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TED2018

Frances Frei: How to build (and rebuild) trust

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Trust is the foundation for everything we do. But what do we do when it's broken? In an eye-opening talk, Harvard Business School professor Frances Frei gives a crash course in trust: how to build it, maintain it and rebuild it -- something she worked on during a recent stint at Uber. "If we can learn to trust one another more, we can have unprecedented human progress," Frei says.

- Culture builder
Frances Frei is a professor of technology and operations management at the Harvard Business School. Full bio

I want to talk to you about
how to build and rebuild trust,
00:13
because it's my belief that trust
00:17
is the foundation for everything we do,
00:20
and that if we can learn
to trust one another more,
00:24
we can have unprecedented human progress.
00:29
But what if trust is broken?
00:35
What if your CEO is caught on video,
disparaging an employee?
00:38
What if your employees experience
a culture of bias, exclusion and worse?
00:45
What if there's a data breach,
00:53
and it feels an awful lot like a cover-up
than seriously addressing it?
00:55
And most tragically,
01:02
what if a technological fail
leads to the loss of human life?
01:04
If I was giving this talk six months ago,
01:11
I would have been wearing an Uber T-shirt.
01:13
I'm a Harvard Business School professor,
01:18
but I was super attracted
to going to an organization
01:20
that was metaphorically
and perhaps quite literally on fire.
01:25
I had read everything
that was written in the newspaper,
01:32
and that was precisely what drew me
to the organization.
01:35
This was an organization
that had lost trust
01:39
with every constituent that mattered.
01:42
But there's a word about me
that I should share.
01:47
My favorite trait is redemption.
01:50
I believe that there is a better
version of us around every corner,
01:54
and I have seen firsthand
01:58
how organizations and communities
02:00
and individuals change
at breathtaking speed.
02:03
I went to Uber with the hopes
that a turnaround there
02:08
could give license to the rest of us
02:12
who might have narrower versions
of their challenges.
02:15
But when I got to Uber,
I made a really big mistake.
02:21
I publicly committed
to wearing an Uber T-shirt every day
02:26
until every other employee
was wearing an Uber T-shirt.
02:31
I had clearly not thought that through.
02:36
(Laughter)
02:39
It was 250 days
of wearing an Uber T-shirt.
02:40
Now I am liberated from that commitment,
02:46
as I am back at HBS,
02:50
and what I'd like to do is share with you
02:52
how far I have taken that liberty,
02:56
which, it's baby steps,
03:01
(Laughter)
03:04
but I would just say I'm on my way.
03:05
(Laughter)
03:07
Now, trust, if we're going to rebuild it,
03:09
we have to understand its component parts.
03:12
The component parts of trust
are super well understood.
03:15
There's three things about trust.
03:19
If you sense that I am being authentic,
03:24
you are much more likely to trust me.
03:28
If you sense that I have
real rigor in my logic,
03:32
you are far more likely to trust me.
03:37
And if you believe that my empathy
is directed towards you,
03:40
you are far more likely to trust me.
03:45
When all three
of these things are working,
03:48
we have great trust.
03:51
But if any one of these three gets shaky,
03:54
if any one of these three wobbles,
03:57
trust is threatened.
04:01
Now here's what I'd like to do.
04:04
I want each of us to be able
to engender more trust tomorrow,
04:06
literally tomorrow, than we do today.
04:11
And the way to do that is to understand
where trust wobbles for ourselves
04:15
and have a ready-made
prescription to overcome it.
04:21
So that's what I would like
to do together.
04:24
Would you give me some sense
of whether or not you're here voluntarily?
04:28
(Laughter)
04:31
Yeah. OK. Alright. Awesome.
04:33
OK. So --
04:35
(Laughter)
04:36
it's just super helpful feedback.
04:38
(Laughter)
04:40
So the most common wobble is empathy.
04:42
The most common wobble
04:49
is that people just don't believe
that we're mostly in it for them,
04:50
and they believe
that we're too self-distracted.
04:55
And it's no wonder.
04:59
We are all so busy
with so many demands on our time,
05:01
it's easy to crowd out the time and space
05:04
that empathy requires.
05:08
For Dylan to be Dylan,
that takes real time.
05:10
And for us, if we have too much to do,
we may not have that time.
05:15
But that puts us into a vicious cycle,
05:20
because without revealing empathy,
05:22
it makes everything harder.
05:25
Without the benefit of the doubt of trust,
it makes everything harder,
05:27
and then we have less and less time
for empathy, and so it goes.
05:31
So here's the prescription:
05:36
identify where, when and to whom
05:39
you are likely to offer your distraction.
05:46
That should trace pretty perfectly
05:51
to when, where and to whom
you are likely to withhold your empathy.
05:54
And if in those instances,
06:01
we can come up with a trigger
that gets us to look up,
06:03
look at the people right in front of us,
06:10
listen to them,
06:13
deeply immerse ourselves
in their perspectives,
06:14
then we have a chance of having
a sturdy leg of empathy.
06:19
And if you do nothing else,
06:24
please put away your cell phone.
06:27
It is the largest distraction magnet
yet to be made,
06:31
and it is super difficult to create
empathy and trust in its presence.
06:36
That takes care of the empathy wobblers.
06:44
Logic wobbles can come in two forms.
06:48
It's either the quality of your logic
06:52
or it's your ability
to communicate the logic.
06:56
Now if the quality
of your logic is at risk,
07:00
I can't really help you with that.
07:04
(Laughter)
07:06
It's like, not in this much time.
07:07
(Laughter)
07:09
But fortunately, it's often the case
that our logic is sound,
07:12
but it's our ability to communicate
the logic that is in jeopardy.
07:17
Super fortunately,
there's a very easy fix to this.
07:23
If we consider that there are
two ways to communicate in the world,
07:27
and Harvard Business School professors
are known for two-by-twos --
07:33
nonsense, it's the triangle that rocks.
07:36
(Laughter)
07:39
If we consider that there are
two ways to communicate in the world,
07:42
and the first one is when
you take us on a journey,
07:47
a magnificent journey
that has twists and turns
07:51
and mystery and drama,
07:56
until you ultimately get to the point,
07:59
and some of the best
communicators in the world
08:03
communicate just like this.
08:06
But if you have a logic wobble,
08:09
this can be super dangerous.
08:11
So instead, I implore you,
08:15
start with your point
in a crisp half-sentence,
08:19
and then give your supporting evidence.
08:25
This means that people
will be able to get access
08:29
to our awesome ideas,
08:32
and just as importantly,
08:34
if you get cut off before you're done ...
08:37
ladies --
08:41
(Laughter)
08:43
(Applause)
08:45
If you get cut off before you're done,
08:52
you still get credit for the idea,
08:56
as opposed to someone else coming in
and snatching it from you.
08:58
(Applause)
09:01
You just gave me goosebumps.
09:08
(Laughter)
09:09
The third wobble is authenticity,
and I find it to be the most vexing.
09:11
We as a human species
can sniff out in a moment,
09:17
literally in a moment,
09:21
whether or not someone
is being their authentic true self.
09:23
So in many ways,
the prescription is clear.
09:27
You don't want to have
an authenticity wobble? Be you.
09:30
Great.
09:35
And that is super easy to do
09:38
when you're around people
who are like you.
09:40
But if you represent
any sort of difference,
09:45
the prescription to "be you"
can be super challenging.
09:50
I have been tempted
at every step of my career,
09:57
tempted personally
and tempted by coaching of others,
10:02
to mute who I am in the world.
10:05
I'm a woman of super strong opinions,
10:08
with really deep convictions,
10:11
direct speech.
10:14
I have a magnificent wife,
10:16
and together, we have such crazy ambition.
10:19
I prefer men's clothes
10:23
and comfortable shoes.
10:26
Thank you, Allbirds.
10:29
(Laughter)
10:30
In some contexts, this makes me different.
10:33
I hope that each person here
10:38
has the beautiful luxury
of representing difference
10:40
in some context in your life.
10:44
But with that privilege
10:47
comes a very sincere temptation
to hold back who we are,
10:50
and if we hold back who we are,
10:55
we're less likely to be trusted.
10:58
And if we're less likely to be trusted,
11:00
we're less likely to be given
stretch assignments.
11:02
And without those stretch assignments,
we're less likely to get promoted,
11:05
and so on and so on
until we are super depressed
11:08
by the demographic tendencies
of our senior leadership.
11:12
(Laughter)
11:15
And it all comes back
to our being our authentic selves.
11:16
So here's my advice.
11:23
Wear whatever makes you feel fabulous.
11:26
Pay less attention to what you think
people want to hear from you
11:30
and far more attention to what
your authentic, awesome self needs to say.
11:34
And to the leaders in the room,
11:41
it is your obligation
11:44
to set the conditions that not only
make it safe for us to be authentic
11:46
but make it welcome,
11:51
make it celebrated,
11:54
cherish it for exactly what it is,
11:56
which is the key for us
achieving greater excellence
12:00
than we have ever known is possible.
12:03
So let's go back to Uber.
What happened at Uber?
12:08
When I got there,
Uber was wobbling all over the place.
12:11
Empathy, logic, authenticity
were all wobbling like crazy.
12:16
But we were able to find super effective,
super quick fixes for two of the wobbles.
12:22
I'll give you an illustration of empathy.
12:29
In the meetings at Uber,
12:32
it was not uncommon
for people to be texting one another ...
12:33
about the meeting.
12:38
(Laughter)
12:40
I had never seen anything like it.
12:45
(Laughter)
12:48
It may have done many things,
12:50
but it did not create a safe,
empathetic environment.
12:51
The solution though, super clear:
12:55
technology, off and away.
12:58
And that forced people to look up,
13:00
to look at the people in front of them,
13:03
to listen to them,
13:06
to immerse themselves
in their perspectives
13:07
and to collaborate in unprecedented ways.
13:09
Logic was equally wobbly,
13:15
and this was because
the hypergrowth of the organization
13:18
meant that people, managers
were getting promoted
13:21
again and again and again.
13:24
Soon, they were put in positions
that they had no business being in.
13:27
Their positions outstripped
their capability,
13:31
and it was not their fault.
13:34
The solution: a massive influx
of executive education
13:36
that focused specifically on logic,
13:41
on strategy and leadership.
13:45
It gave people the rigor
of the quality of their logic,
13:48
and it turned a whole lot
of triangles, right-side up,
13:51
so people were able to communicate
effectively with one another.
13:56
The last one, authenticity,
I'll say it's still mighty wobbly,
14:01
but honestly, that doesn't
make Uber very different
14:07
from all of the other companies
I've seen in Silicon Valley and beyond.
14:09
It is still much easier
to coach people to fit in.
14:15
It is still much easier to reward people
14:20
when they say something
that you were going to say,
14:23
as opposed to rewarding people
when they say something
14:27
entirely different
than what you were going to say.
14:29
But when we figure out this,
14:34
when we figure out
how to celebrate difference
14:36
and how to let people bring
the best version of themselves forward,
14:40
well holy cow, is that the world
I want my sons to grow up in.
14:43
And with the collection of people here,
14:49
it would be a privilege
to lock arms with you
14:51
and go ahead and rebuild trust
in every corner of the globe.
14:54
Thank you very much.
14:58
(Applause)
15:00

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About the speaker:

Frances Frei - Culture builder
Frances Frei is a professor of technology and operations management at the Harvard Business School.

Why you should listen

A professor at the Harvard Business School, Frances Frei formerly served as Uber's first SVP of leadership and strategy. Her work at Uber focused on building a world-class leadership team, fostering leadership at all levels of the organization and guiding the clear articulation of strategy and planning. Frei has been central to Uber’s cultural transformation.  

Frei's research examines how leaders create the context for organizations and individuals to thrive. She is the best-selling author of Uncommon Service: How to Win by Putting Customers at the Core of Your Business. She received her PhD from the Wharton School.

More profile about the speaker
Frances Frei | Speaker | TED.com