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Building Trust in the Workplace Without the Trust Falls

Key Takeaways

How can leaders build trust in the workplace in uncertain times? Focuswise CEO Curt Steinhorst has some ideas. Catherine and Steve are joined by Ernest Anunciacion and Josh Gertsch to explore how Curt’s ideas relate to audit, finance, and accounting teams.


Show notes:
For more of what Curt Steinhorst said about how leaders build trust and spark organizational confidence, watch his webinar on demand.

Season 4, Episode 10: Building Trust in the Workplace Without the Trust Falls

Curt Steinhorst: When people come into the workplace, just because they are on the team doesn't mean they're part of the team. 

Catherine Tsai: Happy New Year, and welcome to Off the Books, where we surf the uncharted waters of accounting, finance, risk, and wherever else the waves take us. This episode is brought to you by Workiva, the only platform that unites financial reporting, ESG, audit, and risk teams so you can be the most powerful forces of good ever assembled. Check it out at My name is Catherine Tsai. I'm not an accountant or auditor, but I like asking questions of people who are. And I'm here with Steve Soter. Steve, why don't you tell the listeners who you are? 

Steve Soter: Certainly, Catherine. Hello, everyone, and Happy New Year. I'm Steve Soter, accounting enthusiast and Diet Coke aficionado. I'm looking forward to debiting a great conversation and am so happy to have you with us. 

Catherine: Steve, who else is joining us here on the podcast today? 

Steve: Well, we have got returning guests, Ernest Anunciacion and Josh Gertsch. Both have been on the podcast a number of times. Ernest, do you want to remind the fine folks who you are? 

Ernest Anunciacion: Hey, everyone. Ernest Anunciacion here. I lead the Workiva product marketing team for our GRC solutions, original OG CIA, and resident sneaker head. 

Steve: Oh, that makes me smile every time. And we've also got Josh Gertsch again joining us. Josh, do you want to introduce yourself? 

Josh Gertsch: Yeah, I'm a principal here at Workiva in our accounting and finance group. I support private and public reporting as well as our capital markets group. And I'm a big fan of the Nectar of the Gods drink. I think, Steve, you partake of it as well. So I think we share that in common. 

Steve: Yes, we do, Josh. Yes, we do indeed.

Catherine: And why are Ernest and Josh here today, Steve? 

Steve: Well, Catherine, you were telling me about how you listened to a presentation by Focuswise CEO Curt Steinhorst, who's written about the topic of focus at work. 

Catherine: Yes, and the presentation I heard Curt give was about building trust. 

Steve: Yeah, exactly. I think it's an important topic for accounting and audit teams that are trying to hold on to top talent. I think despite many of them being super busy right now in the new year, a lot of them are kicking off new goals, new resolutions. And so I thought it might be a good idea to hear more about what Curt had to say but then, of course, get reactions from Ernest and Josh, who are very connected, of course, to the profession. 

Catherine: Good idea. OK, so let's get into it. Ernest and Josh, so this webinar that I listened to featured Curt Steinhorst, who writes a lot about focus and productivity, and he talked about building trust when the traditional things that you use to build trust aren't always there anymore. So when you're not working all in the same office or shaking hands or breaking bread or Diet Cokes together in the lunchroom anymore, how do you build trust and a culture where people really like working together and want to stick around? So Curt had a bunch of ideas about it, and we wanted to get your take from the perspective of accounting and finance teams. 

Steve: Yeah, on that, Catherine, we've got a few clips from Curt's presentation that his team graciously are letting us share, so maybe we'll start out. He says one thing about what leaders can do to cultivate clarity. Let's take a look and see what he had to say. 

Curt: When people come into the workplace, just because they are on the team doesn't mean they're part of the team. And the easiest solution to this is just hire people that have the same background as you. It's also one of the least effective ways to have a high-performing organization. And the way we solve this is actually that people don't need to have the same past, but they need to be on the same page around some specific areas. And so when it comes to the team, the core function of a leader for creating a healthy team culture is clarity. It's not ping pong tables. It's not happy hour. It's not making sure everybody fills out their March Madness bracket. 

Catherine: I don't mind the March Madness bracket thing. I think that's kind of fun. But Curt went on to say that people specifically need clarity around their roles, responsibilities, and rewards, meaning what do I need to do to get a promotion or get a raise or something like that? What do you all think? 

Steve: Well, you know, it's interesting, Catherine. I actually thought a lot about that March Madness bracket. In fact, one of my first experiences being at a company was they asked me to like, "Hey, Steve put together this March Madness bracket." I'm not really a college basketball guy. I mean, there's always the perennial teams. I went to the University of Arizona. They are frequently a top-contending team. But that was actually an experience that I had that didn't make me feel part of the team. I don't know. Ernest, I think you and I have had this philosophical conversation before. What's your take? 

Ernest: I loved what Curt had to say about "just because you're on a team doesn't mean you're part of the team." I mean, how many times in our careers have we had, I don't want to say deadweight, but people who are just kind of getting by. And maybe as a people leader, you inherited those resources or that team, and so when I think about what he says about clarity around responsibilities, about roles, I think it starts with the vision, right? And guys, please bear with me because I'm going to use a ton of sports analogies here, having played a lot of organized sports growing up myself. You got to have a vision, a common vision, a common goal, a common thing that everybody's working towards. Because if people aren't working towards that and they all have their own individual goals, that can detract and that can create distractions across the team and really impact performance there. And so when I put that in the lens of how do you build trust around that, especially given an environment that we've been working under the last few years, I love the whole notion of clarity. But I also think one of the biggest ways or easiest ways to build that trust is what what I call the "say/do" ratio. And I learned this very early on in my career from a former manager of mine. The "say/do" ratio is really simple. How much of what you say you're going to do, do you actually do? And so when you think about accounting and finance teams or audit teams, like audit specifically, we are measured—one of the KPIs that we have is based on the number of audit reports that we issue. We want to do 50 audits this year. We think we're going to do certain ones at certain points in time, and that's why we're always driving towards those timelines, because we're delivering on the things that we said we want to, right, and delivering on those promises. Now, you want to have that "say/do" ratio as close to 1 as possible, but a lot of people then also kind of sandbag that or they overpromise and they underdeliver. You want to kind of flip that. So I'd love to hear what Josh has to say about it, especially in the context of, again, the clarity on the roles and responsibilities. 

Josh: Yeah, my view of this, it's been interesting as I've kind of matured in my career, how I look at this issue. I would say early in my career, we were working in offices and things like that. And when someone would join the team, it would take a couple of weeks. We'd go out to a lunch. We get to know them. To Steve's point, maybe there's like a soccer or basketball bracket—like we try and get them engaged in some of those things. And then over time, you kind of saw what skills or what contributions they were going to make to the team. And what's been interesting to me is over the last couple of years working remotely is, one, we're bringing in people from all over. We don't have the same backgrounds. We don't have the same, you know, maybe I don't know if you call it values, but we have different views on the world, and that's a good thing. But when people come in on day one, there kind of isn't that fluff there anymore. It's like, "Hey, we hired you for a specific role based on your experience, based on your education." And they kind of come in, and it's like we get working, and then as time develops, that's kind of like we get to know each other a little more personally. But I think as I've seen this happen, when they come in, we've had to be so clear about what they're doing because, you know, we're not in an office and we don't have that. I actually think it's been for the better. Like, I've seen people excel at work, or it's almost kind of like everybody kind of does their job and they take care of business better, and then they go home if they want to, or if they want to develop that further, then they probably put a little bit more investment in and kind of build those relationships. But it's almost like the dynamic has flipped and it's just been an interesting observation for me over the last couple of years to see and work through.

Steve: Do either of you have a sense for what that moment is that sort of flips? And I'll use a personal example. I'm sure our audience has gathered, Josh and I have worked together for a long time, have known each other for a long time. Josh was kind of a punk until the first time we actually got into a little bit of a firefight. It was an audit issue, and we were kind of like doing battle against each other, but then actually with each other trying to tackle this common issue. It was sort of after that firefight that I actually really appreciated like, hey, you know what? This is a really good guy to work with. Like, this is somebody that I would like to partner with. I use that example between me and Josh, but I'm guessing that same thing might play out with teams. I don't know. Ernest, Josh, could that be a defining moment? Or maybe, if not, what other defining moments would you characterize as when somebody feels like, OK, you know what, now we're finally together and really coordinated and integrated as a team? 

Ernest: Well, maybe Josh just has you fooled there, Steve. 

Steve: He's fooled me many times. 

Ernest: Time will tell. 

Josh: You got to keep them on their toes! 

Ernest: I don't know if it's one specific moment that you kind of have this lightbulb go off and go, aha. It could be a number of moments that aggregate over time and kind of collectively, yeah. You know, there's nothing like being in the trenches of war to really forge those relationships. And the biggest thing about trust is how—one of the analogies I used to use in the past too, is like, look, as your coach or as your people leader, I'm going to give you rope, and you could either run with that rope or you can hang yourself with that rope. And so for me, when I think about like my team right now, it's little moments in time where I see people kind of being a little bit proactive, and they're anticipating the things that I'm going to ask or that our stakeholders, our customers are going to be looking for. And then they're proactive about it. Right? And then as a people leader, you know, we get to reinforce that behavior through positive reinforcement. And so, at least for me, I mean, that's great. Yes, you absolutely have moments like that, and there's nothing like a fire drill, as you mentioned, Steve, to kind of forge that. And then you start thinking, huh, OK, maybe I'm changing my tune a little bit. But for me, I see kind of little moments over the course of time that helps that. 

Josh: Yeah. I remember a good friend, an HR director I once was associated with, and he explained to me that, you know, we were kind of talking about workplace situations and how to interact, and he's like, hey, basically it comes down to, once you earn it with that person, you can kind of go to that next level or you can kind of talk to a deeper level that maybe at first you can't. I think it's the same thing with trust. I think it's earned. I think that just comes through experiences, and you have to go through them to get there. I don't think you can earn trust based on superficial conversations or not doing anything where, you know, Steve, to your point, like all of a sudden, you know, maybe we had some disagreements or views about a thing, but, you know, we had to get on the same page to deal with probably something a lot bigger than ourselves and get through that. And I just think it's earned. I just think that there's no way around it, that at some point, you've got to go through those fires to some degree, and you're either going to kind of come out of them better or you're going to kind of come out of them worse. And that just kind of continues to either enhance or kind of "de-hance" that relationship. 

Catherine: Well, let's jump into another clip from Curt and looking at how to cultivate curiosity and help people navigate change. 

Curt: What we can't do is predict all the variables shaping the work that we're doing. They keep changing. But what we can do is promote a culture of growth and learning. And by promoting a culture of growth and learning inside the team, what we do is we ensure that when something new comes in, when the dynamics shift, when uncertainty becomes visceral, when the future is uncertain, that we actually can look at it as an opportunity rather than look at it as something that is a risk or a threat to us. We're hardwired to zoom in on threats, and in moments of turbulence, we naturally focus inward and self protect. And so what people are asking when it comes to trust towards the future isn't that you would have certainty. It's that they would have confidence that you are capable of navigating it and that you have their back through it.

Steve: I mean, that sounds exactly like, Josh, what you were just kind of talking about. 

Josh: Yeah. It's been interesting on this one. You know, when you think about it, I mean, the one—I think we have this fallacy thinking in our jobs, like, "Hey, this year's been a little bit rough, but we're going to get everything fixed this year, and then next year is going to be smooth sailing." Unfortunately, I think we know the realization is that change is always there. Tend to look at it as an opportunity, kind of how he talks about it, or promote that culture of change. I think it's just so critical to say like, "Hey, going to deal with something, probably not going to have the same issue next year, but it's going to be something else. And we've just got to be ready for that." The one kind of experience that comes to mind is I used to be an auditor for a decade at KPMG. Every year I used to have a lot of the same clients. I'm like, "Oh, next year, we got this! I'm going home at 8:00! I'm not going to be here 'til midnight. Nothing's going to change. I've got this thing dialed in." And sure enough, there would be an IPO, or there'd be an acquisition. And, you know, I think at first that was a little bit frustrating, but then as I embraced it, it actually gave me so much experience in my career on those things that it's propelled, it's given me so many opportunities down the road for other things like that. So I think embracing that culture of like, hey, it's never going to be smooth sailing, but let's come to work every day and have the attitude of like, let's kind of take it on and just kind of see where the journey goes to some point. Because usually it turns out to good things if you can kind of keep that perspective. 

Steve: Yeah. Josh, I only heard you tell me that every year you were my audit manager. "Next year we're going to get this down." 

Josh: Hey, Steve, I got to come up with some excuse to get the fees up. So... 

Ernest: Isn't the definition of insanity, though, is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result?

Steve: Yeah. Isn't that an audit, Ernest? Isn't that right up your alley? 

Ernest: 100%. I think what I loved about Curt's quote here and when he talks about promoting that culture of growth and learning, you know, within the audit world, we're so accustomed to doing the same things like last year, right? Like, hey, we did this audit before. Let's do it the same way. And one of the things that I've learned over my career is, you know, when you're going to try something new and that's different and challenging and maybe bucking conventional wisdom and challenging the status quo, you have to create an environment where it's OK to fail, where people feel safe, that, hey, look, we know we're going to go out on a limb, and we're trying something new here. But if you're going to fail, fail fast, fail forward, fail onward. And that's something that I think we've been able to cultivate that culture a little bit better in this virtual environment. We have to try new things because that's kind of the way the world is working right now. And so I think the biggest growth opportunities that we have and the best ways that we learn is through failure. And Lord knows that I've failed time and time again. Maybe that's why I'm not in audit anymore and here working for a software company. The other the other thing about Curt's quote, too, when he talks about people being hard wired to look at threats. Well, threats, if you take the inverse, the reverse of that, they can be opportunities. And so how do we flip those risk to be opportunistic? And part of that is creating a culture that allows you to be creative, to look at it from a lens of, yes, this risk, if we incur it, could be severe and could cost us a lot of money, cost a lot of time, but what's the reward around that? And I think that's where we as audit, risk, and compliance professionals have to change that paradigm. It's not just about what do we do about the risk, but how do we spin it as an opportunity? 

Steve: Well, I think we are going to get in trouble if we don't spin this conversation quickly to our sponsor for a message. We've got one quote left from Curt, but let's hear that message from our sponsor, and we'll be right back. 

Catherine: On the subject of work, let me tell you about that one time in high school when I worked at a tortilla factory. It was an assembly line job. One person cooked the corn. Another fed dough into a machine to be pressed into tortillas, and someone else counted out tortillas so I could stuff them into bags to be sold in your local grocery store. The assembly line was great for making tortillas. It's not so great for assembling a 400-page annual report when many teammates need to add ingredients and do quality control without having to wait their turn in line to start doing their thing. That's where Workiva comes in. Workiva brings financial reporting, ESG, audit, and risk teams together, all in one platform to work together in real time. Workiva helps you automate the tedious parts of your job so you and your team can focus on doing your thing and adding value. Check it out at That's 

Curt: The truth is, the single best and most powerful way to build trust in your team is to give them the one thing that is most difficult to give, and that's undivided attention.

Catherine: Let's combine this with our closing question of the day here. How would you give people your undivided attention? 

Steve: Well, you know what? This is kind of hokey, but I think one of the ways that at least that I've found is successful in the past is, which has actually been good for me too frankly, is as a manager or just a member of the team is just reaching out, just unsolicited, impromptu. How are you doing? What's going on? And you just sit there and listen and definitely ask more questions than you talk. That, to me, I think, done on a regular basis not only demonstrates that I care about you, but it also gives us just opportunity to communicate in a way that's not tied to a meeting. It's not tied to any specific topic. It's kind of free-flowing. You can sort of take it from there. You know, that's probably a little bit homespun. But, you know, boy, I've had some really, really good outcomes and really good interactions with people when I've done that. 

Ernest: Back when we used to go into the office and we would have meetings in my office or somewhere else, when it was one-on-one time, whether it was a status update or a check-in on goals or whatever, I would purposely close my laptop, close the door, and have just a conversation with them. In this virtual environment, it's very easy to be distracted because you got multiple screens, you got multiple devices, and notifications going off here and there. And so I try to make sure that I'm focusing on the camera, as unnatural as that feels when when we're meeting virtually, and that I'm not distracted by emails or Slack messages or anything else. That undivided attention, I think it's got to be reciprocal too, right? And so as you're having those conversations with folks, making sure that not only do you hear them, but reiterating what you heard in your own words so that you have confirmation that you're on the same page. There's so many like little different tactics that you can deploy. But again, it's a really good, strong statement in terms of building that trust. And I think the last thing around building trust too, especially as a team leader or just a leader in general, goes back to that "say/do" ratio. But I think showing vulnerability in these times, we all have stuff that's going on. We all have families. People are getting sick. You know, you've got kids that you have to take to school. Showing and having empathy around that, but then also kind of reinforcing those same values that like when you're on PTO, you're on PTO. Same thing for me. When I'm on PTO, I make sure not to email my teams or shoot them a message or anything like that. That is our time. I think that's what really good companies who have strong cultures get to reinforce. 

Josh: Yeah, I'll build upon what Ernest said a little bit. I think it's interesting when you say undivided attention, I almost translate that to kind of what is love for me a little bit. Like not romantic love, but the fact that you care about somebody and you're willing to invest in them and you're willing to empathize with them and understand what they're going to. And so how do you share that in a workplace setting? I mean, this is just where my mind goes, which will tell you I'm a little bit crazy, but I kind of think of the five love languages. I'm pretty sure physical touch is a no-no from what I've understood. And then, you know, words of affirmation, acts of service, gifts, none of those kind of really make sense. So I think it kind of comes back to quality time, like when you're there that you're going to give them focus time on them, you know, whatever way that works, whether that's one-on-ones, whether that's going out for coffee. But just an opportunity where you can build that relationship, where you can understand them, that you can show them that you care, that you can take an interest in that. And again, as you've gone through those experiences and earn that trust, I think it only helps. I think you know when people become ride-or-die partners to some degree. Like you've gone through those things. You care about each other. To me it just comes back to being willing to spend that focused time with that person. So that'd be my take on it. 

Steve: Those were some deep and profound responses to this closing question of the day. Usually we get more humor, but I like this. Catherine, we can't let you get off the hook, though. How do you show undivided attention?

Catherine: It's the good old-fashioned Care Bear stare. Eye contact. Direct eye contact. I didn't think Josh would be giving the Care Bear stare, but you're a pretty caring guy, Josh, as it turns out. 

Josh: Underneath this *bleep* form that Steve created this picture as, I'm just a guy who cares about other people, you know, and wants them to be happy. But you know, some people just can't overlook certain things.

Ernest: Can we do an episode in the future on love languages? I think we could spin something there. 

Catherine: Let's do it. 

Steve: Let's do it. I love it. 

Ernest: Especially since my wife made me read that book before we got married. I don't know what she's trying to tell me. 

Josh: And then maybe we could do another one on guys are from Mars, women are from Venus or whatever that book was. Let's just take this podcast to a whole different level. 

Ernest: Let's go. 

Catherine: Oh, can't wait. 

Steve: 2023 is going to be a hoot. 

Catherine: Well, thanks, Ernest and Josh, for being here. 

Josh: Yeah, thanks for having us.

Ernest: Yeah, thank you. 

Steve: Definitely. Thanks to you both. And thank you, dear listener, for surfing along. I'm Steve Soter. That was Catherine Tsai, and this has been Off the Books presented by Workiva. Please subscribe. Leave a review. Tell your buddies if you liked the show. Surf's up, and we will see you on the next wave. 



24 minutes


Steve Soter, Catherine Tsai, Curt Steinhorst, Ernest Anunciacion, Josh Gertsch

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