Getting Naked

Getting Naked

Following is a “book report” I did for our management team.  I thought it worth sharing this “internal” document for those of you that are interested.  I would love to hear your feedback!

February 19, 2010

Getting Naked

This morning Michelle and I were completing a major proposal for one of our great customers (this proposal would add over 200,000 square feet of space to our portfolio).  As I was completing my section, I was thinking “why would anyone not hire us??”  Think about it.  We have the best people, the best systems, the best customer service, the best sales and the best value for the dollar.  I am amazed at the company we have become over the past year.

Part of this thought though, is because of a book I read over last weekend.  Many of you will remember Patrick Lencioni for his book, “The five dysfunctions of a team”.  His newest book is “Getting Naked:  A Business Fable”.  As I read it, I kept thinking, “we already do that”.

So allow me to share with you excerpts from the book:

Naked Service Defined

At its core, naked service boils down to the ability of a service provider to be vulnerable – to embrace uncommon levels of humility, selflessness, and transparency for the good of a client.

As obvious as that may sound, it is more difficult than it seems, because humility and selflessness and transparency often entail suffering.  And suffering is not something most human beings, especially in our modern culture, understand or welcome.  Most of us live our lives trying to avoid awkward and painful situations, which is why it is not surprise that we are susceptible to the three fears that present us from building trust and loyalty with our clients.


No service provider wants to lose clients, business opportunities, or revenue.  Ironically, though, this fear of losing the business actually hurts our ability to keep and increase business, because it causes us to avoid doing the difficult things that engender greater loyalty and trust with the people we’re trying to serve.

What clients want more than anything is to know that we’re more interested in helping them than we are in maintaining our revenue source?  And when we do something, or fail to do something, in order to protect our business, they eventually lose respect for us and understandably question whether they should trust us.

Naked service providers refuse to be overly concerned about the possibility of losing a client or, for that matter, being undercompensated or having their ideas misappropriated by a client.  In fact, they willingly put themselves in positions of exposure in each of these areas, knowing that by doing so they will earn the trust of their clients.  They understand that in the end, more goodwill comes about even if there are setbacks along the way.

It’s worth reminding ourselves that clients can smell fear and are repelled by it.  They are attracted to a service provider who will be honest and direct with them, even if it might jeopardize the relationship.  If I remember correctly, the same principles applied in dating: girls prefer honest and self-assured guys over desperate ones who tell them what they want to hear.  Sounds craze and counterintuitive, I know, but it is true.


No one likes to making mistakes in public and having to endure the scrutiny of spectators, especially when those spectators are paying us for our advice and counsel.  And yet, like a fifth-grader, we know that the only thing worse than raising our hand and having the wrong answer is failing to put our hand up a t all (and realizing that more often than not, we did indeed have the right answer).  This fear, then, is rooted in pride, and it is ultimately about avoiding the appearance of ignorance, wanting to be seen instead as smart or competent.

Naked service providers are so concerned about helping the client that they are willing to ask questions and make suggestions even if those questions and suggestions could turn out to be laughably wrong.  They readily admit what they don’t know and are quick to point out – even to celebrate – their errors because protecting their intellectual ego is not important to them.

Clients come to trust naked service providers because they know theta they will not hold back their ideas, hide their mistakes, or edit themselves in order to save face.  As painful as this can be for a consultant who wants to be seen as smart, it is a turnoff to clients who want to hear all of our suggestions, and who are yearning for transparency and modesty – qualities that are immensely more attractive than intelligence.


Like the previous fear, this one has its roots in ego, but there is an important difference between the two.  Fear of feeling inferior is not about our intellectual pride, but rather about preserving our sense of importance and social standing relative to a client.

It is completely natural for service providers to yearn for respect and admiration, and to have a disdain for being overlooked, condescended t, or treated as though we are inferior.  And so it is no surprise that, as consultants, we try to achieve and preserve a certain level of understanding and importance in the eyes of our clients.  But sometimes we forget that the word “service” shares the same meaning as “servant” and even “subservience.”

Naked service providers not only overcome their need to feel important in the eyes of their clients, but also purposefully put themselves in a lower position.  They do whatever a client needs them to do to help them improve, even if that calls for the service provider to be overlooked or temporarily looked down on.  Ironically, clients come to trust and respect service providers who do this and ultimately come to think more highly of them.  That’s because there is nothing more attractive and admirable than people who willingly and cheerfully set their egos aside and make the needs of others more important than their own.

SHEDDING THE THREE FEARS – The principles of naked service

  • Always consult instead of sell
  • Give away the business (of consulting, ideas, etc.)
  • Tell the kind truth

Naked service providers will confront a client with a difficult message, even when the client might not like hearing it.

  • Enter the danger

Don’t be afraid of losing the business.  Always do the right thing for the client, tell them the truth and rest in the knowledge that we are the best.

  • Ask dumb questions
  • Make dumb suggestions
  • Celebrate your mistakes
  • Take a bullet for the client

“This is about the moments when we can humble ourselves and sacrificially take some of the burden off of a client in a difficult situation, and then – and this is critical – confront them with the kind truth.  Without confrontation, taking a bullet would indeed be enablement.”

  • Make everything about the client
  • Honor the clients work

“Naked service providers honor the client by taking an active interest in their business and by appreciating the importance of that business to the client and the client’s customers.”

  • Do the dirty work

“Naked service providers are willing to take on whatever a client needs them to do within the context of their services.”  Many times we are asked to do things that are not part of our contract and/or responsibility.

  • Admit your weaknesses and limitations

It certainly is difficult to convey all of a books thoughts and ideas in a few pages, but as I consider this book, I am reminded that at ServiceMaster Performance, we are about servant hood.  We serve our customers, our employees and our community – and when we think of ourselves as greater than others, we have lost the heart of who we are as a company.

“whoever wants to be great among you must be a servant”

Paraphrase Matthew 20:26, 27