Trust: Walking the Talk
Trust is the belief and confidence in the integrity, reliability and fairness of a person or organization.
Trust is an essential human value and is the lubrication that keeps teams functional when conflict arises. It is difficult to acquire, and if abused, harder to salvage.
People become nervous and defensive with one another if any of the following occur:
Decisions are perceived to be unfair.
Behavior is unpredictable.
People fail to follow through on commitments.
People make excuses or lie to cover up mistakes.
Work processes and procedures are unpredictable.
Deliverables are unpredictable.
People who were raised during the partial eclipse of the industrial age, the baby boomers and their parents, learned to do what they were told and to align with organizations they could trust to make payroll. They were taught to trust their leaders and if necessary lie for them. For example, the secretary learned to roll off the tongue that the boss was not in, when he was. This little “white” lie was sanctioned if not ordered from the top down. And, similar matters of integrity occur even today, when little “white” lies serve to cover up mistakes, being late for an appointment or as an explanation for why product wasn’t delivered on time.
Since the rise of the information age, organizations can no longer view their employees the same way as their physical, financial and inventory assets. These assets are owned. People are not. Therefore, the organization's personnel success or failure hinges on relationship quality and longevity of the relationships it forges with employees. And, long term relationships are based on trust.
Trust is so important to group relationships that people go through internal strife and become discontented if trust is harmed. Or, they become numb and with the numbness comes complacency and apathy. Work slows down, profits shrink, and the talented discontented worker moves on to greener pastures.
Threats of being fired no longer hold the employee in a headlock. For one reason, baby boomers are retiring leaving massive gaps in the workforce. For another, talented employees have options. Leaving an organization to find another because of irreconcilable values is the mark of a good leader - a badge of honor.
In their article, "The Surprising Economics of a 'People Business'" consultants Felix Barber and Rainer Streck argue that in people-intensive businesses, the performance of contributing and trained employees drives the overall performance of the company. And the distinct economics of people-driven businesses call for different performance measures and management practices. These practices involve trust. According to the consultants, “In these businesses, where even the slightest changes in employee productivity have a significant impact on Shareholder returns, human resource management is no longer a support function, but a core process for line managers."
As such, trust in self, coworkers and leaders is essential if not mandatory for a group to excel.
Trust also has a dynamic impact on group problem solving. For example, group problem solving tends to break down in low trust environments and becomes creative and productive in high trust environments. That is why it is so important for leaders to purge fear-based top down practices from the team dynamic.
The rub comes in the shift between Industrial and Information era technologies. The first exposes the employee to narrowly defined tasks and expectations. There are dues to pay because tenured employees or a chain of command dynamic rules advancement and contribution.
The Information age dynamic, on the other hand, embraces emotionally intelligent leadership dynamics, the ability to system think, creatively problem-solve, measure results and nurture group process. This is on the people side. On the work side, accomplishing quality work, refining processes and operating lean makes payroll.
A talented new hire with a solid skill set is hard to retain if a pecking order or tenure process gets in the way of learning and contribution. The work and people balance becomes a high wire act because job satisfaction requires balance between getting good work done and the psychological satisfaction of people doing the work. In the Information age, requiring a new employee to wait their turn to contribute without providing training and a clearly defined horizontal job development path damages morale and is counter-productive.
Therefore, some examples of high trust environments are:
Leaders and team members trust one another and freely exchange information.
Leaders and team members respectfully express differences of opinion and discuss disappointments without fear of repercussions.
Leaders and team members freely explore ideas and share information.
Leaders and team members experience high levels of give-and-take, mutual support, respect, and confidence in one another’s ability.
Training, mentoring and providing opportunity to serve are anchored in the organizational culture.
Some examples of low trust environments are:
Leaders encourage unhealthy competition among members.
Leaders fear empowerment because of job security.
Leaders and team members sabotage or shun people they do not like in order to get them to leave.
Leaders and members falsify documents or lie to cover up mistakes.
All parties to conflict justify the thought; the end justifies the means.
According to a survey released by ORC Worldwide, a New York-based provider of management research is that finding, developing and keeping talent are among the top concerns for 62% of the HR Executive survey respondents in 2007.
In a nutshell, trust is very expensive if not impossible to buy in today’s workforce and very difficult to salvage if spoiled. People know trust though actions, not words. What people say must line up with what they do for trust to be recognized and “trusted”. When words fail to match actions over time, also known as walking the talk, organizations loose good people or cripple morale and lose dividends.