Paul Glen: Nobody wants you to be a technology vending machine

  • Paul Glen (Computerworld (US))
  • 12 August, 2013 12:52

"Everyone" knows that to earn the trust of a new client or your boss, you need to provide a quick-win deliverable. The assumption is that fast response to a request demonstrates your competence and earns trust.

But we geeks get a bit carried away with this rule. It's our way, after all, to embrace rules while ignoring the complexity of real relationships. In my experience, the quick-win theory leads to disaster as often as success. This is because the theory is built on two assumptions, one true, the other only half true at best.

Assumption No. 1: Clients/bosses remain uncertain, skeptical and even insecure about new hires, concerned that they made a mistake. This is completely true. Not unreasonably, they feel exposed for hiring you. You might fail to deliver on their goals, or make them look bad.

Assumption No. 2: Delivering quickly on the requests of clients/bosses is a sure way to alleviate their concerns. This is not nearly as true as we would like to believe.


The quick deliverable is often not what is really required, even if it is what was asked for. Delivering the wrong thing doesn't imbue your new boss with confidence, no matter how quickly you do it. All it does is tell him that you fulfill requests unthinkingly and are uninterested in or incapable of the higher-order work of figuring out what needs to be done. You can seem like a technology vending machine.

Bosses and clients need to feel that they can comfortably rely on you -- that you can deliver for them, and that you will deliver for them. Those aren't the same things.

You convince them that you can deliver by demonstrating that you are competent. But there is a trick to demonstrating competence to bosses and clients who don't understand the technical details of what you do and can't really discern the quality of your deliverables. Unable to properly evaluate your technical skills, they will instead seek obvious signs of professionalism and judge you based on factors like these:

• Whether you followed through on your commitments.

• Whether you took responsibility when you didn't follow through.

• Whether you communicated in language they could understand.

• Whether you kept them informed about progress and obstacles.

• Whether you were condescending or difficult.

You convince them that you will deliver for them by showing that you really want to help them. Your competence won't matter to them unless they believe that you are internally driven to apply that competence for their benefit. In contrast, the primary desire that a quick deliverable reveals is the desire to earn trust, and that isn't the same as the desire to be helpful.

Early on, bosses and clients need to hear what you are genuinely committed and determined to do for them. This is not a promise, but a sense of what's important to you. You don't need to lie and give a guarantee of a delivery date. You just need to let them know that you feel "committed to meeting the date" -- that you care.

To earn the trust of a new boss or client, you need to create an experience that builds trust, not just a deliverable that you hope will substitute for that human connection.

Paul Glen, CEO of Leading Geeks, is devoted to clarifying the murky world of human emotion for people who gravitate toward concrete thinking. His newest book is 8 Steps to Restoring Client Trust: A Professional's Guide to Managing Client Conflict. You can contact him at

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