There was an interesting article in the New York Times yesterday about Ursula Burns, the new CEO at Xerox. The title ‘Xerox’s New Chief Tries to Redefine Its Culture’ first took me by surprise. One of the things that is notable about Xerox is that it’s not uncommon to come across Xerox employees who’ve been at the company for most of their life. Ms. Burns herself started at Xerox as a summer intern in 1980. Xerox insiders talk about the ‘Xerox family’, and the extended ‘family’ seem to retain a fondness for their ex-siblings. However, as I got further into the article, it became apparent that Ms. Burns’ is not suggesting dismantling the family values. In fact, she wants employees to act more like family – be more direct, more open, more candid.
In her own words, “Terminal niceness,” is how she describes an aspect of Xerox’s culture. “We are really, really, really nice.” Maybe the “Xerox family,” she says, should act a bit more like a real family. “When we’re in the family, you don’t have to be as nice as when you’re outside of the family,” she says. “I want us to stay civil and kind, but we have to be frank — and the reason we can be frank is because we are all in the same family.”
I’ve written often about the value of trust, the need for mutual respect, the accelerant that is honesty, and the value of understanding the other person’s perspective. In the sales arena, where most of the readers of this blog live, candor is a true catalyst for productivity. It builds trust – and without trust you will fail.
My experience would suggest that trust is a potent weapon in sales, as in all of business. But someone has to show leadership and someone has to take the first step – which involves exposing themselves to some risk. But it’s worth it. Clarity results and relationships develop. Quickly you can discover whether the particular relationship (sale, contract, partnership) is worth pursuing and whether there is true alignment between the parties. When the parameters of mutual benefit is understood, and the parameters, borders, or guardrails are clearly established, the fog lifts, objectives are shared, and business velocity ensues.
The recent economic turmoil has undermined the public’s faith in big business. Main Street has suffered, and much of the consequent (and sometimes understandable) vitriol is focused on leaders of big companies. The ‘trust-bridge’ needs to be re-built between employees and their leadership, between companies and their customers, and internally within companies. This is not a pursuit of some woolly altruistic goal of the betterment of society (though that may be a natural consequence), but is putting a laser-focus on the need for productivity and business growth.
Ms. Burn’s leadership is encouraging.
[Disclosure: The TAS Group counts Xerox as a customer, and Tom Dolan, the Chairman of The TAS Group, has just recently retired from Xerox.]