Do You Trust Me?
I think we may safely trust a good deal more than we do.
- Henry David Thoreau
When an organization is secretive, tightly controlled, does not delegate authority, and sharply segregates management and management decisions from employees and lower level managers, it’s not a stretch to recognise that management does not trust its "underlings" to behave as reasonable, responsible people.
Employees who routinely work in an environment of distrust often self-limit the scope of their responsibilities. They direct their energies toward taking what they can out of the situation; these are not what you would call engaged employees. "They don’t trust or respect us. Why should we trust or respect them?”
Trust breeds trust, distrust breeds distrust.
If you want to begin building trust, you must exhibit trust through leadership and culture change. Trust in the work place is not achieved by announcing “From now on, we are going to trust employees and support people who take risks.”
This will only result in a wait-and-see attitude.
Pick your cliché:
- Actions speak louder than words.
- If you’re going to talk the talk, you better walk the walk.
- Between saying and doing, many a pair of shoes is worn out.
Clichés become cliché because they contain some kernel of truth.
Senior leaders have a terrible time appreciating the level of scepticism, cynicism and pessimism that the rank-and-file hold any time a sweeping message of change is pronounced from the mountaintop. Why is this?
Because the proof is in the pudding.
The Absence of Light
When thinking about trust, it may be practical to view it as an extreme point on a continuum where distrust is at the other extreme.
Trust should be seen as a positive force and distrust as a negative force.
The middle of the continuum is then not just an equilibrium point, but also the point where the ice begins to melt, the ball begins to roll, and a positive relationship begins to form.
You can also think of distrust as the absence of trust, just as a physicist would see cold as the absence of heat, and darkness as the absence of light.
A physicist will explain that the less heat there is, the slower the molecules in that environment will move. The result is less activity, until the point where absolute zero is reached and the molecules stop moving entirely.
Similarly, the less trust in an organization, the less productive work goes on.
What is the "trust" level existing in your workplace?
We have found that many large bureaucracies have considerable work to do to repair (create?) a level of trust within their organization. The cutbacks stemming from budget constraints that we have recently seen - and that we may be seeing more of - often completely destroy existing psychological contracts with employees.
How do we measure trust? The same way we measure anything else - we ask questions.
Here are a few questions that can help you measure the climate of trust in your organization:
- Is what I did yesterday moving the organization forward or keeping it in place? Was trust involved?
- What got in the way of doing my job? Was trust involved?
- How much time did I (we) spend covering myself (ourselves) today? Was trust involved?
- What did I do today that could signal to the other person or group that I didn't trust him or her?
- What specific things did another person or group do that indicated that they don't trust me or the group I belong to?
- What got me upset, annoyed, or irritated today? Did the issue involve trust?
- What specific things could I (or my group) do to enhance the level of trust in the organization?
When you reflect on your answers to the questions like this, you can uncover a number of issues involving trust.
For instance, "Did I write that memo for the file to a) refresh my memory at a later date, b) to communicate information to those who may follow me on this project, or c) to justify my decision in case someone checks up on me?"
Or, in another case, "Did I ask someone to report back to me on something at the end of the day because a) I wanted to clear my mind of that subject when the project was over, or b) because I wanted to make sure that he or she was working on it today?"
Do you have stack of policy manuals? It may well be time to evaluate the ratio between the gross weight of your policies and procedures and of the degree of distrust between your management and employees.
Mr. Shakespeare tells us that, “There's no trust, no faith, no honesty in men; all perjured, all forsworn, all naught, all dissemblers.”
So how do you improve trust?
Sometimes it's simply a quick matter of approaching a co-worker and apologizing for your actions. Other times it will require a long and sustained war of attrition on the attitudes and actions that created the existing environment.
The short answer is that there is no short answer. However, Stephen M. R. Covey has also written a great book on the subject, The Speed of Trust. We already have our copy; you should get yours (read our take on his take).
So, how do you build trust in your organization? What advice would you share?