[For Building Trust readers who may not be aware, my day job is serving a vibrant electronics business of 60 people called RBB Systems as president and CEO. This post is an example of what can happen when trust principles are lived on a daily basis. For more exciting adventures in the world of job shop excellence, explore the RBB blog which is written by RBB-ers of all stripes.]

Talent, class, commitment, and integrity. These leadership hallmarks are exemplified in Wendy Smith, RBB’s General Manager, who begins this month after 27 years of tireless effort, a new chapter in life.

We part as friends and she will be greatly missed. Yet this critical transition has been virtually transparent to customers and the business – and it’s a story worth sharing.

This quick tale began on September 6th, 2012. That afternoon, at our regular monthly 1-to-1 communication session, Wendy shared with me that she would be leaving RBB. At first I was surprised and quite disappointed – she had been my most trusted leadership ally through the years of major business refocus. Countless people had made significant sacrifices as RBB pivoted rapidly in its marketplace, but it was primarily Wendy’s faith in a gutsy new vision and her strong in-the-trenches leadership that made it happen on the shop floor.

Part of me watched her leveling with me as she had always done; I decided right then that I would not let my natural disappointment interfere with her graceful exit from the company. She had earned that much, and a lot more. That’s when she dropped the other shoe: she had not yet secured her next job.

WendyvideoWendy knew that it was time for her to go, but also that RBB would likely be harmed with a standard two-week notice. Even now her integrity and concern for RBB compelled her to step out on the limb. That, and the extent of our mutual trust.

By design, RBB is a highly transparent company: we both knew that things would become public knowledge very soon. Before the meeting ended we agreed that we would inform each other of our progress and thinking. Beyond that; no promises.

As Wendy accelerated her job-hunting activities, we hired a high-energy leader to guide our manufacturing team, and asked Wendy to devote the time she had left to helping with our sales efforts. At a certain point we agreed on April 30th as an end-date to our arrangement. She did an enthusiastic job up until her very last day. Wendy left after a completed race, with head high and amidst life-long friends; RBB’s shop is in good hands and the business is thriving.


Too Bad It’s So Rare

The voices of conventional wisdom do not support such departures:

  • Placement experts warn job-seekers to announce their intent to leave when-and-only-when they land a new job.
  • Attorneys and HR professionals warn bosses to cut people loose ASAP to limit their risk. Oh, the list they share is frightening: stolen secrets, stolen people, faked injuries, IT mayhem, you name it.
  • Too often managers take these departures personally: they listen to their inner voice that feels betrayed by the person leaving – and they end the ‘soured’ relationship prematurely.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. When genuine trust is built between two people, regardless of their roles at work or in life, powerful things can happen. In the thirteen years we worked together, Wendy and I strongly disagreed over many matters… and this has nothing to do with it! Agreement on its own rarely develops trust.

Trust is built when both people regularly:

  • Meet their commitments, day after day, or renegotiate revised expectations,
  • Share the truth, whether it is popular or not,
  • Watch each other’s back, even at the expense of their own,
  • Take chances with rough, unpolished ideas and thoughts,
  • Lend a hand even when there is nothing to be gained by it,
  • Confront the “icky” stuff that occasionally accumulates between them,
  • Reveal their true selves with each other – and learn to feel safer over time.


The Trust Payoff

wendysmithrbbsystems Naturally, when Wendy first revealed her decision to leave RBB, it felt like a body blow. But the payoff from all those years of mutually building trust was still there waiting to be harvested. She is starting the next phase of her life with great energy and support, while RBB never missed a beat.

And the best part is that even through this parting, we’ve continued to demonstrate that we can still count on each other – and God only knows where this power may take us down the road. 🙂

Are those risk factors above real? Sure they are, for both sides of the equation. But conventional wisdom reigns because real, earned trust is so rare in business these days. Yet this is not theory. The techniques we use are teachable, practical, and rewarding. If your organization would like to learn more, drop me a line at bruce@brucehendrick.com or bhendrick@rbbsystems.com.