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What is wellbeing and how can it apply to your workplace or community?

April 18, 2018

Are you a systems thinker? Are you sick of silos? Are you looking for a way to measure and to improve social progress in your community or even your organization? Then the Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW) may be a framework for you.


Based at the University of Waterloo, the CIW has been recognized globally as a leader in measuring quality of life.

Find out more in this article I co-wrote with CIW Director, Bryan Smale, for Public Sector Digest.

As always, your feedback is warmly welcomed.



From the Archives: My Anchor belief: Trust-building STARTS with culture & structure

March 19, 2018

John Morgan, the author of Brand Against the Machine, says any vibrant organization must have an anchor belief. Here’s mine:

Please!!  Stop thinking trust has something to do with being liked, or saying ‘we’. Stop thinking trust has to start at the interpersonal level. Stop thinking trust has to evolve slowly or is strictly based on past relationships.

Understand the complexity of trust. Understand that you can build and support trust with policies, practices and mechanisms in your organization.

The most trustworthy individual can’t build or sustain trust within the organization or with partners if the organization doesn’t have the right culture and structure in place.

My anchor belief: Trust can be swift. Trust can be built through governance. Trust can start at the inter-organizational level and move to the inter-personal.

DANGER: This turns a lot of trust research on its head. Usually, scholars start at the interpersonal level and build incrementally from there (check out Types of Trust in Twelve Weeks to Trust). Some scholars don’t believe you can trust an organization, only the people within it. But…

Macro level-problems need macro-level, institutional solutions because organizations are bigger than any one person or leader.

Leaders can start structurally to show people on your team that they – and the organization- are trustworthy. You can start today!

  1. Always declare your benevolent intent. Suspicion breeds distrust so open up the lines of communication.
  2. Reduce hierarchy and monitoring. Set up clear performance expectations through performance agreements, which are a type of contract, and then get out of the way!
  3. Invest in peoples’ financial or psychological security through transaction specific investments like training or equipment they need to do their job.
  4. Establish positive team norms that value trustworthiness. Lead by example and support the norms with policies, incentives, etc.
  5. Talk about ethics. Live them. Run your product, policies and practices through these 10 ethics screening questions. Punish ethics violators.
  6. Create mechanisms for joint planning and problem solving – joint planning meetings, requests for input at various points in a project, stand-up brainstorm meetings or a quick phone call. Create joint goals and incentives so that everyone has something to gain from the others’ success.
  7. Put your money where your mouth is. Nothing is more tangible within an organization than budget. Ensure you have the right people on your team and that you resource projects appropriately otherwise you’ve set them up to fail which does not exactly foster warm fuzzy feelings or trust.

A lot of the focus of interpersonal trust is to show benevolence – that you care about the other person and can put their needs first. You demonstrate that when you create a work environment that has a culture and a structure that supports trust.

When trust-building practices are institutionalized, trust is sustained beyond the actions of one manager or leader. Trust becomes “how we do business” or in fancier terms, an operating mechanism.

An amazing thing about trust is that it is generative. Once you start to create it, it builds upon itself to create more trust. So, today, start where you can. Begin to infuse trust in the big machinery that is an organization and you will be amazed by the transformation that can take place.

Worried about budgets? Most of these steps don’t cost anything and as you build trust you reduce the need for double-checking, tight contracts, etc. High trust governance is less expensive than control and monitoring. You will free up funds to invest in people, projects, training, etc.

Get your tickets: IABC Waterloo Breakthrough Conference

March 4, 2018

What an honour to present a workshop at the upcoming IABC Waterloo Breakthrough conference. Last year I was already using new tactics before the first break. Excellent value.

A leadership lesson for every hour from Dr. Seuss #DrSeussDay

March 2, 2018
Originally posted in 2012

The more you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn the more places you’ll go.

from I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!

It’s #DrSeussDay AND #WorldBookDay how serendipitous! Here’s a leadership lesson for every one of your waking hours today submitted by some of my Twitter friends. What would you add?

7:00 AM Be optimistic & set the tone: “Great day, today! Great day for UP” RT@DTORourke

8:00 AM Set ambitious goals: “You’re off to Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, So… get on your way!” ~ RT@VGonzee

Dr. Seuss: Childrens' author or leadership guru?

Dr. Seuss: Childrens’ author or leadership guru

9:00 AM Set direction: “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”

10:00 AM Think! “Think left & think right & think low & think high. Oh, the things you can think up if only you try!”~ RT@DTORourke

11:00 AM Embrace diversity: “There are so many houses you’ll meet on your way. And wherever you go you will hear someone say…’Come over to my house! Come over & play!” RT@DTORourke

12:00 PM Challenge assumptions (or Try something new at lunch): “Green eggs and ham! Just b/c you’ve never tried it doesn’t mean it’s bad”~ RT@lisaw33  Take the opportunity to eat with your team or someone new, too!

1:00 PM Celebrate our common humanity: “Some houses are marble and some are just tin. But they’re all alike when a friend asks you in.”

2:00 PM Navigate uncertainty: “You will come to a place where the streets are not marked. Some windows are lighted but mostly they’re darked.”

3:00 PM Persevere (that 3 o’clock slump): “On and on you will hike. And I know you’ll hike far & face up to your problems whatever they are.”

4:00 PM Be authentic: “Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you.” RT@VGonzee

5:00 PM Be true to yourself: “Be who you are & say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter & those who matter don’t mind” ~ RT@rachelshaps

6:00 PM Be honest & consistent: “I meant what I said and I said what I meant.” RT@momstownca

7:00 PM Care! “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” RT@tylertinytot

8:00 PM Have fun! “If you never did, you should. These things are fun, and fun is good.” RT@momstownca

9:00 PM: Rest: “Today was good. Today was fun. Tomorrow is another one.” ~RT@wallismark

10:00 PM Reflect & Be grateful: “You know you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams” ~RT@TrueBlissCoach

Thank You! Dr. Seuss, for reminding young and young-at-heart the importance of having fun, respecting others and not taking ourselves so seriously. To my readers, may all your dreams come true!

If you have a moment, I’d like to know what’s your favourite Dr. Seuss quote? Book? Do you think Dr. Seuss was a transformational leader?


An incredibly easy way to boost wellbeing this Family Day weekend: just talk

February 18, 2018

How much time do you think Canadians spend talking with kids every day?

Family day statI’m talking real conversation – not the “pick up your socks” or “you’ll be late for the bus” type interaction or receiving instruction in school. I mean conversation, listening to kids read or reading to them, playing together, helping with homework and even reprimanding behaviour. It’s what Statistics Canada’s General Social Survey calls “talk-based activities with children aged 0 to 14 years.”

While it may feel like you’re spending hours talking with your kids or believing they’re engaged in a lot of one-on-one talk interaction at school, the truth is less than one hour a day is spent in meaningful talk-based activity with kids under 15.

Time spent in talk-based activities with kids ages 0 to 14 years was only 34.2 minutes in 2014, down from 36.8 minutes in 2005.(1)

Ontario fared slightly better at 40 minutes with Central Ontario coming in at a provincial high of 45 minutes. Still, that’s less than an hour a day.(2)

This connection time is important for kids’ overall development, helping make them great members of our families and of society. It’s important time for adults too to know what’s happening in their world and to glean how we can support them. And, it’s an indicator of our overall wellbeing. Yet it’s not always easy to find time to connect. We’re rushing through dinner to make it to the kids’ swimming or guitar lessons or to dashing off to our own commitments.

I’m hardly the role model on this one. Too often, the big picture is a victim of the tyranny of the immediate or the interaction is not what I had hoped for; but, from one flawed parent to an interested reader, my family has had a lot of fun with these games. They’re great for the dinner table or for a longer drive and they introduce topics where everyone’s equal. They open the conversation enough for someone to broach a rule they think is unfair, to share a dream or to thank someone in the family in a way that’s not “weird.” (My kids are 11 and 14… everything is “weird” or “cringy” right now.) It allows the kids to see their parents as people too – not just the cook, driver and disciplinarian.

Card games and books that can help spark a conversation

These games make it easy for a family to connect at the dinner table or on a longer drive.


Just curious, what’s the best question you’ve ever asked a family member or been asked yourself? What happened? I’d love it if you would share 🙂

Signing off and wishing you a great Family Day weekend.


(1) Canadian Index of Wellbeing, 2016 national report indicator trends data tables, data from Statistics Canada, General Social Survey.

(2) Canadian Index of Wellbeing, Profiles of wellbeing in Ontario, Central Region, p.35


8 proven ways Canadian businesses can start building trust today

February 15, 2018

Yesterday the Edelman Trust Barometer released its Canadian results to a packed room at the Toronto Board of Trade. While an all-star panel called on Canadian business leaders to “step up” to capitalize on Canada as the most trusted country of origin globally and to reverse the erosion of trust domestically, there was little concrete direction on how to do that beyond “changing the narrative” and pinning our hopes on millennial CEOs. Edelman cdn highlights

To be fair, former minister of justice and attorney general, Hon. Peter Mackay, did point out that government, media, NGOs and business have to focus on “outcomes over optics” and Kirstine Stewart, President and Chief Revenue Officer of TribalScale, called for “systematic fundamental change.”

So if you want to start building trust today, what does that look like in a very concrete way? 

From strategy to tactics, here are 8 proven ways Canadian businesses can start building trust today:

  1. Be trustworthy. Look deeply into your operations and ask yourself these 10 ethical questions to bullet-proof your business. This is not solely the purview of millennials. These are questions from Aristotle, St.Augustine, Locke and Adam Smith. The most trusted companies have been doing this from the start. Think of Interface, Rhino Foods and many of the companies listed as Best Employers, Most Ethical Corporations, etc.
  2. Appreciate trust-building as a framework for performance, value creation and risk management. Businesses that are trusted have better results, a licence to operate, dedicated customers, less regulation, less time spent managing crises and more resilience during a crisis. Trustworthy companies attract and retain great employees. I could go on. Instead, here’s my list of  22 business benefits of trust identified in academic studies. (These don’t even cover psychological and sociological benefits.)
  3. Show benevolence. Rahul Bhardwaj, President and CEO of Institute of Corporate Directors, said “employees want to know their leaders have their interests at heart.” This is true of all stakeholders. Benevolence, or goodwill, is the key differentiating factor for trust, without it, it’s just a credible transaction. Invest in your communities. Protect the environment. Pay out pensions before investors. Offer generous bereavement leave or professional development. Go the extra mile for customers (WestJet and Southwest are great at this.) Benevolence is the antidote to the perception of self-interest. Are you aligned with your community and customers’ values?
  4. Set your employees and your partners up for success. They are your best ambassadors. Here are 12 proven and practical ways to build trust internally and with your partners. They include setting norms, communicating, formal and informal governance mechanisms and my MA in a nutshell.
  5. Prove your point and build coalitions. Make your case with facts to engage the mind and with stories to engage the heart. Media messages need empathy, information and action. Advocacy efforts should involve a coalition of supporters to show broad benefit as opposed to self-interest. As the spokesperson for a national insurance company, I never expected reporters to take me at face value. I always provided contact information for a regulator, an academic or another industry leader – a credible third-party “expert” as identified in the Trust Barometer.
  6. Embrace outcomes that are bigger than your business. The Trust Barometer shows Canadians want businesses to: “drive economic prosperity, invest in jobs, innovate, guard information quality and ensure equal opportunity.” Globally, we’re seeing that leadership with ambitious plans for electric cars set by car manufacturers, not by governments. The Co-operators Group recently announced a significant increase in mental health benefits, not because government made them but because they are acting on an important social and business issue. If you don’t believe me or the Trust Barometer respondents, the need to embrace social purpose is exactly what Blackrock Chairman and CEO, Larry Fink, is urging in his recent letter to CEOs.
  7. Tell your story across different channels. It’s never been harder to reach your audience in a meaningful way so it’s important to have a consistent message across multiple channels. First, ensure your employees are your best ambassadors – nothing beats face to face communications. Second, ensure your customers are fans and give them an opportunity to say so in online reviews. Although this year’s Trust Barometer shows that trust in “people like me” is down slightly, online reviews have been proven to drive purchasing decisions. Never erase negative reviews, rather, use them as an opportunity to recover the customer and to use the feedback to improve operations or processes. Third, ensure you’ve got the right mix of: (A) earned media (news stories in traditional media generated by press releases are traditionally seen as more credible); (B) owned media (your website and the social media accounts you control should have great usability, helpful and accurate content and a user-focus); and (C) paid advertising (just make sure your ads hit the mark, unlike the recent, costly Pepsi fiasco.)  Another form of paid placement that simultaneously allows you to build bigger outcomes is investing in partnerships and sponsorships that align with your brand and your customer’s values.
  8. Build Canada into your brand, especially if you operate globally. It’s not just the Olympics that have us waving the Maple Leaf. Global results for the Trust Barometer show companies headquartered in Canada are the most trusted in the world. Edelman Canada CEO, Lisa Kimmel, attributes this to stable regulation, a skilled workforce and our values. So let’s strengthen those norms and values, keep investing in our workforce and enforcing good regulation. Let’s also not be complacent about serious issues like food fraud, price-fixing, kick-backs, system-wide harassment, precarious work, etc.

The Edelman Trust Barometer is important because it sparks conversation from Davos to dinner tables. At the same time I’d like to see that conversation shift towards macro-solutions – actual mechanisms- that address global macro-trust problems. Canadian businesses can start that process now.

One panelist said yesterday that “Leaders have to have the courage to have these conversations in the workplace.” I just don’t understand the hesitation that exists around embracing an amazing value-creation and risk management opportunity.

Embracing trust-building is incredibly cost effective with a potentially incredible ROI for the organization and society writ large.

You can do this in your organization. It’s easy to start. Years ago, I led a series of internal town halls with staff from all levels of a national organization to identify: What can I do to build trust?; What can my department do?; and What can the company do? The results were distilled and presented to each department which integrated its top 3 take-aways for the year’s corporate plans. That focused attention on the importance of trust and sparked concrete corporate action.  It’s not a branding exercise. It’s an ongoing process.

Related posts: Reflections on the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer; 

Respond to the global trust crisis: 12 Weeks To Trust now updated


Reflections on the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer

January 29, 2018

“A Battle for Truth” and “Trust Crash in the U.S.” proclaimed last week’s 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer. Then, the usual, ridiculous hand-wringing ensued. Yet, there’s plenty of research in business strategy and ethics that points the way out of this quagmire; and it’s not the inter-personal stuff you may be familiar with. I’m talking real business practices and systems that make your organization more trustworthy and therefore, more trusted. Trust has tangible bottom-line benefits.

The need for macro-level trust interventions is urgent. Here’s what scholars Reinhardt Bachmann and Andrew Inkpen pointed out in the wake of the 2007-2008 financial crisis.

Clearly, the problem has not emerged in that trust has broken down at the micro-level, i.e. in relationships where individuals know each other face-to-face. The trust crisis is essentially due to a breakdown of macro-level trust, i.e. trust in (large) organizations. This is why we urgently need to know more about the development, repair, reach and potential of institutional-based trust. (Bachmann & Inkpen, 2011)

Here are few trust-building tips off the top of my head, inspired by my MA Research and illustrated by 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer slides.

The Edelman Trust Barometer says trust in platforms (like Facebook and blogs) is

Screen Shot 2018-01-29 at 2.22.49 PM

down but trust in journalism is up. That’s a good start. Now…


Newsrooms: Stop slashing staff and chasing clicks. Re-invest in real reporting and fact-checking.

Stop closing local news outlets. Hint: One key determinant to building trust is to provide appropriate resources (or Transaction Specific Investments).

Journalists: Quit the bandwagon journalism and rewarming celebrity stories. Find new stories. The world is full of them. For example:  Is everything ok in Haiti? What about Fukuyama? What’s happening in South Sudan? (Yes, I know you need newsrooms and budgets to do that… see above.) Stop interviewing one another and covering your endless retirement stories! Stop inserting yourselves into the story, especially if you’re lying about it (Looking at you Bryan Williams). Interview the experts on these stories: technical experts, academics, the people involved, the leaders who are responsible. That’s who your viewers trust.

Screen Shot 2018-01-29 at 2.28.46 PM

CEOs: Behave ethically (Really? I have to say that?). For example, Volkswagen, don’t fudge your emissions tests. Require your employees to behave ethically (I’m thinking banks and telcos pushing products people don’t need). Loblaws, don’t engage in price fixing and imagine a $25 gift card makes it all better.

Establish clear norms of appropriate behaviour and penalize those who transgress (#MeToo, enough said).

Communicate. What you are doing?  Why?  How does it impact your stakeholders? Communicate your values and be honest about the world in which you operate.

Show benevolence (Looking at you Tim Horton’s … cutting out paid breaks, give me a break, Mr. Grinch!)  If you partner with NGOs, be sure the power in the relationship is equal, otherwise you’re trying to co-opt them.

Invest in your people, your communities and your business partners. Where you can, cut hierarchy and monitoring in your organizations (those cost a lot) and empower people to do what you hired them to do. Establish longer-term goals so staff aren’t tempted to cut corners to meet quarterly results.

Develop joint plans and mechanisms for joint problem solving for staff, teams or partners  – whichever is appropriate – and ensure compensation rewards collaboration. Resource projects appropriately. Ensure employees can deliver on their promises and have the flexibility to show benevolence (Southwest Airlines does this so well.) Ensure you have role clarity and distributive justice within your organization (Hello BBC!).

Implement ethics as a practice  –  not as a once-a year code of conduct or a once in a while gut check, but a real practice. It can be an excellent lens for risk management – before you get into trouble – as well as a source for value creation.

Show competence. Deliver. Period. Just do what you said you would do. (This reminds me of the Phoenix pay system… what happened there? The government needs to trust its supplier and employees need to trust they will get paid properly.) Ensure your premises – physical and digital – convey trust by showing your accreditations, reviews, awards, etc.

NGOs: See CEO recommendations and use as applicable. Be transparent. Show good governance. Apologize when you mess up. Measure your results. Be transparent. Share your good news – we need it. Show benevolence not just with your clients but by collaborating with other NGOs for the greater good of the community, not the survival of your organization. (I KNOW this is a hot topic. But we need an attitude of abundance. Are you putting the community first?)

I’ll have more to say when the Canadian results come out on Valentines’ Day! For the moment, here are few Canadian results from the global release.

Screen Shot 2018-01-29 at 2.47.55 PM

Despite the fact that Canada is the most trusted country of origin, last year the country fell into the category of distrusting nations. This dubious distinction lands us exactly in line with the 25-country global total and in the neighbourhood of such bastions of democracy as Argentina and Columbia.

Oh Canada! We can do better. In fact, we must.




Source for all graphs: 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer.
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