Merit versus Know-Like-Trust

i-deserveMy career took off like a rocket when I stopped relying on merit and instead embraced the Know-Like-Trust principle (KLT). More on my story later in this essay.

The KLT principle, succinctly stated, is that people do business with those they know, like and trust. This principle is far and away the most effective key to achieving success in the world of business. Whether you are trained in economics, management, marketing, supply chains, information technology, finance or accounting (or chemistry, physics, art or music), you need to embrace KLT.

Your coworkers will do business with you if they know, like and trust you. So will your boss. So will potential employers. So will your clients. So will your suppliers.

I was talking about relationship marketing with a student. He disagreed with my advice on KLT. Instead, he argued that his ability to land a job was dependent solely on merit. If he is great at what he does, employers will beat a path to his door. So will coworkers. So will clients.

you-deserve-it-memeHe would gain success because he deserves it.

Depending on merit is 100% out of sync with skills needed today by young professionals. Merit is focused on me, me, me. After all, “merit starts with me.” It is self-centered instead of others-centered.

Yes, people need to know that you are capable or masterful in terms of how you deliver services and products. In that regard, you might as well strive to be the very best at what you do. But that alone will not bring you more business and high regards from others. No, that is reserved for those whom they like and trust.

I know, we business professors should have told you this before. I’m not aware that we teach this anywhere in the B-school curriculum.

It is a cold, hard world out there. No one will give you anything just because you are deserving. They will, however, be giving if they like and trust you. Being liked and trusted by others is the only thing that will warm up that cold, hard world.

So how did I benefit from learning this? It was a process.

I recall receiving a graded paper as part of the course Income Theory taught by Professor Floyd Beams at Virginia Tech. I had poured my heart and soul (and so much content) into that paper only to receive a grade other than that coveted A. I whined to a friend that Beams had failed to see the merit of my ideas, and that I really deserved the grade of A. My friend read my paper only to agree with the professor. My friend said that including more content in a paper isn’t better if it detracts from making a clear argument. He said that the organization and packaging of the paper matters a great deal, perhaps more than its meritorious ideas. Years later, I understand that I should have been trying to get the reader (Professor Beams) to like and trust my writing and finished papers. I’ve never forgotten that lesson.

Fast forward to when I was teaching accounting at Bowling Green State University in the mid and late 1990s. I had finally concluded that emphasizing my merit as a teacher wasn’t getting me the kind of student and faculty acceptance of my teaching as I had desired. I read research that unliked teachers cause students to learn less, not more. Being arbitrary and unfair leads to student feelings of betrayal. And students don’t learn well when they feel betrayed. So I started working on creating an environment in my classes where students would like the experience and trust that I had their best interests at heart. They could feel safe and at home. And it worked. Enrollment in my classes sharply increased. I became the professor of choice for student who wanted to learn. And that, dear readers, is the primary criterion for success as a teacher.

Dwelling on your own merit is a dead end. For effective relationships that lead to business success, you should embrace the KLT theory.

by David Albrecht, Ph.D.

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No blog posts this week

I am ill and will not be updating this site for a week or two.

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Give and Take Chapter 1: Good Returns–The Dangers and Rewards of Giving More Than You Get

giveandtake-coverToday we start a series of blog posts on Skills for Young Professionals. The focus of this series is the best-selling and provocative book by Adam Grant, Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success. We’ll cover one chapter per blog post. For those desiring an overview before embarking on the series, I recommend, “How to Read a Book like Adam Grant’s ‘Give and Take,” by Ryan Quinn.

First a word about the author, Adam Grant. I personally don’t know the man. All I know of him can be found on his LinkedIn profile. His B.A. is from Harvard, received in 2003. His M.A. and Ph.D. are from UMichigan, received in 2006. 8.5 years later he has received numerous teaching and research publication awards, received fast promotions to Associate Professor and then Full Professor, and has written a best selling book. His rise has been meteoric.

He classifies a person’s approach to relationships as giver, taker or matcher. Giver and taker are opposites, a matcher is somewhere between. I have no clue as to whether Grant is a giver or taker. From what I can gather from his profile, he might be a giver as a teaching professor (a conclusion based on his receipt of teaching awards), and a taker with regards to his research and publishing efforts (a conclusion based on his exhaustive list of awards received).

A focus on the approach to interactions with other people.

Early on, Grant writes,

“According to conventional wisdom, highly successful people have three things in common: motivation, ability and opportunity. If we want to succeed, we need a combination of hard work, talent and luck. [We should add] a fourth ingredient, one that’s critical but often neglected: Success depends on how we approach our interactions with other people.” (p. 4)

A giver is defined by Grant as “other focused, paying more attention to what other people need from (him/her).” A taker is defined as:

“They like to get more than they give. They tilt reciprocity in their own favor, putting their own interests above others’ needs. Takers believe the world is a competitive, dog-eat-dog place. They feel that to succeed, they need to be better than others. To prove their competence, they self-promote and receive plenty of credit for their efforts.” (p. 4)

Matchers strive

“…. to preserve an equal balance of giving and getting. Matchers operate on the principle of fairness: when they help others, they protect themselves by seeking reciprocity. If you’re a matcher, you believe in tit for tat, and your relationships are governed by equal exchanges of favors.

Hmm. At Christmas time in the United States, it is frequently said that it is better to give than receive. Christians profess belief in the Golden Rule, you should treat others as you would have them treat you. But in the basic human makeup, pride runs amok. We are all self-centered to some degree.

Grant says that most people in most countries admire a giver approach to interpersonal relationships. He says that in family and close friend relationships, more people are givers than takers. However, in the business world, a giver is perceived as weak and naive.

Grant cites evidence that over the long run, some people who approach interpersonal relationships as a giver experience more success (not defined at this time) than those who are takers or matchers. Curiously, some givers experience less success than either takers or matchers. So there must be a way to be a successful giver.

Also, Grant says that in the fast paced modern business world with instant communications and social media, rewards from being a giver can be realized much more quickly than in decades past. In other words, conditions seem to be ripe to adopt a philosophy of being a giver.

Grant has three aims, or purposes in his book. First, observers tend to underestimate the amount of success experienced by givers. Second, to dispel myths about givers possessing undesirable personality traits. “Successful givers are every bit as ambitious as takers and matchers. They simply have a different way of pursuing their goals. Third, to show that a giving approach is not a zero sum game. “Givers succeed in a way that creates a ripple effect, enhancing the success of others around them.”

Discussion Questions

Do you know Adam Grant? What is he like? Is he a giver, matcher or taker?

Have you thought about what is your approach to interpersonal relationships? Based on the definitions provided, are you a giver, matcher or taker? Do you wish you were otherwise?

I wish my approach to interpersonal relationships was that of a giver. I admire the approach, and I think it is a better approach to use in business. However, I have a lot of pride, and I am quick to self-promote and “toot my own horn.”

In the business world, is it better to be a giver, matcher or taker?

For years I’ve been writing and lecturing on the desirability of being other-focused instead of being self-focused. I’m convinced that the benefits touted by Grant are real and attainable.

Are conditions changing so that the scales are tipping away from taking to giving?

I absolutely believe that conditions are changing to the point that being a giver is a much sounder approach to becoming successful.

For you, what was the most important revelation in the chapter?

Please respond to these questions in the comment section below.

We’ll cover chapter 2 on Monday, March 2.

by David Albrecht, Ph.D.

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The Know Like Trust Principle

know-like-trustOne of the natural laws of the business world is that people do business with those whom they know, like, and trust.

This means that you will do business with those whom you know, like, and trust. And others will do business with you if they know you, like you, and trust you.

You probably didn’t know that, but you do now. Business is personal. Finance and accounting majors listen up, there is no hiding away in an office (or back room) cut off from almost all other people.

As a young professional you must develop your personal skill set to the point of (1) being known for the high quality of services/products you provide, (2) being approachable and likeable, and (3) being trustworthy. Another way of saying this is that people will not do business with you if you are (1) known for shoddy work and cutting corners, (2) self-centered, aloof, obnoxious, arrogant, jerky, and/or you are an asshole, and (3) you are untrustworthy and known for betrayal.

The know, like, and trust principle (KLT) is so fundamental to professional skills that there is no use going on to more advanced topics (such as branding, networking, influence, and team building) if you do not excel on each part of it.

Being well formed by KLT today is more important than in previous years. It’s because the business pendulum has swung back to relationship marketing.

social_media_explained_schaeferMark Schaefer is a Rutgers University social media marketing professor and a respected big name in social media. In his recent book, Social Media Explained (2014), he says that through much of human history commerce has been performed in P2P form. That’s person to person. Chapter 1 is titled, “Humans Do Business With Other Humans.” In markets formed since the beginning of commerce, there are four aspects worth noting.

1. “It was highly personal and interactive.” When selling in a local market, you the seller stood face to face with the buyer. He bought from you if he knew, liked and trusted you.
2. “There was immediacy.” Feedback from transactions was quick and loudly vocal. You could expect a visit at home from the buyer if he didn’t like what you sold him.
3. “Success depended on word of mouth recommendations.” Good reviews about your products and services traveled quickly, and bad reviews traveled much faster.
4. “There was a primal need to connect.” The social aspect of business is fun and facilitates all sorts of nonbusiness communications.

Schaefer goes on to explain that after nearly a century of impersonal mass communication, mass advertising and mass selling, the business pendulum has swung back to business being close and personal. He says that the advent of social media.

Schaefer continues his argument that conditions have changed with the advent of global communication and social media. People have something to say about the products and services they use, and they say it over online social networks to their friends and colleages. As a result, business is again (1) personal and interactive, (2) quick and widely heard feedback, (3) reliance upon word of mouth recommendations, and (4) the ability to connect online with friends and new friends.

William Arruda and Kirsten Dixson, authors of Career Distinction: Stand Out by Building Your Brand (2007), Dan Schawbel, author of Me 2.0, Revised and Updated Edition: 4 Steps to Building Your Future (2010), and Keith Ferrazzi, author of Never Eat Alone, Expanded and Updated: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time (2014) also argue that changing business conditions call for increased reliance on personal relationships.

I’ll write much about the know, like, and trust principle in coming weeks and months.

by David Albrecht, Ph.D.


  • Arruda, William and Dixson, Kirsten. (2007). Career Distinction: Stand Out by Building Your Brand. Wiley.
  • Ferrazzi, Keith. (2005). Never Eat Alone, Expanded and Updated: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time. Crown Business.
  • Schaefer, Mark. (2014). Social Media Explained: Untangling the World’s Most Misunderstood Business Trend. Mark W. Schaefer
  • Schawbel, Dan. (2010). Me 2.0, Revised and Updated Edition: 4 Steps to Building Your Future. Kaplan Publishing.

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Give and Take–A Must Read

helping.04Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success, is by wunderkind Wharton professor Adam Grant. The thesis of this book is that helping others and focusing on their interests can lead to greater success than being self-focused).

I’ve been teaching professional skills in the college classroom for years. My introduction of personal branding and social networking is based on an underlying mind set of (1)helping others, and (2) people do business with those whom they know, like, and trust. You can easily see that I think Grant’s book is spot on.

The next topic to be covered in Skills For Young Professionals is about placing the interests of others before your own. In other words, you should strive to help and serve others. Adam Grant calls this being a giver instead of a taker.

Adam Grant’s book has been endorsed by Susan Cain, “As brilliant as it is wise, this is not just a book–it’s a new and shining worldview.”

giveandtake-coverI propose that you purchase Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success, by Adam Grant, and we shall read it together. Every few days I’ll briefly summarize a chapter and write a commentary on it. You can become engaged as you offer up your own comments below. I think it sounds like fun. A bit like being in college again.

The book can be purchased in print or electronic formats from the bookseller of your choice.

We’ll have assignments. You should read a chapter by a certain date, and I’ll post chapter summaries on the same date. The schedule is:

  • Wed, Feb 25, Chapter 1: Good Returns: The Dangers and Rewards of Giving More Than You Get.
  • Mon, Mar 2, Chapter 2: The Peacock and the Panda: How Givers, Takers, and Matchers Build Networks.
  • Wed, Mar 4, Chapter 3: The Ripple Effect: Collaboration and the Dynamics of Giving and Taking Credit.
  • Mon, Mar 9, Chapter 4: Finding the Diamond in the Rough: The Fact and Fiction of Recognizing Potential.
  • Wed, Mar 11, Chapter 5: The Power of Powerless Communication: How to be Modest and Influence People.
  • Mon, Mar 16, Chapter 6: The Art of Motivation Maintenance: Why Some Givers Burn Out but Others Are On Fire.
  • Wed, Mar 18, Chapter 7: Chump Change: Overcoming the Doormat Effect.
  • Mon, Mar 23, Chapter 8: The Scrooge Shift: Why a Soccer Team, a Fingerprint, and a Name Can Tilt Us in the Other Direction.
  • Wed, Mar 25, Chapter 9: Out of the Shadows.

I’ll reserve the Friday of each week to blog about other things.

by David Albrecht, Ph.D.

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Skills Needed in the 21st Century Economy

learn_new_skillsToday’s 21st century economy differs significantly from the economy just fifteen years ago. Whereas professionals once applied for jobs, they now should market themselves into new positions. Success in the marketing process depends greatly on securing references from within to recommend your hiring by their company. Once hired, success in the position, or the one that follows, or the one which follows next, depends yet again on being able to market your services to new clients and colleagues.

Marketing yourself and then building a career require skills not usually listed on the typical LinkedIn profile. The most popular skills searched for on LinkedIn in 2014 focus what a professional knows or can do [note 1]. But to market yourself requires focusing on the unique value you bring to a client’s perceived needs.  Marketing yourself involves many skills, but not the ones that will sound the buzzer on a recruiter’s search algorithms.

And the skills needed for success in the 21st century Economy must be supported by two pillars of a modern world view. These pillars (or underlying assumptions) are, (1) givers fare better than takers [note 2], and (2) relationships are the new exchange currency for professionals.

Before you develop these new skills, you must change the way you think. That is why the first blog post out of the box was about a giving mentality (“The Ripple Effect). And it is why the next few blog posts will delve deeper into giving and relationships.

After that, we’ll move into the types of skills listed on the top-of-blog banner.

by  David Albrecht, Ph.D.


  1.  The 25 most searched for skills on LinkedIn in 2014 start with statistical analysis and data mining, middleware and integration software, storage systems and management, and network and information security. More skills are included in LinkedIn’s “The 25 Hottest Professional Skills of 2014.
  2. Adam Grant, in Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success, explains that givers are more successful than either takers or matchers (those that try to even the score between giving and taking).

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The Ripple Effect


Will your life produce ripples?

This post is about the measure of success in life. So many put forth money (or wealth) as a way of keeping score. In today’s post I’m going to argue for respect.

Have you ever considered the ripple?  A ripple (noun) is a small wave in water or some other liquid.  Ripples (plural) are a series of waves, spreading out in ever expanding circles.  Rip (adjective), as in rip dive, means a ripple-less entry into water.  To ripple (verb) means to create small waves.  The ripple effect is a metaphor for how some choose to live life.

A very important question for those entering college is:  Do you intend to live your life so as to ripple or not to ripple?

I was a bum during the my early college experience, a college student in name only.  Skipping class to play cards with friends was de rigueur.  Drinking to excess was socially required.  Messing around with the opposite sex was both a rite of passage and how worth was proved.  Studying never happened, not even in desperation.

Beloved professor Donald Johnson of the University of Iowa started many ripples.

Beloved professor Donald Johnson of the University of Iowa started many ripples.

One semester, I had to withdraw from school to avoid having a string of F grades crash my GPA.  The withdrawal form needed my advisor’s signature, so off to Professor Donald Johnson I went.

He took the form and held it.  Looking up, he sized me up with a glance.  Although he didn’t know me, he knew my type.  He made a gesture to start writing his signature, then paused.  This stopped my heart.

“So, you’re quitting school.”

“I’ll be back.”

Either he thought that I wouldn’t make it back, or I would only to resume partying.  Either way, I would be throwing my life away.  Hoping to make me see it, he asked,  “What are you going to do with your life?”

I didn’t understand.  My thoughts were only about how I was going to drink beer and chase girls, but that was not an appropriate response.  I reached deep and came up with “profesional bridge player.”  Years later I’m still embarrassed by that.

Professor Johnson then opined that playing cards wouldn’t make the world a better place for anyone else but me. And that would be a shame because I would have squandered my opportunity to make a mark on the world.

Years later I more fully understand what he was teaching me.  People won’t remember or respect you if your make your own life better.  People will remember and respect you if you help make their life better.  The first is valueless to anyone else but you.  The second is of great value to the universe.

You will be fortunate indeed if the recipients of your good life in turn make life better for those with whom they come in contact.  If so, you will have started a ripple effect.

Professor Donald Johnson, in one brief interaction, added enough to my life that I remember him decades later.  He rippled me.

I’m proud to say that I’ve turned preacher in my classes.  I offer that whether it be management, finance, marketing, accounting or economics, through being a business professionalt it is possible make the world a better place.

As life is lived it is important to remember always that helping others is what makes life worth living.  Living life only to make a lot of money is such a waste of really good human talent.   People may envy you but won’t respect you.  Many people need financial understanding but they don’t have a clue.  It is for such people that we accountants serve.

Living life to create a ripple isn’t easy.  Dwelling on self (aka pride) comes naturally to us.  Moreover, our culture reinforces a concept that a successful life means making it to the top.  Because the end justifies the means, it’s OK to climb over people on the trip to the top.  Perhaps you have friends whose life goal is to die with the most.  Perhaps that’s your goal too.

College and that first job are a time for preparing yourself for the life that follows.  How do you intend to live your life, to ripple or not to ripple?

by  David Albrecht, Ph.D.

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Introducing ‘Skills For Young Professionals’

Welcome to this new blog, Skills For Young Professionals.

skills_definitionWhy a new blog, and on this topic?

I have been teaching in the college classroom for 36 years.  I’ve taught 10,000 students and worked with several hundreds of  business professors at eight collegiate business schools (note 1).  Somewhere along the way, I discovered that professors aren’t restricted to just delivering content.  Importantly, they have the stage to change student lives for the better.  I started working on my vision for my students upon entering the professional world.

The vision I adopted was that of a mature, independent financial services professional capable of improving his/her part of the world.

A serious problem with attempting to implement this vision is that management, marketing, accounting, finance and economics textbooks focus solely on discipline content.  Nowhere are students made aware of how to develop the skills to become an agent of change in their world.  B-schools assume that students will retain discipline-specific content for years into the professional world, and will be able to figure out how to use it then.  Professional skills?  They’ll pick it up on their own.

It just doesn’t work this way. If we business professors want students to use B-school content later on in the world, we need to teach them skills for using the content we cover.  And if we want our students to be mature, independent and impressive professionals capable of changing the world, we professors need to teach them the necessary skills and how to use them.

I’m talking about the development of professional skills.  These skills include but are not limited to:  a professional’s brand & message, networking, relationship building & nurturing, team building, social marketing, working with a mentor, leadership and professional use of digital era technologies.

I hope this new blog will be an agent of change for young professionals to learn useful professional skills and how to use them.

Welcome aboard.

by  David Albrecht, Ph.D.


  1.  The schools I’ve taught at are:  University of Iowa, Andrews University (Michigan), Virginia Tech, University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill, Bowling Green State University, Concordia College (Minnesota), University of South Carolina Upstate, La Sierra University (California)

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