not my fault.” You’re the project manager. It may not be your fault, but it is your responsibility, so you find a fix and your skills in communication is what is going to enable you to escalate a problem and get the collaboration of the people who you are reliance on.

I’m not saying you can always do it, there are situations, particularly with third party contractors who not only have a mind of their own but aren’t always motivated by the same incentives that you’re all right but it is your job and I think the reliability thing is also about how you communicate if things are going wrong, what is your approach to communicating that with the stakeholders, each stakeholder will gauge your reliability partly on the way you address the issues with them.

Can they trust the communication you’re giving? Do they believe you? Do they understand the situation in a clear way? So, liability is key and it’s going to keep pumping up. There’s two more to go. So, the next one is intimacy. Don’t get this the wrong way, if you’re listening to this, it is not about forming an intimate relationship with your clients, with your sponsors, with your colleagues, but it is about the extent to which they feel that they can share information with you.

And I suppose the first here is where they can share openly and honestly the organizational business information that you need. The second here that shows that they really are starting to feel that they can trust you through, that the intimacy is really building and that they’ll be able to build trust, is they will share some aspects of their professional aspirations and what really matters to them about the project and things.

And then as it builds, you will start to form a relationship where they can share more intimate things like actually what’s important to them in life and things like that. So, the extent that you can build really high-quality relationships with your team members, your colleagues, your sponsors, your clients, your stakeholders will build trust.

The fourth one is self-orientation and that’s slightly different because they phrase it as self-orientation. What we mean by that is the extent to which you’re motivated by your own needs and desires. Now, let’s not be naive about this. We don’t come to work as project managers because we are purely altruistic and we want to do things for our clients and we don’t care about ourselves, we do it and that’s partly because it’s a career that’s fulfilling and brings us the income we need to live the life we want to live.

But, if you act out of selfish motivations and seem to act out selfish motivations, if people believe that you are compromising your integrity for your own reasons, that will diminish trust and they could… Meister and Green and Galford have just had plenty of equation, it’s credibility plus reliability plus intimacy minus self-orientation, but they chose to divide by self-orientation.

And the impact that has is that as self-orientation starts to go up, the whole thing goes down very… The whole kind of trust equation diminishes very rapidly. And again, this is about perception, you may be entirely motivated by your clients’ interests, but if they suspect that you’re acting out of self… Interest, self-orientation, then they’re trusting you will go down.

So, you have to show that your integrity is complete, you have to again communicate the decisions you’re making, the choices you’re making, and show that you are… In the decisions, you’re making you’re motivated by what matters to your clients, to your organization, to your stakeholders. And you’re not choosing the easy route for yourself.

So, what this basically says is, trust is all about the extent to which you have integrity, the extent to which you build relationships, the extent to which you do what you say you’ll do when you say you’ll do it, and that you know what you’re doing. Put that way, why do I think this equation works. It’s because to me it’s a no brainer that all of those things are pivotal in the way I form the trust of other people. And therefore I suspect the way other people form trust of me.

Ben Aston:

Yeah. I think that’s a really helpful way of thinking about the different components that make up trust and yeah, I think the intimacy one is particularly for me an interesting one. I think you could also to some extent call that transparency or just openness is the sense of which… Okay, I understand what your career goals, what… That goes through to understanding as well what the business needs to achieve in order for that person to succeed.

So, I think these are really useful ways of framing and understanding what it takes to build trust. And so thinking about, okay, well how can we be more credible? How can we be more reliable? How can we create that transparency and intimacy with our clients? And how can we make sure that we’ve got our client’s best interests at heart? So, that as well we’re delivering value to the client and their team. And also thinking as well in terms of the end-user or the customer, making sure that we’re also delivering value there.

That’s how we can build trust. But in terms of, have you got any stories about situations where you have experienced less trust with your clients or stakeholders and the impact of that? Why would you say that trust is so important? We’ve kind of making this assumption that it’s easier, but have you got anything more concrete in terms of why you think it’s important?


Well, why I think it’s important. Yeah, I did have a case where trust didn’t… Well, I’m not saying trust didn’t work. It’s simply that what happened basically is I joined a project, it was on a very, very tight time scale. The previous project manager and we had the title at that time, not a project manager, but launch director. We were launching new.com.

Ben Aston: [crosstalk 00:29:27] director.

I wanted a big button on my desk. I had an office in a client site and it said Launch Director on the door, but back in 2000 who had a… Well, I had a phone, but who had a camera in their pocket to take a photo of that launched director. Anyway, surprise to say that the previous project manager was not seen as successful and I was brought in, hot on the heels of having successfully delivered this year 2000 projects.

But very quickly, shortly, after I joined the project, there were some big problems and I was hauled up not just in front of the client, but in front of some senior people in my firm. One of whom was very keen to ensure that his technical team didn’t get the brunt of the blame, which in retrospect I think they probably deserved, and therefore I was to be scapegoated by this colleague. What really went wrong for me was not that I didn’t have credibility and I think wasn’t able to build intimacy, but I hadn’t had the time with the client and with my senior colleagues who were… I hadn’t, didn’t know to go into this project.

I didn’t have the time to build that credibility and I didn’t have that time to build that intimacy. Therefore they couldn’t trust my reliability because they didn’t have the belief that I said… When I said we were working towards fixing some of the legacy problems that we would, I don’t know how I perceive self-orientation, but certainly, you need time to build credibility. Just going onto a project, having been successful on another project isn’t enough necessarily for every client and quite rightly so. Why should my ability to deliver one type of project mean that I can deliver very different type projects and I certainly didn’t have intimacy? I met these people for… And known her for a couple of weeks of hardworking environment but pretty much working on our own stuff and coming together at meetings. So there was no real intimacy.

I hadn’t had time to build credibility and so consequently it did result in me picking up the brunt of the blame and taking quite a long time to rebuild the trust and to get the project back on track. Now, interestingly, it was towards the end of the… With the month to go before launch that the client’s finance director took me out for lunch and you know, when the client took you out for lunch, they’ve got something they want to tell you.

And so, I knew that I had built report back trust with that finance director and we did have a conversation about some very tricky internal problem that he perceived, which we were able to work on together. So, it wasn’t that I wasn’t able to build that intimacy, it takes time.

Ben Aston:



Quite rightly so for people to come to trust you. So, my tip, I suppose for young project managers there is, work on it, get to work on it on day one. If you haven’t got that trust on day two, it doesn’t mean you’re not a good project manager and you’re not a trustworthy person. It means that in this situation with that stakeholder, it will take them longer than a day and it might take them longer than a month or so.

But it’s a never-ending task of building trust because you can always polish it and you can always… You always need to be alert for something that happens which may not be in your control, which undermines their perception of your credibility, reliability, intimacy, or self-orientation and you’ve got to address that quickly to get back onto it.

Ben Aston:

Definitely, yeah. I think in my scenario I’ve had times when there’s no trust there, in a relationship and I think it’s worth talking about this and thinking about. Okay, what does it look like when there isn’t trust? And for example, for me, we used to work a lot on time and materials, engagements where the client just pays for your time. Now, the challenge of that is, that there has to be trust there. There has to be trust that you’re doing good work.

Because what happens if there’s no trust is that the client, when you invoice them at the end of the month and they turn around and say, “This seems like a lot of hours.” And you say, “Well, yes, it’s been in the status reports every week.” And they say, “Well, can you explain what this is?” And then you spend the next two weeks debating with them whether or not the previous invoice was right or not. And then they ask you to dig into the hours and explain what happened.

And then it’s all just a complete waste of everyone’s time. You’re having meetings to discuss and try and analyze what the hours were for or how you spent the time. And yeah, I’ve been in plenty of situations where that has happened and that’s all just because fundamentally the trust isn’t there and it seriously undermines… Well, it’s seriously inefficient but it also is very frustrating for the team. It’s frustrating for the client as well.

So, in that situation, in your post you talk about different ways that we can build trust and you talk about engaging with a client, listening to what they have to say, showing you understand, envisioning what you can accomplish together if you work together and painting this bright vision of the future and then committing to doing your part. But in terms of that initial scenario, so let’s talk about my scenario where the clients obviously got their fingers burned before because they feel like they’re overpaying.

When you’re kind of beginning this engagement with the client. This is day one, they’ve been burned before. They don’t like the previous project manager, who may be overcharged them or whatever. What do you actually… Talk me through that conversation. How do you kind of get them back on-site?


Yeah, I think the first thing to do is to recognize that potentially if you don’t get this right, the relationship is just going to get worse and worse and worse. So, I will always start with recognizing that there is a breakdown in trust. And say, “Look, it sounds to me like you don’t completely trust this figures and I understand that and I recognize that we need to build back trust.”

Ben Aston:



So, actually, name the problem, name the issue. Now, what might actually happen is they might say, “No, no, no, no, we do trust you but I’ve got someone on my back” Which actually reframes the whole exercise for you because it actually means you’ve got an ally, not an enemy. So, declare that kind of breach of trust. And this next thing I will always do is to then say what my ideal outcome is.

It seems like you don’t trust us. So, what I really want to do, what my outcome for this next period is to do everything I can to demonstrate that we deserve your trust or I deserve your trust to show you that where your perception isn’t correct or that… I will demonstrate that, where we have made mistakes, I will own up to them and we’ll work together to find a solution that satisfies you because if it is a genuine mistake then I want to put it right.

So, state your outcomes and I also invite them, you’ve said this, I’ve made my position clear. What do you want from this? What’s your outcome? And it may be a very transactional outcome. I just need a statement of, in your case evidence of how it works that match the statement so I can reconcile it. It may be something like, I too would like to get back to trusting you and that’s great because if your outcomes overlap in some way, then you’ve already started to breach that trust gap.

The next thing to do is, frankly in your case it’s very easy. It’s got the facts and share the facts. Make sure first of all that you understand the facts they’re working from so that if they’ve got any errors in the facts that had been presented, you can put them right. Make sure you’ve got your facts and compare them and get to the point where you have a set of documented facts that you can both agree are correct.

That’s not the end of the process of course, because trust is a perception thing, not a fact thing, but it’s the basis and then where there are gaps in let’s say for the sake of argument. You have overcharged by a week, one member of staff, putting the wrong numbers inadvertently or otherwise. Now, you’ve got to make a commitment of how you’re going to fix it and have made that commitment, for example, we’re going to write that off and for the goodwill, we’re going to write off another chunk.

If I do that you might say what… How would you act? How would you feel about that? Effectively you are making a commitment and you’re inviting them to make a commitment too. And if that doesn’t satisfy then you can say… Well, you can discuss with them what’s missing and open up that dialogue. What’s missing? What do we need to do? What would satisfy us? And look for options. And if you can try and find a couple of options and weigh them against each other and agree in option, add together, put together a plan.

And then the last step is to reiterate your commitment to that plan and to act on it because now you’ve got the chance. Well, now you’ve got a plan. You can show your reliability. And I always say the measure of an organization isn’t the extent to which it does or does not make mistakes, it’s how it responds to those mistakes. And I am sure we’ve all… Everyone who’s listening has had shopping experiences that they will share around the dinner table of organizations making mistake and then absolutely make a complete Horlicks of it by not properly owning up to the mistake.

And it just digging themselves into a PR nightmare, which results in stories around the dinner table and your friends not shopping with them. On the other hand, we’ve probably all got some cases where we’ve contacted an organization that has done this wrong and they said, “Oh, really?” And they put it right and they’d more than put it right. And you feel great about that organization. As a project manager, you’ve got to be that organization.

You’ve got to be that individual that actually recognizes mistakes had been made and maybe you didn’t make a mistake. Maybe it was a perceived mistake, but you still put it super right because being right is not as important as putting it right. Because your reputation isn’t about the extent to which you’re always right. It’s the way people perceive you.

And so, if you make me feel bad because you’re proving your right, I’m not going to trust you because I’m just going to feel, I don’t like you. On the other hand, if you own up to mistakes or if you accept that I’m not happy and you make me feel good about it and give me a little victory, then I’ll start to trust you again.

Ben Aston:

Yeah, I think that’s solid advice. And I think sometimes what we can fall into is a short term game where we’re just trying to win that quick battle or that quick argument. And I see what we’re doing is eroding trust. And I think what you’re talking about here is having this big picture view of what’s going on with this relationship, with the client or the stakeholders, and if we want to keep working with the client, if we want to want this thing to live on beyond just the immediate engagement and transaction that you’re working on.



Ben Aston:

Then it’s worth, it’s worth building trust. And I think sometimes, particularly in digital perhaps, the kind of work that we do, we do lots of one-off engagements and I think because we do these one-off engagements, we can sometimes shoot ourselves in the foot by not building trust and maybe not valuing trust as much as we could. So, I think what you’re talking about is really valuable in thinking, how can we build our credibility, our reliability, our intimacy with the other person? How can we make sure that we’re orientating ourself and agency in such a way that the perception is that they can… That we are reliable, that they can trust us. So that’s been really helpful advice, thanks so much, Mike for joining us today.


It’s been a pleasure.

Ben Aston:

And I wonder what you think. So, what are your hacks tips and tricks for building trust? If you’ve got any stories of trust building that’s gone well or trust that’s been eroded and the whole thing is falling apart, please let us know in the comments below and please leave a review for us as well on Apple Podcasts.

We love to know what you think of the show and if you want to learn more and get ahead with your work, come and join our tribe with DPM membership, head to thedigitalprojectmanager.com/membership and you’ll get access to our slack team, our templates, workshops, office hours, eBooks, and more about… Until next time, thanks for listening.

Ben Aston

About Ben Aston

I’m Ben Aston, a digital project manager and founder of thedigitalprojectmanager.com. I've been in the industry for more than 15 years working in the UK at London’s top digital agencies including Dare, Wunderman, Lowe and DDB. I’ve delivered everything from film to CMS', games to advertising and eCRM to eCommerce sites. I’ve been fortunate enough to work across a wide range of great clients; automotive brands including Land Rover, Volkswagen and Honda; Utility brands including BT, British Gas and Exxon, FMCG brands such as Unilever, and consumer electronics brands including Sony.

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