Trust, but Verify

“Trust, but Verify.”
–Ronald Reagan







Each day brings the team closer to an approved strategy. As I have written recently, we are so close that the team has transitioned to the next step under new leadership, and I’ve been enjoying Stage 5 of the lifecycle of a team (see What to Leave, and What to Take).  Yet there are some days when it seems the end goal moves a step away instead of closer, which leads me to today’s topic on trust.  I’ve written about trust previously (see Trust).  Today I am going to expand the topic slightly to contrast between unconditional trust and conditional trust, and specifically address the latter in the form of “Trust, but Verify.”

(Aside: As many of you likely did, I first encountered the phrase “Trust, but Verify” during the Cold War years.  The Great Communicator, Ronald Reagan, chose to use the Russian proverb, “doveryai, no proveryai – Trust, but Verify” in discussing relations with the Soviet Union. )

“Trust, but Verify” resurfaced in my consciousness in response to an event from today.  The team’s revised strategic plan has been undergoing final reviews for the past month, and as a part of the review process we receive some questions from NASA Headquarters. We provided our written responses to the appropriate personnel in our support organization, who would review then forward the responses to NASA Headquarters for final review.  It’s a somewhat cumbersome process and takes time.

We submitted our most recent set of updates about 2 weeks ago.  I didn’t hear anything for a few days, so I checked with my main point of contact in the support organization.  Nothing.  Finally, last Friday I received a note from him that there was more feedback for me to disposition and that the information would be provided on Tuesday.  My contact didn’t go into detail about the nature of the feedback, and with it being the Labor Day weekend I decided not to press the issue.  It could wait until Tuesday, I felt.

When I received the feedback today, I was shocked that it was from the local review and not NASA Headquarters.  With over a week having lapsed, I assumed the local support organization had reviewed the package, forwarded it, and that the feedback was from NASA Headquarters.  No, that wasn’t the case at all.  The package had sat for over a week in the local office with no one taking action on it to send to NASA Headquarters.  It wasn’t until someone from NASA Headquarters called the support organization to ask, “Where is the updated package?” that the support organization realized it was sitting around waiting for disposition.  They quickly reviewed it and sent my point of contact a few minor comments that I needed to fix before they would forward it.  I was beside myself.

What happened?

I placed my trust in a review process and limited my status checks to one point, namely to my point of contact who served as my entry point to the review process.  Unfortunately, he is but one cog in the review process and has limited insight or influence over the rest of it.  I learned an important lesson today.  I should extend “Trust, but Verify” to all levels of the support organization and that I should not hesitate to apply it where warranted.  If it means picking up the phone to call the director or deputy director of the support organization, then I should do it without hesitation.

Perhaps this whole experience makes obvious sense in hindsight, in that trust has to be earned.  The support organization has let me down on several occasions over the last eight nine months.  If that is not an indicator of an organization not deserving unconditional trust, then I don’t know what is.  “Trust, but Verify” is my new mantra with them, as it should have been all along.


Trust, but Verify