Connecting with Allison Torpey on Leading with Trust


Trust is the cornerstone of healthy cultures, effective leadership, and successful relationships. Knowing this is one thing, practicing it is a far greater challenge. Allison Torpey joins this week to unpack her chosen leadership style - leading with trust.  Doing this takes time, practice, and continual deliberate reinforcement, and Allison shares the methods she uses to keep this front-of-mind. 

Allison's article on trust can be found here:

Forget talent, skills, and processes: Trust is new competitive advantage

 

Credits: Raechel Sherwood for Original Score Composition.

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Transcript

[INTRODUCTION]

Alex: Welcome to Uncover the Human where every conversation revolves around enhancing all the connections in our lives. 

Cristina: Whether that's with our families, co-workers or even ourselves. 

Alex: When we can be our authentic selves, magic happens.

Cristina: This is Cristina Amigoni. 

Alex: And this is Alex Cullimore. Let’s dive in.

Cristina: Let’s dive in. 

Group: Authenticity means freedom. 

Authenticity means going with your gut 

Authenticity is bringing 100% of yourself not just the parts you think people want to see, but all of you 

Being authentic means that you have integrity to yourself. 

It's the way our intuition is whispering something deep-rooted and true.

Authenticity is when you truly know yourself. You remember and connect to who you were before others told you who you should be. 

It's transparency, relatability, no frills, no makeup, just being.

 

[INTERVIEW]

Alex: Hello, and welcome back to this episode of Uncover the Human. Today we are joined with our guest, Allison Torpey. She's a consultant over at Propeller Consulting, which has a branch in Denver here. We've known Allison for a little bit now. And she came on to discuss the world of trust. Welcome to the podcast, Allison.

Allison: Thank you. Happy to be here. 

Cristina: Happy to have you. 

Alex: So let's dive right into it. You wanted to talk about trust. It's a great topic. Very near and dear to our hearts as trying to talk more to humans and talk more to people. So what made you want to do that? What makes you think about trust?

Allison: I wrote this blog on trust for Propeller several years ago now, four or five years ago, and it just really spoke to me as something  (it's why I joined the firm), it's something that's really important to me in the places that I worked, surrounding myself with people that I trust and trust me. It makes the job. I think it’s way more fun to be at and work, at least I spend a ton of time at my job, and I would prefer it to be fun and work with people that I like and that I trust. And that we can kind of build each other up and be there when we are sick, or need help, or whatever it is. I think that camaraderie and teamwork is super important. And that trust is the foundation of all of that. So just a topic that I'm pretty passionate about, and I try to employ it in my kind of leadership style as well. 

Alex: I like your immediate tie-in for trust being a connector to just a good culture that people want to work in, because I think that's what people sometimes implicitly understand. But it's hard to – We don't always explicitly state that this is a wonderful foundation for everything that people want to have. They want to have a fun workplace. They want to have that connection. They want to have the ownership, the trust, the autonomy. And it's such a great underpinning that I think people kind of know, but rarely gets explicitly stated.

Alex: Yeah, I've had jobs before where I've been heavily micromanaged. And that is not how I work best.

Cristina: Does not output trust.

Alex: You know what? Yeah, exactly. And that's like the kind of boss, they're like, “Holy cow! Just let me do my thing. Tell me – Like let's align on where we want to go as a pair or as a group. And then let me go, please.” And so that's why this is so important to me. I think people do their best work when they're given – Again, you have alignment on direction and you're given the space to kind of figure it out and make it your own with the support that you need. Not everyone is ready to do it on their own the first time, but you have to kind of trust them and be there to catch them. But let them figure it out. And make it okay to fail. Small failures are good. That's a good thing. 

Cristina: Well, and the support is a big piece also from “access to what you need” point of view. It's one thing to say, “Here's the goal. Go do it.” But then you don't have the resources, because it’s like, “Oh, well, you don't have access to technology, people or information.” “So I'm reading tea leaves? Smoke signals. How am I supposed to get there?”

Alex: And on the flip side of that, the other side of the spectrum, being full micromanagement where everything is dictated.

Allison:  I mean, we talk a lot about just asking good leading questions. There's a time and a place to be sort of directive with folks that report to you. But I always like to start from a place of asking leading questions, and not even like leading questions, but just like have you thought of this? Or helping people think through and solve problems on their own, because I'm not going to always be there. Like you have to teach people how to do things on their own and figure it out for themselves and up-level them as you're up-leveling yourself. I think all of that, trust is foundational to all of that 

Alex: I like that strategy. I hadn't really thought of the connection before. But when you ask the questions and you teach people to think about the questions rather than just learning they go to you for an answer. It’s a good way of just, “Okay, well, what questions are you going to ask in the future?” If I'm on vacation, what happens?

Allison: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. Well, into that point, like here we are going into a long weekend. But like I go on vacation and I like to not have to check-in. So even then, that can be extraordinarily hard for people to actually check out and actually be on vacation, but the world will keep spinning if you're out and you just have to trust your teams to do the right thing and make the right decisions. And hopefully you've been working with them and teaching them how to think on their own before then so that you can really leave and feel like everything's going to be okay when you go back.

Cristina:  I remember working with one of our former colleagues actually, Alex, who was supposed to create this whole new process that was pretty high-intensity, was customer related and needed to be presented to the executive team. And so he asked me, “Can you help me with this?” And we discussed that, and we talked about it, and by help, he didn't mean, can you just tell me what to do and do it for me? Or answer all my questions and just have it all mapped-out. But it was mostly: ”Can we sit in a room for half a day?”, which is typically how I work with teams. I don't really do things for them. But sit in a room for half a day or how many hours we need. And I can walk you through what I'm thinking. And we can just mold it and change it together and see where the holes are. See where the gaps are. You can ask me questions. I can ask you questions. And so we did that. And after that he was like, “Wow! That's exactly what I've been asking for for weeks. To be able to do with somebody,” is I could just think through my thoughts and feel that trust that I know what I'm doing. I just need a sounding board and somebody to be there and do it with me. 

Allison: Yeah, I mean, it's often the case, Cristina, to your point, that people know what to do. They're just not always confident in themselves enough to put it on paper and get started and just trust their gut and just being there as a sounding board for them to validate. You got this, you're going to be okay, everything's fine, yeah, can be super helpful.

Alex: So you mentioned that you joined Propeller and you’ve liked the idea that this firm had a lot of trust, had a lot of ability to let you run these things. What are good strategies you've seen as far as either what you like about working there or what you work on in your own work when you're delegating to teams or talking to your team? What helps with trust?

Allison: Yeah. I mean, I think a lot of it is from the top, our leadership leads with authenticity, and transparency, and humility, and all of those, like honesty. So they show up as real people. And it's a lot easier when we were smaller. I was the 21st hire when I joined Propeller. And now we're 150 people. So it's a lot easier to know everyone one-on-one, and their families, and their pets, and their kids and all that stuff. And we still try to do that. And I do that with my team and the folks that I work closely with, of course, but I can't do that for everyone anymore. 

But in any case, I think that our senior leadership has done a really good job of continuing to kind of model that like I'm a real person who has real feelings and real, like I make mistakes too. And therefore it's okay that you make mistakes. And I think that's something that I've just seen really clearly in the leadership here ever since I've joined, and then as I try to model the things that I like in my leaders. And so I try to show up in that way with my teams as well.

Cristina: Yeah, that's such a key piece. And I like the human emotions. I'm an emotional being. I make mistakes. There's no perfect ivory tower that I'm sitting on. And the transparency and the honesty, I mean, everything you said is how you build trust. Do you have any other techniques? Or especially with new hires, when somebody comes in at the beginning, what's, I guess, the process, if you have one, to create that trust?

Allison: Yeah. That's a really interesting question, because we hire. So we only hire like 1% of the people that apply to our firm. So it's pretty hard to get in the door. But once you are here, we automatically trust you. You're super solid. We hired you for a reason. And it can actually be really difficult. Most people don't come from places that treat you like that. And it can be really difficult to get people to believe that, that they have that trust and that space and that freedom. And you don't have to ask me permission to take a sick day. You just have to tell me that you're not going to be in today. That's it. Even stuff like super simple like that I think is something that I find myself just reassuring new hires. But, look, we're all adults. We all have jobs. As long as you do your job, that's fine. I don't care if you have to go to the dentist for two hours this morning. Or you want to take a couple days off to go visit your grandma. Just put in the PTO. Make sure that your project is covered. And make sure you're getting your job done. But other than that – So I think that's a very fundamental thing. 

The other thing that we faced a lot at Propeller is imposter syndrome. So I mentioned we only hire about 1% of the people that apply. When you go on our website, we have every single person at our company – Right now, I think as we scale, this probably will happen at some point. But right now, everyone has a bio that talks about both their professional and their personal sort of interest to some extent, and everyone has so many weird, and strange, and cool, and diverse experiences, but it can be really intimidating to join a group of people that is so just unique and to feel like, “What am I doing here? How do I fit in?” And so I think there's an element of trust. Trusting yourself, trusting in each other, we're all a team, like we hired you for a reason, can take some coaching with new hires to answer your question.

Alex: That definitely makes sense. I like the idea of the imposter syndrome as well, because that ends up being so powerful in both being able to trust yourself and then feeling like you're trusted, or feeling like you didn't just get lucky, get through the door, whatever it is. It's a challenging just internal mindset. But especially after a rigorous interview process, like, “Man, I mean, I made it through that, but I hope it was right.”

Allison:And if you don't trust yourself, you're not going to speak up and contribute. We hire folks with really diverse backgrounds for a reason. And we want everyone to contribute and add value in their own unique diverse way. And if you're too kind of scared to do that, because you don't think you fit in, then that's not doing any of us any good.

Alex: I like that you mentioned that you also have like a personal half of your bio too, because that one feels like one of the missing pieces. Sometimes everybody talks about, “Well, this is what I do here. This is my background from other jobs. But it's rare to get to see, especially publicly, more of what we might call the private side of it, the life side of work life. But it's one that I think that definitely, for me anyway, has felt like it builds trust when you can see like, “Oh, yeah, these people, they have lives outside of this. They have other interests. They're willing to express that we don't have to just talk about work. We can actually relate.” And just, “Hey, I'm having a bad day. My dog is not doing well in this.” You can talk about your dogs, talk about whatever, whatever connects you to being.

Cristina: Yeah, definitely. Humans. We’re humans first. 

Allison: I remember when I was in business school, but we talked a lot about it's not work-life balance. It's work life integration was the new buzzword. But I think it's kind of true. I don't mind it. I spend a lot of time working in the evenings after dinner. And I also spend time during the day in the winter going for runs in the afternoon, because it's the only time it's nice to do that. But it's all just about everyone having things they need to do, whether it's picking your kids up at school, or dealing with a sick dog. Everyone has other stuff going on and other hobbies. And it's important we believe really strongly in not just working for the sake of it, you’re not living to work, you're working to live. And there's other stuff going on. And you have to make the time for it. Otherwise you'll burn out.

Cristina: Very true. How has the pandemic influenced how you build trust in your teams, and as a culture, maintain it?

Allison: It's different for sure. I mean, I've been out here. And, for me personally, I've been in Denver, kind of a little bit more solo for a while, so it's not impacted me personally so dramatically, honestly. I've had to figure out ways of working effectively with folks being in a different place than them for a while any way. So I feel like I had a little bit of an advantage there. But there's definitely an element of how do you build teams with people? How do you build camaraderie and team? How do you build that trust with people that you've never met? Actually look in their eyes.

We do a lot of virtual team building events. The Denver team has a weekly stand up where we just get together and chit chat about our dogs and what like what hike are you going on this weekend? And what brewery did you try out? Stuff, like whatever. We talk about whatever and not work. Explicitly not work. I think that stuff is really important. With everything being virtual, things are just a little bit more, I don’t want to say forced, but like you have to be more formal or structured about how some of this stuff happens, because previously, you could just run into – You just saw people and you just talk to them. You didn't have to think about it or be intentional about it. And now you have to be far more intentional. But that's not to say that it's harder or different or not as effective. I think we've been making it work for the last year and a half. 

I know certain people are much more extroverted and maybe really looking forward to getting back in-person. And then there are the people on the polar opposite extreme of that spectrum. But I think just being thoughtful and respectful of all the different kinds of personality styles as well has been really important, and trying to make space for all those different types of folks to show up in a way and engage in the way that is most valuable and meaningful for them.

 Alex: I really love what you said about it being so intentional, because I think that's one takeaway we can all take from the pandemic. Whichever direction we go, if people go more towards hybrid, or in-office, or in between, there's that – It has had to be so much more intentional while being remote, but you can carry that over whether you're doing remote or not. And especially where most companies seem to be going towards the hybrid model, I think that intention is going to be particularly important if you're very focused about it and just willing to make the effort that we all had to make during a fully remote forced pandemic time and it's a little easier to integrate the team. And I like what you said about there being the introverts and extroverts, because there are people who, even in an in-person situation, wouldn't get to interact as much. And if you're intentional and creating those spaces where, remotely, everybody's going to and just talk about life or talk about things outside of work. That's a great example of just, “Hey, let's all just–” Wherever you are in your comfort with continually talking to people. This is a good way to just intentionally allow people to have a space to share it without solely relying on coincidental water cooler conversations. 

Allison: Yeah. One thing that I've seen some teams do really effectively is the hand raise – I think that as hard as it is for introverts to interact in an in-person group setting. I actually think in some cases, it's harder virtually. What if there's an internet lag? Or you're kind of stepping on someone and you can't read body signals as well. I've seen teams use Teams. Microsoft Teams I know has this hand raise feature. And I've seen groups use that really effectively. And just to make sure that you're involving everyone, because it can be so easy to just – And this was the case before the pandemic. But it can be so easy to just totally disregard the quieter people in the room 

Cristina: I think I saw that on a Zoom call too, where people were raising their hands. And I'm like, “Oh, I got to figure out how to do that,” especially so that Alex and I can stop interrupting each other.

Allison: Yeah. I mean, one of the things that I – One of my other teams is we’ll Slack each other: “Okay, you can chime in now,” which actually in that case, that's actually more effective than being – That'd be the equivalent of like kicking someone under the table.

Alex: It’s a kick with a message.

Allison: Kick with a message. Exactly. Yeah. Yeah.

Cristina: Or the voluntold. I've done that on Zoom meetings, where – Because we couldn't figure out the hand thing. And so it’s like, “Okay. We're going to ask for volunteers,” and nobody speaks up. We're going to start calling on people. 

Allison: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. 

Cristina: So some of the things that I've noticed is when trust is actually lacking, or there are gaps. So trust, I find that sometimes it's one of those things that's kind of like music in the restaurant. If it's good – Right? If it’s the right volume, and type of music, and sound, you don't notice it. But when it's missing, you definitely notice it, because you walk in and you're like, “What's wrong with this place? Why is it so silent? And I can hear my fork hitting my teeth?” So what are some of the things that you've noticed that are showing lack of trust?

Allison: I think it's like a tension, like a palpable tension in the room, I think is the first thing that comes to mind. Another one that I'm always kind of keeping an eye out for is like if you're on a team engagement, working in a team on anything, we should all be able – certainly everyone is owning their own sort of working tracks, or whatever it is that they're responsible for. But we should all be able to not be there and have someone else pick up or fill in the gap. And so I'm always watching for the lack of willingness to do that within my teams. And then why? Is it because we haven't trained up the other people on the team to do this thing? Is it because you feel too much ownership and control? There are a zillion reasons why it could be, but the first kind of problem to answer your question are lack of trust. I think it’s a trust in something. If this person isn't capable, I need to do it. I'm the only one that knows how. I don't want to have to redo it after the other person does it the way that I don’t it done. But I think, in those cases, it's most often driven by trust. So that's something that I'm constantly just sort of like keeping an eye out for.

Alex: That's a really good way of measuring it. I like that. Can other people pick it up? And are they willing to? That does speak to the idea of trust kind of being an accelerant, if you will, on being able to do things? I mean, if you think about it, if you're about to email somebody you don't trust or you don't have a good connection, it might take longer to phrase that. It might take longer to decide to do that. Or you might decide to avoid the contact altogether.

Allison: Yeah, which is the worst thing, is avoidance, right? For sure.

Alex: No. That's exactly it. You start to avoid that. Now you've slowed down the whole team. Either you're delaying it, or you're just entirely avoiding it and creating problems for yourself down the road.

Cristina: Yeah, and I agree. I think the evidence are very strict silos. That's when you’re going to know trust is not existing, because nobody can really be off. How can you be on vacation if you're so siloed and nobody can pick up where you’ve left off, which means back to your missing communication. Somebody is either hoarding information or not feeling they can share it, or not feeling capable of any of the things that you've listed, or all of them all at once.

Allison: Could be all. Hopefully we don’t get to the point where it's all, because then we as leaders have done something wrong, right? 

Cristina: Yeah. 

Allison: But, yeah. I mean, I think to that point though, it's super simple as we're kicking off – Anytime I'm kicking off with a new team, it's always like, “How do I work? How do you work? How do we want to communicate? How do we want to give each other feedback?” And it's not always the same. Just because I'm always the constant in the room doesn't mean that every team that I'm always on is going to operate in the same way. I mean, you need to be open to that, open to working within different kinds of ways of working and different ways of trusting people and engaging and whatnot, and showing up. And some people just want to get straight down to business. And some people love the chit chat. And some people love the collaboration. And some people just want you to do your stuff and hand it over and you're ready for a review. You never know that until you talk to someone about that. Because I think that's where it all starts. It has to. From just open dialogue and being comfortable with the norming, forming – What is that phases of being a team? Starting with the storming.

Cristina: Yeah, storming, norming. 

Allison: Being comfortable with being in that phase. That's just normal.

Cristina: Yeah, which gets skipped so often. Most of the times I've been in teams where it's just kind of like, “Here, you’re a team, because you're all on the same spreadsheet.” And I'm like, “But how do we communicate?” “Oh, however you want?” Okay, how do others like to be communicated with?” “Oh, however they want?” “Oh, okay. Can we actually talk through this? So that if I send an email and I don't get an answer for two days, I know what to do next? Because this person doesn't read emails.” 

Allison: Yeah. And it can feel like a waste of time at the beginning. It always does, but it always saves you time, always. Because you're not wondering, “What do I do if I didn't get an answer back from my email? 

Cristina: Exactly. Am I allowed to ask a question? Or am I going to be shut down if I ask questions? Because that's the rule for the team, don't ask questions.

Allison: It will be a bad team. 

Alex: I love that idea of just asking the questions about people, but it does require an amount of self-awareness of like, “How do I communicate?” So I'm just curious how those conversations go. If somebody hasn't considered those as much for themselves, do you give them ideas of how – What might work for them? Do you have ideas in your head of different styles you've seen that you can help guide them with, “I don't know. Does this work for you?” And what does that look like?

Allison: Yeah. I think for folks that really are new to these kinds of – I'll always ask open-ended questions. Ask first. So I'm happy to do whatever as long as we have some sort of alignment on how we're engaging. But if I don't get a good response, or that question is confusing, then I'll say, “Okay, well here's how I found things to work,” and suggest something. How does that sound? Do you have any suggestions, thoughts, feedback? Things you'd like to do different? And that's where we talk about leadership styles from being very kind of open and supportive all the way from that side of it to being much more directive and prescriptive.

I always start with the open and supportive side of things and kind of like begrudgingly almost, work my way down the scale of being – it’s not fun for either party to be super prescriptive and directive, right? 

Cristina: No. It's not.

Allison: And sometimes you have to. And you have to be self-aware enough as a leader to know when you have to engage in that way. Or, on the flip side, it's the whole point of this conversation, some leaders just start that only live there. Those people have to be self-aware enough to kind of come out. I always like to start by asking. And then of course, here's what I've done enough that I can say, “Here's what I've seen work in the past. And here's how I prefer to work. How does that sound to you?”

Cristina: It reminds me of the blog post you just wrote actually, Alex. Are you prescribing or supporting? 

Alex: Oh, yeah.

Cristina: Which really revolves all around that. Are you just walking in and telling people what to do? Or asking just one first question and then doing 20 minutes of lecture on what they should do based on what you want them to do? Or are you actually helping them come up with the answers and figuring out at which point does the balance of, “Oh, here's a suggestion,” which is more on the prescribing things, versus let me just help you process all on your own.

Alex: That's an interesting point. I like the idea of having that conversation upfront with people. And I suppose there's probably some back and forth. You're talking about starting from the open-ended question and moving towards the –“Well, if I have to, I'll be a little bit more directive about this.” And then I suppose it would have to eventually go the other way as long as the person develops and feels more comfortable. And then you'd have to realign yourself and pull yourself back out of directive to be like, “Oh yeah, and we're back up to open-ended questions.”

Allison: Right? Because the goal, at least my goal, is always to be pushing people to grow in their own professional development, right? And this is something that I always start by. This is how I prefer to manage. I would love to know how aggressively you want me to be doing this? I think I need to be doing it to some extent, but different people want to be growing quicker than others, right? But my goal is always to be kind of pushing you sort of just at your edge, because otherwise none of us are growing. And to my point earlier, I need you to be growing so that I can grow, because if I’m having to do your job, then I can't do the things that I want to be doing. So it's a win-win for all of us, I think. But if you're not giving people the space, the nudge, some people need to be nudged harder than others too. Some people are just comfortable where they're at and being comfortable, but then want to grow, but like that – I think that one of the podcasts I listened to of yours previously was all about that like being comfortable sort of with that – getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. And that's super hard. And it takes a lot of work to do something new, and different, and harder, and bigger, or whatever, achieve a hard goal. And that doesn't come naturally to most people. So I almost do this as my job is being like, “Come on,” you’re kind of the coach here that you push you to nudge. And again, different people need to be nudged, want to be nudged harder, and other people need to be nudged harder.

Alex: And to your thesis on trust, that's exactly where it starts from. If you kind of get nudged, it's a lot easier to be nudged by somebody you trust. If somebody pushes very hard out of nowhere, but you trust the person, you’re like, “There's probably a reason for this.” Lest defenses get pulled up, it's a little easier to just have that conversation and make that push.

Cristina: Yeah. I was going to say the same thing. You can get comfortable with being uncomfortable more often when you know there's a basis of trust. Without trust, you're going to stay in your comfort zone.

Alex: Or just be uncomfortable all the time. 

Cristina: Yes. Or just hate life all the time, because you're like, “Okay. I'm on my own here all the time.” And that's not sustainable. You have to have the trust that you're not on your own, that you can make the mistake, which brings back to something you said at the beginning, Allison. Mistakes do happen. 

Allison: The nudge doesn't work if you don't believe that it's okay if you make mistakes. You have to be able to make mistakes to keep going.

Alex: There's an emphasis more – I don’t know. This is in a few circles at least professionally. There was an emphasis a few years back on work to get yourself out of a job basically. Do enough that your job is no longer necessarily required. But I really like what you said, Allison, about, “Well, my work is to develop you so that we can both do this.” I mean, not only am I working to put myself out of a job. I'm working to make sure you put yourself out of a job. I will develop you out of your own job so that we can all grow. I like that idea of both trust and leadership.

Allison: And as consultants that should come more naturally to us just generally. We never want to be around when something's operationalized. It is our job to work ourselves out of a job. But then beyond that, you have to think about yourself and your professional development as well. So it's kind of like a twofold thing in our line of work. There are different layers of it.

Cristina: Well, which is very interesting, because at times, you're kind of stuck in this dichotomy of, “In my work, I’ve worked myself out of a job because that's what consultants do.” You go in, you fix, solve, you create. And then once it's all set up, you leave, because somebody else is going to be the one coming in and actually making it run every single day. And at the same time, there're definitely indications, and both Alex and I have experienced this, personally, I'm supposed to be doing the same thing all the time with every single client, with every single project. And God forbid, I actually want to do something else or grow, because then I'm out of my silo. I'm out of my swim lane. And so it's very hard, because it's not in our personality to want to do the same thing over and over and over, which is why we're so good at consulting. 

Allison: Yup. Yup, for sure.

Alex: So when it comes to developing people, you got some – People are trying new things. They're gaining some trust maybe internally. There's such an important portion of consulting and then just relationships in general when you get to client-facing. How do you see trust in those interactions where you're actually dealing with other people and working like you're developing your team? They're trying something new, but they're trying it on an active client? What’s that look like?

Allison: I think it’s really scary. Because if they do make a mistake and the client sees it, then “My gosh!”our whole job is to serve clients, right? That's what we do. That's how we get paid. But I still think everything I've said still applies and is still true. I think the difference is in asking really good questions. So if I'm someone's performance manager, and they're at the client-side doing something that's new and challenging for them, it's my job to be asking the right questions to see something that they might not be seeing that might – I want to be able to catch something that might go wrong before it goes wrong so that the client doesn't see it go wrong. That's super hard to do. And we're constantly working on that as a leadership team and thinking about different ways of the skill to asking good questions and uncovering things. Because if you ask a consultant, “What do you think is going to go wrong next?” Actually, they probably don't know. It's not like they're lying to you. They just actually don't know. And so and then it's my job now to be asking the questions and listening for the right things, for indicators or signs of things potentially going wrong. Or “Oh, that's a little bit interesting that your sponsor didn't show up, or your sponsor said this thing, or didn't respond in this way to your deliverable.” Or like things that maybe they're just not even seeing or thinking of. And that's where it becomes really tricky, because we're not always on site with our consultants. More often than not, we're not. And the clients are never going to be incentivized to give us direct feedback, really, until this person needs to get out of here. And then you never want to be in that place. So it's a super tricky position to be in for sure, is how are you asking the right questions to the client? How are you asking the right questions to the consultant? And how are you supporting and looking several steps ahead and way further than the consultant is looking to try to mitigate as much of that risk as possible?

Alex: That speaks to the idea of developing your own experience. I mean, you have to develop that body of like, “Okay, I've seen this go wrong before. I see these as indicators. I know where that might lead,” if they're saying something like this. And it kind of speaks to how trust works too. These are both just ideas that develop over time. And you have to allow the time to do that. Like Cristina was saying, you can't just throw somebody in a room and be like, “You guys are both on the same spreadsheet under HR department. So you trust each other, right? We're done. Good.” So I really like the idea of remembering to take some patience for that too, because trust takes some time to develop. And so just experience that you can trust yourself, frankly, and other people can trust you.

Allison: Yeah. It's funny, like a lot of – And I don't mean to stereotype, but I work with a lot of engineering-minded folks who perhaps don't see as much value in team building activities and things like that. But this whole conversation, it's so important to know someone, because when the rubber hits the road, and you need to move fast and you need to make quick decisions, you need to be in a place where you trust your team and the people you're working with. And the only way to do that is to take the time, whether it's formally, or informally, or however you want to do. It doesn't matter. I don't care, but it needs to be done. And that's part of the team building, bit of it, is you have to get to know the people you're working with to some extent to build that to be effective.

Alex: You'd mentioned it earlier that it feels like a waste of time sometimes when people are onboarding, you do this. And then people can easily be like, “Well, I'm not going to spend hours on that. I have “real work” to be doing.” And I think it's interesting, because I understand the impulse. It comes down strongly, like I've got a client that needs something. I've got whatever fire breathing down my neck. But I always wonder how effective it would be to try and sell people on the idea of you want to get the work done, but it might be more effective if we have this as a team. And it's a hard sell. Because it's sometimes hard to point to the fact of doing this other than we kind of know that it feels better and we can trust each other and works smoothly. So are there ways that you found of basically pitching that idea that this is an important part of, “If you want to get the work done. This is a part of that.” Because it sounds like you're doing that with a lot of your own personal leadership style.

Allison: Yeah. I mean, as you were saying that, I was just thinking about the bigger picture. Cristina, I spoke to this a lot, is like how do you even just tell clients to get change management? I’m going to do this with a client where they're like, “Yeah, I obviously see the value in keeping the data, like the data resources.” But the people, we'll just tell them what to do, “Bobby, that's not actually going to be effective. That’s not how people work. The job market is super-hot. People feel like they're being dictated to. They leave and find another job that's better and probably pays better and that has a better culture, or maybe it doesn't, and then just go to another job. You don't have to stay in a job for 30 years like you did 20 years ago. So I think there's an element of the proof is in the pudding though, which is where I found it to be the most effective way to sell this stuff. Where if you can do some sort of proof of concept, or pilot, or whatever you want to call it, but somehow  do it and infuse it in a project. And then like, lo and behold, my project went better than your project. And why was that? It was because we did team building activities. We used change management techniques. And selling through proof I think it's much easier than selling just theoretically. Change Management is a good idea sort of thing.

Cristina: Yeah, we could do a whole other podcast on that one. 

Allison: Yes, exactly. 

Cristina: And whenever I think about that, I always think about  “Okay. So given that you're taking the humans out of this, are you expecting your desks and chairs to run this company?” 

Allison: Yeah. 

Cristina: Because that’s pretty much what that decision means. Yeah. I actually read a quote this morning by Dave Ramsey, who reminds me of what we're talking about, especially in the thinking ahead and a few steps ahead and trying to ask the right questions so that you can prevent things from happening or focusing not just on the smoke in front of you, but on the forest fire that you're ignoring behind you, which is where the smoke is coming from. But he actually says almost all long-term thinking has short-term pain. And almost all short-term thinking has long term-pain and short-term relief. And I find that the team building is that. Yeah.

Alex: Visualizing the timelines now. 

Cristina: It’s like, “Oh, wait. Yeah.” It’s like relief, long pain, pain, long relief. But that's the team building thing. It's like, “Okay, go through the time. Go through the pain of investing in team building at the beginning, so that you can have the long-term relief.”

Allison: Exactly. Yeah, it often times takes more time to do the thing that will make things easier in the long run.  It's super hard to set aside the time to do the thing you know you have to do to make things easier for you.

Cristina: Yes. It is very hard. But definitely how you build trust. I mean, even simple things like let me help you do or show you how to do it, instead of doing it for you. And yes, it's going to take me having to show you 5, 7, 10, 15 times. And then you're done for the next two years, as opposed to me having to do it for the next two years. Because every time, I'm the one doing it.

Alex: Just thinking of that when you're talking about people, especially change management, “I'm going to go change the data platform. We see the benefit of that. And then I'm just going to tell people what to do.” And it's kind of hilarious reversal, since technology is specifically – it’ code. I mean, you tell it what to do, and it will do those things. That's where that one lies. People are distinctly not the same. But on the flip side, it's kind of funny you mentioned, like the increases you get by taking the time, like I'll walk you through how to do this, because then the next 10 times it comes up, I won't have to do it. Because that clarity is kind of like automating anything in technology, you take the time to go build the automation. And now you're done. If it helps the metaphor, if technology is the comfortable place we can live in, maybe that's leadership development.

Allison: That's really interesting. Yeah. Well, what I was going to say, and I think this still actually works with your metaphor. So I think that – So we've been talking a lot about teaching them how to do it, like showing someone how to do it. But I actually think – Which is the coding the machine to do the thing. But I think the next level-up, and actually exactly where data is too. So this is why I was like, “I think a metaphor actually still works, it works perfectly,” actually what we want to be doing is teaching people how to think, which is what AI and machine learning is too. So I think telling them what to do, showing them what to do, and then teach them how to think and do it for themselves and figure it out for next time. So they need to even last, is actually the goal.

Cristina: Yeah. Then you've worked yourself out of a job. 

Allison: Then you can go on vacation.

Alex: Exactly. Then you got to go to Fiji and you’re all set. 

 Allison: Yeah. 

Alex: Oh, I'm hung up on this machine learning one. So this one could get a little long winded. Please cut me off if this continues. But I want the idea of the machine learning metaphor, because there are two faults generally in machine learning models. You're trying to get it to predict some kind of behavior. And you can either do that. If you go way too far, you get overfitting, where you're just like you've got a model that perfectly fits your test data, but it won't fit in the real world. So this is like a crazy squiggly line to try and capture every dot, which very much feels like micromanagement. I'm going to capture every single one of these things, but if new data comes along, like we're going to have to rewrite everything to do that again. Are you under fit? And you're just kind of guessing. And it's not particularly close? Most of the time.

Allison: Yeah. Well, I don't know, I guess, as much about machine learning as you do. But that does make sense.

Alex: Like I said, stop me on this before it goes long, but that's the idea. Just if you're trying to draw a line that fits a bunch of points, you either try and fit it well to the general trend, or you go way too far, and you fit it to every single point and it never – It doesn't really apply to anything anymore.

Allison: It's not good. That makes a ton of sense. And that's why I think like our model of consulting is we're generalists, we’re problem solvers. Rather than I'm an expert in implementing this specific solution for large healthcare organizations. Those are two very different things. And so our kind of model of consulting relies on teaching people how to think and business acumen, problem solving, and critical thinking, pattern recognition. To your point about this machine learning, like we're not actually doing the same thing over and over, but better and better. We're doing different things. And we're leveraging patterns and past experiences to do them better.

Cristina: Which is really how you do successful change management. I mean, some of the guaranteed failures of change management are the projects where you walk in and they're like, “Okay. Yeah, just give me the formula.” And I'm like, “Well, I actually have to learn what's going on first. I can't give you the formula.” 

Allison: I mean, that's the beautiful thing about people, is that it's never going to be – Even if you have the same people, the same company, the output and the specific circumstances are never going to be the same.

Cristina: Yeah. So you got to talk to the people. Ask the questions. That's one of the – Now, the most successful projects are the ones, at least for me, change management perspective and people perspective, which, unless, again, you take the people out of the projects. I don't know how they could be successful without the people part. But the most successful ones are when you spend your first week, 2, 5, 6, whatever, however many weeks asking the questions and listening and understanding. 

The project that we did at the end of the year last year, we had planned for 10 interviews to kind of get us in the discovery phase. I think we ended up doing 45. But that's what we needed, because we needed to learn more. We needed to understand that, “Oh, your specific case is very different from their specific case even though it's the same question.” And that's when you also need the different perspectives and different experiences in the room to hear that, because it may be the same question by the same person, but the answers are going to be very different. 

Allison: And you're not just brought in just at the end for training. 

Cristina: Yeah. That’s guaranteed failure. 

Allison: Yeah, yeah. 

Cristina: Yeah, we did all this. Now, just train and communicate. I’m like, “Train what and communicate what to whom?” Right. Okay. Not code. Not zeros and ones.

Alex: I like that idea of questions as building trust, because if you think about  the requirements portion of any project, you ask a lot of questions, because you want to be able to cover it. But that also creates the trust from the client from all the different people, because then they know, “Look, I've had a chance to express my concerns. I'm going to allow that to be like, “Okay, I believe this probably will help me then, or I believe this project will be beneficial,” which is a huge portion of change management is getting people to kind of buy into like, “Yes, this is going to help us. That's why we're doing this. And, yes, we're all going to to slow down a little bit and answer a lot of questions to get there.”

Allison: Yeah. And just you have to make sure that you actually follow through on doing something with their feedback. Listening and not doing anything with it is actually worse, it turns out.

Cristina: Oh, yes. Yes. 

Allison: Now you’re just wasting my time. 

Cristina: Yeah. We care about your opinion, and we're going to take it and flush it down the toilet. 

Alex: Lots of trust. Lots of trust all around. Delayed trust bomb. 

Cristina: Yeah. I’ve been around that bomb a few times. 

Allison: Oh, yeah. 

Cristina: We've all have probably.

Alex: Well, then it becomes harder to reassemble, right? So they've given their opinion. They find out later it wasn't taken into account. It's going to be much harder to ask them to give opinions or have them give you their time. And for a services company, by proxy, then their money, to continue to solve problems is like, “Last time, I gave you a bunch of information, and it seemed to go one ear, out the other. Like why would I spend this time on this? Why would I trust this is going to be heard?”

Allison: Yeah, it takes a lot longer to rebuild. You can break it. I don't know what that thing is. Break it in an instant, rebuild it, and whatever, however long, a lot longer.

Alex: I've heard it attributed to Mark Twain. I have no idea. But I think it's just like trust runs away on a horse, but crawls back and disappears very fast. But it takes a long time to build back. 

Allison: We’ll go with Mark Twain.

Cristina: Yes. Yeah. Yeah, that's where I see the breaking trust or the lack of trust. And breaking is definitely worse than lack of trust from the beginning, is that you've not only broken the trust for this one instance. But now you've put into question everything in the past and in the future. Because now you're always wondering like, “Hey, am I getting the full story here? Or am I getting 50% of the story? Oh, and since I was shut down for asking a question this time? What's going to happen next time? And was I actually held back from a promotion because I was asking questions in the past?” So everything just gets destroyed really.

Allison: Yeah. I think that you just brought up something that I don't think we've really touched on. We've been talking a lot more of the leadership to the employee. But you're not talking about the employee to the leader. And if I'm asking questions, or asking for help, or making mistakes, like how am I – What is the response that I'm getting? And how am I as a leader being intentional about how I'm like – So I could be having a terrible day, and you come to me with a question and I blow you off. And I don't even think twice about it. But for you, you're like, “She hates me. She doesn't trust me.” And being really powerful about every moment and interaction you have as an employee is usually a much bigger deal to them than is to you. I think that's another element of trust that I don't think we've touched on yet. Just being thoughtful on how you're showing up and responding to people. 

Alex: Yeah. We had a guest on that was kind of in the hospitality space. And he was discussing how every, as a person in hospitality, and in this case, that'd be like the leader, you deal with maybe tens to hundreds of customers a day. Maybe a week, whatever it is. Your interactions feel more diluted. But for that customer, you're the one person that they have seen. You were the one interaction. So for the employee, that's their one leader, that's their one boss. And it is much more intensive. And that's the one piece of the pie that we see from that side.

Cristina: Yeah, like the flipping the coin, because that's usually a lot of what I think about when I tried to build trust with teams especially, is how am I showing up? And I am going to show up on a bad day, guaranteed, multiple times. But what's happening on the receiving end of that? And some of the coworkers we used to have used to come to me to Slack with any random question that I guarantee I couldn't answer most of the times, but the beginning of coming to me was always, “Hey, Cristina, coming to you because I know you're going to answer, or you're going to at least help me with this while I'm getting ghosted by .....” But that's where that trust was broken. And this is the opposite. The trust is built. And my answer, it's usually like, “I have no idea. But let's go figure it out, or go talk to this person and figure it out.”

Allison: Yeah. And I think you just touched on a few really important things, Cristina, which is, if you are having a bad day, acknowledging that, telling people upfront before you do something obnoxious or that they don't remember forever. Second, I think you've mentioned just being available. I think that is huge – I'm always around. You can ping me anytime. I might be in meetings, but I will follow-up with you no matter what, and I will help you. And then third, a bit related, is I probably won't know the answer, I might. I might not. But I will help you figure it out. And I will have a good idea of who to point you towards, or a resource to look at, or questions to ask you. And we can think about it ourselves. And I think all three of those things are showing humility and transparency and authenticity. And I think all of those are super important and foundational in building trust

Cristina: And I do have to say the reason why Allison and I very much connected is because she is one of the few people, with Alex too, that always responds. Always, I know that if I reach out, she will always respond, always be there. And it's huge.

Alex: I think I flooded about the 80% response rate. Not my strongest quality. 

Cristina: It’s okay. I know where you live. 

Allison: She’ll come to your house. 

Cristina: I know the names of your cats. We’re good. 

Allison: That’s serious. 

Cristina: If I call them, they'll come to me, and I can kidnap them.

Allison: Wow!

Alex: And that is the other way to build trust, like kidnapping and ransom. 

Allison: Yes. 

Cristina: Someone’s pets. 

Allison: Then you know people will do what you want them to. 

Cristina: We’re on the command control line of leadership at this point. 

Allison: Yeah, it feels a little different.

Alex: So you mentioned that leadership really kind of boils down to this kind of trust and authenticity, which is a wonderful segue. One thing we love to ask people towards the end of the episode is what does authenticity mean to you? And I'd love to get your perspective on that. 

Allison: That is a big question. I feel like we touched on a lot of pieces of it. But I think a lot of it is humility and being okay with saying, “I don't feel good today. I'm having a bad day. I need your help. Can you help me?” Yeah, I think it's just being real. Cristina has used this term, we're actually all people. I like to run, and I have two puppies. And I have lots of things that I like to do and I like to talk about that aren't business development or change management. I like talking about those things too, but I also have lots of other hobbies and passions and interest areas. And I think that's important to know about myself and make precedent and know about other people too. I'm super cautious about being the leader who just ends up talking. Everyone kind of knows people like talking about themselves, but you don't want to be the leader who you show up in a one-on-one with your employees and they’re asking questions about you the whole time and you're like going on and on, “This is great. They're talking about me.” Like that's not the person I want to be either. So it's finding that authenticity and then building a real relationship with everyone. 

Actually, I call myself a closet introvert. It's my job to be fairly extroverted. But my nature is actually to build stronger one-on-one relationships. I think that that's where trust is. Trust is not built in group settings. It's built in one-on-one settings. And in our line of business, people buy work from people they trust and they like. So it's not a bad thing either, I don't think.

Cristina: It’s kind of necessary.

Allison: Yeah, it's necessary. Yeah. So I don't know if I answered your question, but –

Alex: Oh, that's great. And I think it's a good point on both on like a services model, but any model. We buy from brands we trust, whether that's consultants or whether that's a brand of sneaker, or a brand of CRM we're going to go buy. We buy from the places that we can trust or feel like we have connection to. 

Allison: Yeah, that's a good point.

Cristina: Yeah, we definitely do. And I love that quote that I will may have to steal in credit back to you. Trust is not built in groups. It's built one-on-one. And so if you don't – 

Allison: That’s incredible now. I love it. 

Cristina: The beginning of your fame, Allison. 

Alex: Wow! Alright. Got it. I’m good. Let’s do it. Our podcast is the classic stepping off point to. 

Cristina: Yes. You’re going to be the next Ted phenomenon. 

Allison: Wow! Okay. The bar is getting higher and higher now. I like to do big, but I don’t think I'm going to be the next Ted. 

Cristina: Nudging you in that uncomfort zone.

Allison: You did it. That was a nudge. That was a good nudge. Yeah. 

Alex: So we've addressed the blog that you wrote, which I would definitely recommend people check out. We'll include that in the show notes. But is there anything else, anywhere else people could find, would like to connect, or find Propeller?

Allison: Yeah, I think I'll just share my LinkedIn profile and Propeller website. The other, it's referenced in my blog, but I will say the book by Patrick – I don't know how to say his last name. 

Cristina: Lencioni?

Alex: Lencioni? 

Allison: Thank you. Cristina can help me here? Fairly Italian. But yeah, the book Getting Naked. It’s all about trust in authenticity and transparency. I read that one of the first days I started my job at Propeller. And I recommend it to all. It’s a super inspiring book, and uses this story to explain why putting yourself out there is so important and can maybe slow you down at first, but lead to really great things in the future. So, yeah.

Cristina: Yeah, I love that book. I read it three years ago? 2018. So, yes, three years ago. And that was kind of like the beginning of me like, “Oh, wait. That's how I want to do business.” It's that way. 

Allison: Yup. Yeah. That's a really good book. 

Cristina: Well, thank you, Allison. This was a great conversation on one of my favorite topics, at least 

Allison: Yeah, thanks again.

Alex: Yeah. Thank you so much for joining us.

Allison: This was fun. Thank you so much. 

Alex: And thanks, everybody, for listening. 

Cristina: Yes. Thank you. 

[OUTRO]

Cristina: Thank you for listening to Uncover the Human, a Siamo podcast. 

Alex: Special thanks to our podcast operations wizard, Jake Lara; and our score creator, Rachel Sherwood. 

Cristina: If you have enjoyed this episode, please share, review and subscribe. You can find our episodes wherever you listen to podcasts. 

Alex: We would love to hear from you with feedback, topic ideas or questions. You can reach us at podcast wearesiamo.com, or at our website, wearesiamo.com, LinkedIn, Instagram or Facebook. We Are Siamo is spelled W-E A-R-E S-I-A-M-O.

Cristina: Until next time, listen to yourself, listen to others and always uncover the human.

[END]

Allison Torpey Profile Photo

Allison Torpey

Director

Allison has nearly 15 years of experience working in project and program leadership, change management, and business and people strategy roles both internally at Propeller and at organizations of all sizes in a variety of industries including consumer products and retail, renewables and utilities, and the public sector. Her passion for creating and maintaining high-performing teams, keen ability to make the complex seem simple, and refined business acumen has enabled her to drive results across all levels of the business. She excels at aligning divergent stakeholder groups to a common vision and driving teams forward to consistently exceed project expectations all while ensuring a premium customer and employee experience.

In her current role, Allison is responsible for helping to stand up Propeller's Denver office by driving new business development and client acquisition, account management, recruiting, and talent development and management activities in the market.

Article on Trust written by Allison:
https://propellerconsulting.com/blog/forget-talent-skills-and-processes-trust-is-the-new-competitive-advantage