Visual Logic partner Andy Van Fleet is joined by special guest, Dr. Stacy Van Gorp, co-founder at See What I Mean, a consulting agency who specialize in facilitating organizational change. Stacy’s earned her Ph.D. researching the strategic significance of systems trust and resistance to change. Andy and Stacy discuss how trust can help accelerate innovation, overcome friction, and how “productive conflict” occurs when a conversation is centered around user needs.
Learn more about See What I Mean at seewhatimean.com
Andy: Welcome to Humans First Podcast. I’m your host, Andy Van Fleet. My dear friend, Dr. Stacy Van Gorp is joining us today, who has her doctorate in innovation and strategies around adopting trust and resistance to change. Much more sophisticated things than I am familiar with. So I’m just so excited that you’re here today cause we have a lot of things that we can talk about when it comes to trust and trust in design and trust in organization. So I would love it for you to just introduce yourself and give the listeners some background about your specialty areas.
Andy: So, welcome Stacy.
Stacy: Thank you. When you said much more sophisticated, I think that’s absolutely not true because trust is what we live in every day. Right? It’s the, one of the phrases we use, especially in healthcare work, is that trust is always the backdrop. And so I think that that’s why it’s been interesting to bring a more. Maybe rigorous approach to thinking about trust into user-centered design and into experience design. Because I think it is one of those things that we do know about, like in our bodies and in our brains, and we feel it. And so there’s nobody that hasn’t thought about it. And so I think our work has been fun because it’s been about helping people almost take that apart and think about the different, what do we really mean when we say something like trust. So I’m excited to talk about it because I feel like it’s something we don’t talk about enough and so our answers about trust are usually not about making it easier, but about helping people grapple with the complexity. So hopefully we can do that today. That’s perfect.
Andy: So maybe share a little bit about your organization and what you’re focused on there. And then tell us how you got into
Stacy: this field.
Stacy: Yeah, so See What I Mean is a company that helps to create moments of change for organizations. So, part of that is about trust. Like, who’s ready to change, what are they ready to do? So see what I mean works primarily with social good organizations. So if you think of some of the biggest nonprofits in the country with familiar names like Feeding America or Junior Achievement, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, we’re lucky to have lots of those as clients and their subsidiaries that we work with across the country. See What I Mean, is about 20 years old as an idea, but it’s only a few years old as a company, but I think that one of my original projects, you were my first design expert that you brought to the field, so that was called Opportunity Work. So we’ve been working together a long time. How did I get here? That is such a great question.
Andy: what part of it was from that opportunity, but also like there’s a lot of expertise that you bring to the table, and so Opportunity Works, you know, you were the director of that amazing program and I had the opportunity to work with you as the designer of that, but also I think that might have been one of the first projects that you worked on when it comes to trying to reduce complexity. And make things simple, and that was a very important initiative, maybe that was like a stepping stone into where you’re at today of doing incredible work in this field.
Stacy: Yeah. I am the daughter of an entrepreneur and a do-gooder and I feel like that explains almost all of my career. So I’ve always been interested in community change, how communities help one another, why some people get left behind. Opportunity Works was about that. About what would it take to reduce poverty. We engaged 5,000 people in that conversation. I think that I’m also a believer that I don’t have all the answers, but often our communities do. And so those are the threads that pull through. So I spent part of my career working on the frontline. I worked at a refugee camp helping people during the Bosnian war. I worked on Opportunity Works, trying to figure out what communities need to reduce poverty. I worked in higher education with people who wanted to go on and work in that field. And then I worked in institutional philanthropy. So I was a grant maker making about 2 million dollars of grants per a year and all of that time I had a consulting practice. I have always been a person, I think, that’s like a little bit in overdrive, and so working with other clients was really my way of learning about how the world works. I’m grateful to all of those clients who took risks on me. And when I worked in higher education somebody said to me, if you wanna stick around here, you’re gonna need to go get a PhD. And so I went and got one and it turned out I had a thousand ideas. But the one that really came through was thinking about trust and change. And I was really interested in how change happens. My advisor said, you’ve gotta be interested in trust if you’re interested in how change happens. So that’s how I went into some really deep work on institutional trust. And what does it take for an employee to be willing to change and innovate? and it’s trust. We can talk a little bit more about that research, but I come from an eclectic background. I think I brought all of these experiences together, but the through lines are often about change, helping people to come together for change. And one of those lessons is about trust, but it’s also about user design. And like how people experience something and has a lot to do with trust. And the way to make change has a lot to do with how we create the experience for them. So I feel like there’s a lot of crossover.
Andy: There is, I mean, there’s a significant amount of crossover. So I think maybe talk more about like the research that you did and some common themes that maybe came out of that research, because it’s such a fascinating topic. You know, trust and resistance to change is very applicable to a lot of different scenarios in organizations.
Stacy: So I want you to imagine that you’re the CEO or somebody listening is probably the ceo, and you think the world is changing and you look at your organization and you think my organization has to change too. And so we start innovation initiatives and innovation training and we get foosball tables or whatever was cool. And I was doing this in the two thousands. And it’s not that those innovation processes are not important, but my research looked at like, what is the down payment that you have to make before those processes are going to work? So my research was with a large financial institution. I surveyed more than 300 members of their organization, and I asked them about how do they feel about change. So it was a psychological resistance to change scale. Okay. It’s something that for most of stays pretty fixed across our lifetime. I asked them about how empowered they felt. I asked them how much they trusted the organization, so not their boss, not the ceo, the institution. And then I asked them about how much conflict they thought there was. So if you’re just a manager and you’re like, oh, my team needs to change. Sometimes managers say things like, those people hate change, they’re never gonna innovate. And that was acutally almost the worst predictor of whether people were willing to innovate. So, what was the best predictor was if they trusted the institution and that was a five times more powerful predictor of whether they were willing to innovate. So what that really means is if you have a company that’s full of people who trust the institution, even if they don’t wanna change very much, even if they’re psychologically not wired that way, they are much more likely to be willing to innovate because they trust the institution.
Stacy: Conversely, You could have great change initiators, but if they don’t trust the institution, it’s not gonna happen. And so I think when you imagine the work that organizations are doing in vulnerability and leadership and authenticity, I think those are in a lot of ways related to trust. And it’s really important, but it’s more than training. Right? It’s your experience of an institution is a lot more than just what your manager does, although that’s a big part of it. But it could be like, do I think I’m mean, compensated fairly? Right? So for example, there’s a new law in several states where there has to be transparency about how much money people are making. What’s that gonna do to trust if all of a sudden you look at it and you think, well, that’s not fair. Part of what the research does is really breaks down what is important in trust. Trust isn’t one thing. You experience it really differently.
Andy: so it would be very interesting to hear your perspective on is like, okay, so you did a lot of research, you interviewed a lot of people, and then from a quantifiable standpoint, how can you summarize all of that to say, on a trust scale, our organization is at X, Y, and Z, or what, yeah, whatever percentage it might be.
Andy: And then maybe say, okay, this is our starting point. And then can you say like some examples of how can people move the needle to enhance the amount of trust that there is within the organization or that nonprofit or whatever it might be.
Stacy: Right. And so we have a trust scale that we’ve validated over working with several organizations. And it doesn’t just measure trust. What it really measures is do people think your organization is reliable? Do you do what you say you’re gonna do? Do you perceive it’s caring or the literature calls it benevolent, which I don’t really like that word. But it means like, at least do I think the organization’s not there to hurt me.
Stacy: Yeah. Do I think that the organization is transparent? So is it open about what it’s telling me? And then a flip side, I just used the word open, which wasn’t very precise. There’s a difference between transparent and open, which openness means I’m willing to be influenced. So transparent means, the person puts their cards on the table open means they’re willing to let the other person play with the cards.
Stacy: And so, you can think of your own experience maybe where somebody will say, Andy, this is the way it is, you know, this is the way it’s gonna be. Highly transparent, really low on openness, because you’re pretty sure whatever you say after that doesn’t matter. Right? So organizations can have both of those things going on. And then another one is competence, which I don’t think will surprise anyone, but if you think of like a healthcare experience, we do a lot of work in healthcare. For a lot of people, number one is whether they think their provider is competent, quickly after that it might be caring, quickly after that, it might be reliable. Like, do I get a call back? Do I think that the test results are correct. So, trust is really made up of a bunch of factors. And so we measure each of those factors in an organization. We also measure them in networks. So if you think of like you’re part of an association. We measure how much trust there is between the members of the association and the hub of the association. It’s a different kind of measuring of satisfaction. And so what we’re looking for is trying to understand which factors of trust are more important to that constituent. That is where the user experience comes in, right? Depending on the setting, different things are important. And then how well are you doing on each of those factors. So that is the way that we measure it. We measure it quantitatively. We measure it over time. And what we look for opportunities to change are symbols and messages. So what you say and what you show. So if you think of something like you go to your Airbnb and you walk in and there’s a dirty towel laying on the floor. Like pretty low reliability, pretty low confidence, trust, right? And so that is a symbol. It could also be a message, it could also be authenticity of message. So if I say I’m an institution that’s all about employees first, but I behave in a different way. Yeah. You know, you could lose those. So symbols and messages and then, actions, for sure, like what people actually do. And then we’re really interested in policy and systems too. So if you say you care about, I had an experience where my kids were born prematurely. They were in the nicu. The institution said it cared about me, but I didn’t qualify for the special system for people to donate any vacation help to me. Right. It was like this mismatch between that policy does not demonstrate that you care about me, right? Yeah. So symbols and messages, actions, and then policies and systems. And so we usually do the quantitative work and then we might work with another team to do more interviewing to understand like what’s important? Which of these things are the most important? And then how can we play with those things? And then if we get to be around long enough, we get to measure what kind of change does that make? If we change X, can we see change in y?
Andy: How much of what you just described from an effectiveness standpoint comes from the people or the policy and systems in play? Because I’m thinking about this from the standpoint of somebody might be listening and say, well, that person is just a problem person. They’re not going to change. So we should have a certain amount of turnover, I mean, we’re really talking about organizational design. If 10% of this group or whatever of these employees don’t fit the new vision, what happens? Can people change and have you seen this where it’s not possible for some people to change? So there has to be some amount of understanding that the systems and the policies and things are one thing, but also who is in the organization is the other dynamic.
Stacy: Woo. I don’t think I studied that exactly. Andy. I guess what I would say is that your experience of trust is multi-dimensional and it’s happening all the time. . And so if you are a new employee at an organization, for example, you know what the offer letter looks like, has a relationship to how people are gonna experience. What happens on their first day. Like, how are they greeted? Does anybody pay attention to them? Did they beat their boss in? It’s not a very caring way if somebody just shows up and there’s no one else there. But also if you thought you had a deal to get paid xx, and then your offer letter comes and it says something differently because there’s a policy or system, you know, that’s gonna affect your trust. So what I would say is it’s not that simple. So I think it can be empowering to know that it doesn’t just boil down to that one thing the CEO did, but also, there are things that you can change and control. The other thing about trust is sometimes it’s the mistakes. It’s the losing of trust that’s worse. And so we sometimes call this, um, this is some research that we’re doing in healthcare about there are moments when trust gets really wobbly. I have children with a chronic illness, so they had the same healthcare provider for 15 years and he left. And so my experience with the institution, you know, everything gets to be really unsettled. It’s a wobbly moment. So I think there are these moments that take on bigger importance about how you’re going to experience trust. And so, it’s one of the things we’ve been thinking about in design, and I think this would be a great ux, human experience way of thinking. What are the moments that are the most wobbly and unsettling. And how do you design for that moment? Because I think it’s really hard to have every variable of trust be on full throttle all the time.
Stacy: Right. But there are these moments that are highly unsettling to people. And we can predict when they are like losing your healthcare provider after 15 years. So then you think, then I need the actions, the policies, the systems, and the messages to all fire, right? I need them to all wrap around me. I need to get a phone call that says, Hey, this is happening, this is who’s gonna take care of you.
Stacy: I need the system, you know, to come in and make all of the changes I need probably to be reminded that I’m cared about, that there’s a team, so, This is one of the things we’re just moving into at our company, but really taking this idea of moments for change and applying it to trust thinking, because designing sort of, for full throttle, I’m gonna optimize every element of trust all the time, just as impossible.
Stacy: Right? But you can predict like it’s that moment. So I wonder maybe in your work, Andy, if you can think of wobbly moments and we could talk about which factors of trust might be coming.
Andy: With the work that we do, there’s a lot of those types of moments. There’s several that come to mind, especially in the military defense work that we do. And just from a confidence standpoint and like, do you trust that the system is telling you the right things that this item, that it’s identified, is this, this type of threat? If it’s 84% confident that this is the type of threat that it is, it’s also 16%, that it’s not this type of threat. So trust in data and trust in the systems, especially in those moments where you have to make split second decisions for your safety and for the safety of others, that’s significant.
Stacy: Right? So you can think of those like sort of six factors that go into trust. And so like competent, can the system do what it’s supposed to do? Is it reliable? But also, is there any transparency? Like, has anybody told me like, this works this way all the time? Or in the field of healthcare transparency can even look like the smell of the cleaning solution when you walk in the room. Because you think that smell tells me that something happened in here that I can count on. So I think it’s like these symbols are really interesting as well, but openness might be less important at that wobbly moment, right? Like the person doesn’t necessarily have to have their idea heard when they’re trying to make this high stakes decision. So I think that’s a good example that not every variable of trust is as important in a wobbly moment. Some of them are more important than others. Like if I take my check to the bank or use my phone to deposit my check. I need to know that it’s going to be deposited. I know care is not that important to me right at that moment, right? That now if it’s wrong and I call you and I say, "Hey that was a check for $10,000 and you only put a thousand dollars in my account" and someone brushes me off, well then care is really important. So you kind of bounce back and forth among these.
Andy: Within a large size organization, what type of role oversees what we’re talking about, if that exists because, I can see this being applicable to lots of different types of institutions. And so it’s so important as people are more acutely aware of the experiences and trust is tied in with an experience. What role owns this within a mid to large size organization? It could vary from organization to organization or maybe it doesn’t exist. Maybe it’s like assumed by other people.
Stacy: I don’t hear people being the director of trust strategy. Nobody comes to me with that. I would say, where I hear people talk about it would certainly be in human resources. And I think where there’s a lot of conflict can be in human resource.
Stacy: People feeling let down by the system and feeling like it’s been a breach of trust. So I would say HR people are thinking about it. I also think we do a lot of work in, equity, inclusion, belonging, diversity, and I think those folks are thinking about it all the time. And you can especially think of like brand promises that we see where a company might say we’re an anti-racist organization, but a particular experience or a particular tweet does not align with that.
Stacy: So I think there’s a lot of scrutiny of organizations that lead to people feeling like trust gets accelerated or trust gets held back in the DEI kind of work. I think marketing folks ought to be thinking about it. Recently I’ve been working with two organizations on their strategic plan, and they’re thinking about their vision of what they’re willing to tell the community they’re gonna as outcomes. How the community and people’s lives will change because of their work. It is like a feeling of not wanting to let anyone down. They wanna be trustworthy institutions. So there’s kind of this battle between how ambitious should we claim our vision to be, you know, can we solve X, can we really reduce Y?
Stacy: So putting out that ambitious vision that people will get behind, but feeling like, can we deliver? Right? So I hear it a lot in that tension. Yeah. I admire those organizations for wanting to live up to it. I also think they have to put out bold visions to be able to do that. The, there’s a couple of other places where we’re hearing about trust a lot, and one is in philanthropy in an area called trust-based philanthropy.
Stacy: Okay. And trust is coming up a ton in healthcare. And I would say trust-based philanthropy is really turning the tables. And so usually foundations like, The one I worked for have a lot of processes to decide who to give money to. And in trust-based philanthropy, we’re essentially saying we should trust the people on the other side of the table and have a lot less rules about how we give away this money and trust that, you know, the Boys and Girls Club in our community really knows what teens need.
Stacy: They’re reliable about how this. They’ll spend the money, they’re transparent and I don’t need to put all these strings on the money. I can give them the money. I can trust my community to do what’s right. Interesting. And so it’s been a really exciting development so it’s less about earning trust.
Stacy: They want to earn trust, and it’s more about extending trust. So our work in healthcare is in this realm as well. What’s it gonna take for a provider to trust a patient. And what’s it gonna take for that patient to feel trusted? And when you’re in a chronic disease setting, you can think about how much feeling trusted by your team accelerates your willingness to be honest, your willingness to be vulnerable. And I think Andy, you know, from your work with your employees and your clients, like extending trust to an employee saying like, Hey, I trust you to do this. I don’t need to look over your shoulder, run with it, go for it, is a hugely empowering thing. So I feel like a little bit of the trust work in the world has focused too much on how to earn trust as a lawyer, a business owner, a company, and not enough on the positive benefits of extending trust of talent and of letting people know they’re trusted. There’s not very much research on that, but what we can see is it has quite incredible results.
Andy: That’s fascinating. I think one of the things here at Visual Logic that we focused on is we really try to work hard on these problems, these user experience problems for our clients. We hire people that are very trustworthy and they have deep humility. They are extremely focused on the right thing for the clients. And what I have come to the conclusion of is that, The humility and empathy that they have is on one end of the spectrum. And the other end of the spectrum, I think is politics and suspicion. I think when we get hired by our clients to work on whatever the project might be, I think oftentimes that it’s in a political and suspicious environment that we have to go in and bring our empathy and humility and trustworthiness into that setting to help facilitate conversations to the stakeholders and help to make sure that everybody’s aligned with common goals and things, because oftentimes they have the best of intentions, but have inadvertently got themselves into a spot where they don’t trust each other. And so I think from a design standpoint, those are our outputs.
Andy: But where we often start is in the stakeholder environment of saying, let’s talk about what our goals are and oftentimes what’s revealed is we’re not really hearing each other or listening to each other, or quote unquote trusting each other.
Stacy: I think one of the ways that your company and my company try to cope with that is by trusting the user. And by putting the user’s voice above everything else. So in our work that looks like trusting people who don’t have enough to eat to tell you what they need when you’re designing a food bank strategy. So I think that’s one of the ways that both of our companies try to use human-centered design to overcome real tensions of politics and policy.
Stacy: And, you know, sometimes strategy, I don’t think it’s all nefarious. Right? But I think that one of the best ways to overcome that is to put our integrity on the line for the user, right? For the patient, for the person facing food insecurity, for the teacher in the classroom, for the soldier.
Stacy: And I think we extend our trust to them. And then I think we try to use our trustworthiness to help organizations deliver on that. And so it’s sort of a nice visual to think about, is our work helping to bring that in alignment around the user. We talk a lot about centering the person facing hunger or centering the person we’re trying to help.
Stacy: And so we have a practice that’s really invested in very good facilitation and we think about what does trust look like in facilitation? How do we engender trust in a room? And I think that that’s part of how we do it. Like in our own methodology, if we’re gonna do a session with you, we always start with the user. Right. If there’s an opening question, you don’t get to start by saying like, I’m Stacy and I have a PhD and I’ve lived here for 22 years. Right? What we want you to say is, what’s a strength you notice about the people who are clients of your organization? Or what’s something that makes you really proud about someone’s life that you’ve changed? And so we try to always, extend our trust so that we can all focus on the user. And I think that’s probably been a key to a lot of painful moments.
Andy: Yeah. But you’re absolutely right. It is focusing on the user and bringing the information that you have from observations of the user into those conversations, because then there’s a centralized item that can be discussed and people can have alignment from that instead of not, you know, talking past each other and not having that user information that’s brought front and center. For the rest of the organization.
Stacy: Yeah, I see your company do that all the time. When we’ve been able to work together, we’ve really been able to put that user voice there. So I think that’s also why when we orient people to our teams, we have to make sure, as you said, you’ve hired all these folks that are really trustworthy. And I would absolutely agree about visual logic. But I think that’s why it’s important, right? It’s not just because it says we’re trustworthy on the wall, right? It’s because it’s how we deliver value. If we say to folks like, we trust the people that we listen to and you can trust us that we’re good reporters of that. That we’re not trying to manipulate what the user said. When you talked about politics, I would just point out one thing that I think is a big problem and people talk about trust, is they equate trust and happiness. And trust is not about happy. Right? Trust is about effectiveness. It’s about functionality. And often that acutally engages a lot of friction. So I think techniques like putting the user voice in the room actually lets people have conflict productively. And we try to use the word debate. So in high trust environments, what you’re looking for is that trust allows you to overcome the friction to be effective. It does not mean you always agree.
Stacy: And even when I’m talking about like, Andy, you should trust your employees. You should extend trust to them. That’s not, I’m not talking about blank checks, right? I’m saying that you see people as competent, that you want the best for them, that you’re open to what they think is going to work.
Stacy: The other thing I would say about trust is it’s always contextual. You do not have to trust your physician to fix your car. And so I think that’s always really, that’d be a problem. Well, it depends on the position, I guess, but yes, in my world it would be. So I think those are just like two myths of trust that I always like to point out is that trusting someone doesn’t mean you tell them, yeah, you’re right, you’re right, you’re you got it all.
Stacy: Or that you never disagree. Trust is the thing that sits between you that actually allows you to disagree in a way that you can work for the greatest good and that you can still have a relationship after you disagree. And so I think if you sort of think like trust sometimes people talk about it as like the grease on the wheel, right?
Stacy: The thing that can cut down the friction enough to keep being functional. Or you can think of it as something that can move efficiency. So if you and I can do something on a handshake, we don’t have to write a contract for it. Now, I also believe that things like contracts are actually very helpful to trust because they make you say what your expectations are. And one of the other biggest things that come up comes up with trust is expectations. There’s a great quote that’s, trust and trouble both come from expectations. And so if I thought today’s podcast was gonna be X and then you like, surprised me, Kind of, I don’t know, I had to talk about something, out knowing about fixing a car, then that doesn’t feel very trustworthy.
Stacy: Like, I can’t count on him what’s going on. Right? So the expectations, I think, are the other place that it relates to user so much is because you’re often trying to identify what is the expectation of the user. So when the user encounters the system if the system is more difficult or easier or whatever, that if that expectation does not match, it may create a feeling of mistrust.
Stacy: And so I think like this idea about, it’s not about happiness, it is about expectations. Um, those are all really important things for people to keep in mind when they throw out a phrase like, well, I guess they don’t trust us. Like, that is way too simple. And that happens a lot.
Andy: Reminds me of a model that I saw recently, which is, it’s just a triangle and what it says is passive aggressive and assertive. And passive is you matter, and I don’t. Aggressive is I matter, you don’t.
Andy: And assertive, which I don’t really like the word assertive. I think there you could change that to something that sounds a little bit more cooperative, but I matter and you matter. Right. Which is to your point about trust, that can have friction in there. And I think that model explains that look, we can have this moment of discussion around whatever the topic might be, but your opinion matters and my opinion matters. Or the voice of the user matters, in that equation as well. But to move that conversation forward for the greater good of the project. Or the organization is I think something that I’ve seen time and time again, as well. And that dynamic of those types of conversations can live in those three spaces. And you probably can hear that in an hour long conversation with stakeholders about, well, this person is passive, that person’s aggressive, and this one is more a balance of the two.
Stacy: I think that’s right. I think the other thing to remember is sometimes we have bad days. And I might have been the passive person then the aggressive person or the passive aggressive person. I’m not always proud that that happens. But in the research about trust, if you can redeem yourself, like if you hit the bottom of trust and that you take action to make up for it to compensate in ways that are really authentic, your bounce back is even better.
Andy: Thank you for all your insights. If people wanna learn more about you and what you do, where can they find you?
Stacy: SeeWhatIMean.com, we go by swim, but you won’t find us at swim.com. So SeeWhatIMean.com and again, my name is Stacy Van Gorp, but you’re welcome to talk to anybody on my team, all of us who work in the same way.
Stacy: But you can also find me if you call Andy. We’ve worked together for a long time, so it’s fun to be able to catch up about this.
Andy: It’s been an absolute pleasure to have you on the podcast, Stacy. Thank you very much.