Thoughts on Getting Naked: A Business Fable About Shedding the Three Fears That Sabotage Client Loyalty

from The Table Group

Getting Naked has been making the rounds at my consulting firm over the past year and a half, particularly among people who sell our solutions. I decided to read it as part of my desire to better serve customers and improve my listening skills.

While I felt disagreement on some points and there appears to be no data to support the recommendations, it was an easy read, increased my awareness in a few areas, and did have a few nuggets that will stick with me.


In Getting Naked, Pat Lencioni unveils a revolutionary approach to client service that yields uncommon levels of trust and loyalty. Pat challenges service providers to be completely transparent and vulnerable with clients to overcome the three fears that ultimately sabotage client allegiance. Written for internal or external consultants, financial advisors or anyone serving long-term clients, Getting Naked will provide powerful, actionable tools to help readers overcome the three fears and gain a real, lasting competitive advantage.

Longer summary here.

The style

You may recognize the author's name, Patrick Lencioni, from Death by Meeting or The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Like most of his books, Getting Naked is told in the form of a fictional business fable, with the main character as a senior manager from a big-name consulting firm who becomes responsible for overseeing the incorporation of a smaller consulting firm that has a very different way of doing things.

This narrative style, with fictional characters, scenes, and dialog, makes for more of a page-turner than a typical non-fiction business book and arguably makes the lessons easier to remember. However, it is double-edged sword, because it was filled with extraneous details, describing physical appearances or some imaginary scene in the main character's head, followed by an immediate just kidding

What will change my behavior

  • Take a bullet. Most experienced consultants have been in this situation before. It is convenient to blame consultants, who may be seen as just passing through, to save face with your employer. (This is not to say we never make mistakes!) These are good situations to ask yourself (as one of the principals of Axis puts it): do you want to be right, or do you want to win? Putting yourself on this map may help defuse emotions when you're thrown under the bus. Note that it is described strategically in the book: you are publicly taking a bullet but privately discussing the situation with the parties for whom you are taking a bullet, lest you set a bad precedent.
  • Make dumb suggestions. I see this as complementary to option generation in the Choice Model created by Dennis Hooper and widely used at Axis. Consider generating options an open-ended conversation, separate from evaluating options. It is an effective way to see what dials can be turned, e.g., are we treating properties as constraints that could actually be changed? In my experience, bad ideas often generate small improvements to the ultimate solution, or at a minimum increase confidence and build consensus around the final approach, because you have mapped out alternatives and discussed why they are inferior.

What will not change my behavior

  • Start consulting, not selling. I understand the need to demonstrate competence and good intentions but taking this as far as described in the book delays conversations necessary to confirm an opportunity is win-win. Does anybody care enough about the problem to pay an outside company to help? Is there organizational support or urgency to move ahead now? The way it is described in the book is as though you keep showing up and then surprise the customer with an invoice at some point (if you have somehow discovered who to send it to, while avoiding the topic). To me this is not being as honest as you should be.
  • Another point that rubbed me the wrong way was that the book advocated NOT preparing for initial meetings in the ask dumb questions section. As a practical matter, this is inefficient and shows a lack of respect for the customer's time. In my experience, customers value when you have related experience and can speak their language, which is aided by preparation. This does not mean assuming you know everything about the customer or assuming that they are just like every other company in the industry. You can be both prepared and curious.
  • The examples of tell the kind truth in the book could be more effective, not sounding like a parent talking to a child (e.g., "This stuff is terrible."), but rather adult to adult. The dialog came across as unprofessional and not seeking first to understand.
  • Do the dirty work. To me this often represents an opportunity to demonstrate you are being responsible with the client's budget by not having somebody do work that a more junior resource could do, at a lower cost. I am not above doing anything but still must ask whether my personally doing something is the most win-win option.

Final thoughts

The point of Getting Naked could be summarized simply as: be curious, be honest, and be generous.

Overall, I would still recommend it to people who work in professional services to increase awareness of the benefits of being honest and less defensive with customers, given what a quick, light read it is, even if you do not wholeheartedly buy into it. It is full of small ideas and reminders that could be applied immediately if you work in professional services, whereas other business books require more imagination to apply them to behavior change your day-to-day life.

(A better treatise on why it almost never makes sense to withhold the truth is Lying, by Sam Harris, but it is not targeted at professional services.)

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