Successful Supervisor Part 30 – Finding the Key to Motivation

June 11, 2017

I love the study of human behavior and have been actively pursuing it for about 40 years. Maybe if the good Lord gives me another 30 years I will begin to understand the subject more fully.

Human behavior is as complex and far reaching as any topic I can think of, yet for any manager, and especially for a supervisor, the more insight she has the more effective she will be.

A few decades ago, I learned that the sources of motivation are intrinsic and each person is unique. We can see some general patterns in large groups, but the individual differences swamp any ability to understand what drives a person by looking at the group they belong to.

That is why I avoid trying to characterize people by their demographic.
When people ask me how to motivate a millennial, I tell them to stop thinking of the person as an age group and think of him as an individual.

When students get into arguments about whether men or women make better leaders, I tell them to forget the gender stereotypes and think about the unique gifts of each person.

I once had a wise mentor, as my direct boss who happened to be a volunteer fire chief on the side. He and I were walking through a manufacturing plant one day and said, “Do you see that inspector over there? He is a total slug at work. We have to light fire crackers under him to get him to even move. He has no motivation at all; but you should see the transformation when he walks into my fire station. He becomes a ball of fire who does extra duty without even being asked.”

That conversation has stuck with me for years. The key to motivation is to get to know what lights up a person and find a way to provide more of that element.

Using that method, I was able to turn around numerous people who seemed to be lost causes in terms of motivation. I just needed to find out what was in their firehouse and bring more of those elements into the workplace.

If you are a supervisor, try to avoid thinking of all your workers as basically the same. Study their body language and observe what is going on when they get fired up.

Talk to people about their hopes and dreams. Find out what they are looking for in life and show them how you can provide that better than anybody else can. You will see a metamorphosis of motivation that is truly amazing.

Looking for the particular key to a person’s motivation takes a lot of work, but it is like fun detective work, and the impact you can have as a supervisor will be huge if you master this skill.

Think of yourself as the “Columbo” of your organization; just forget about the cigar.

Don’t worry about converting every laggard in the organization. You cannot save everyone. Some portion of people just want to remain lifeless and miserable.

Focus your attention on the people you can fire up. In my experience, roughly half of the people who are underperforming can be super stars, if they are properly led. It is your job to make that happen.

When you can take an individual who is basically dead weight or a complete albatross and convert that individual to a sparkling example of motivation, your reputation of being exceptional about leading people will be assured.

Have fun with the technique, because only you will know the secret to how you are achieving such remarkable results.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Successful Supervisor 28 – Dealing with Bullies

May 28, 2017

In any group of people (or even animals) there is usually one or more bullies. For this series I will give tips for people, but if you spend much time watching animals you will see ample evidence of bully behavior.

For any supervisor, the bullies take up an inordinate amount of time and energy to keep in check. Reason: these people have found out that they can usually get their way by being the most formidable people in the group.

They learned that the technique works years ago on the school-yard playground.

In order to have peace in the valley, other people eventually learn to not challenge the bully, so it falls on the shoulders of the supervisor to maintain order. Sometimes it is the supervisor herself that exhibits the tendencies of a bully.

Bullying has become a key concept in our society. We see forms of it in every area from the school yard to Congress, from the boardroom to the barroom, and from the Waffle House to the White House. We universally abhor the behavior in school kids, but yet we often see it practiced every day as adults.

We know the incredible destructive nature of bullying because all of us have been bullied at some point in our lives, and we know it does not feel good. We know it leads to suicide in rare cases, especially in children, because they do not know how to cope with the powerless feeling of being bullied. They would simply rather die.

It is also true that each one of us has been guilty of bullying another person at some point. If you wish to deny that, you need to think harder. Some of us have played the role of the bully more than others.

Some supervisors have bullying down to a fine art. Unfortunately, people in power positions have a greater temptation to use bullying because it is a way to obtain compliance. The problem is that, in organizations, mere compliance is not going to get the job done.

Organizational bullying is not confined to verbal abuse or strong body language. It also occurs when headstrong managers or supervisors become so fixated on their own agenda that it renders them effectively deaf to the ideas or concerns of others.

They become like a steamroller and push their agenda with little regard for what others think. In this area, there is a fine line between being a passionate, driving leader who really believes and advocates for the goal versus one who is willing to hear and consider alternate points of view.

While we are mammals, we have a more developed brain and greater power to reason than lesser species. If we use that power, we should realize that bullying behavior usually leads to the opposite of what we are trying to achieve.

Bullying may seem like a convenient expedient, but it does not work well in the long run.

If you are an elk, I suspect you are only thinking of the situation at hand and reacting to a threat to your power or position. You are not thinking longer term about relationships and possible future alliances, nor do you care how your behaviors might inspire other elk to perform at their best.

The aptitude to plan and care is what separates man from the animal world.
Applying this logic in an organization is pretty simple.

Supervisors who bully their way to get people to do their bidding are actually building up resentment and hostility. While this practice may produce short term compliance, it works against objectives long term.

By taking a kinder approach, supervisors can achieve more consistent results over the long haul and obtain full cooperation from people rather than simple compliance.

Here are ten tips to reduce the tendency to bully other people:

1. Ask if you would want to be treated this way – Simply apply the Golden Rule.

2. Observe the reaction and body language in other people – If they cower or retreat when you bark out commands, you are coming on too strong.

3. Be sensitive to feedback – It takes courage to listen when someone tells you that you are being a bully. Ask for that feedback, and listen when it is given.

4. Speak more softly and slowly – Yelling at people makes them feel bullied even if that is not your intention. When you get excited, lower rather than raise your voice. Keep in mind that the definition of what constitutes being yelled at is in the head of the “Yellee” rather than the “Yeller.” (My apologies to “Old Yeller”).

5. Ask for opinions often – Managers who seek knowledge, as opposed to impressing their brilliance or agenda on others, have less tendency to be bullies.

6. Think before speaking – Ask yourself if this is the way to gain real commitment or just temporary compliance. Is it good for the culture?

7. Reduce the number of absolutes you use – Saying “You never do anything right” cannot possibly be true. Soften absolutes to allow for some reason.

8. Listen more and talk less – When you are shouting at people you cannot possibly hear their rationale or their point of view. Hear people out; do not interrupt them.

9. Don’t attack or abuse the weak & Don’t be a “Steamroller” – Just because you know an individual is too insecure to fight back is no reason to run over him or her. It only reveals your own weakness.

10. Write your epitaph – Regarding your relationships with people close to you, how would you like to be remembered after you are gone, or even tomorrow?

Supervisors must recognize that when they are bossing people around, they are really working at cross purposes to the culture they would like to have in their area. It takes effort to retrain yourself to avoid bully-like behavior if you have been practicing it since you were a child. Following the tips above is a good place to start changing.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Successful Supervisor 27 – Keeping Discipline

May 21, 2017

There is a natural tendency for people to test their supervision. I believe this universal condition stems from people’s desire for maximum comfort and the ability to control how they use their time.

In most, but not all, cases this condition forces the supervisor to maintain discipline within her group. I will deal with an exception at the end of this article.

In order to obtain maximum efficiency, most organizations establish rules that are expected to be followed. For this article, I will use the example of the length of breaks, but the same logic holds for all rules that employees are expected to follow.

Let’s say that in this organization there are two breaks from the work, one about half way between the start of the shift and one midway between the lunch break and quitting time.

The standard break has been set in this organization for 15 minutes. It is up to the supervisor to enforce this rule along with all of the other rules of deportment.

She notices that the time her employees are actually off the job for break time has started to creep higher than 15 minutes because employee need to shut down the process and travel to the break room.

First they go to the bathroom to take care of physical needs and wash up, then they go to the break room, or some of them go outside for a smoke break (more information on smoking later in the article).

The employees sit in the break room chatting and snacking for 15 minutes, but the actual time off the job turns out to be closer to 25 minutes. The supervisor wonders if she should say something because the total lost production time for the break is typically nearly twice what was intended.

The supervisor decides not to be hard-nosed on this point and gives the extra time so employees can have a reasonable break. Then she starts to notice the actual time in the break room starts to lengthen to roughly 20 minutes, making the total production loss more like 30 minutes.

She still wrestles with whether to come down hard on the crews, because she can anticipate they will get even with her in some other form of work slowdown over which she has little control.

This pattern of extending breaks goes on and continues to get worse with time until the supervisor is forced to do something. What she does and how she does it will make the difference between success or failure. It will also determine the level of true respect she receives going forward.

The easiest way to handle this situation is to put a notice on the bulletin board or write an e-mail to all employees that “from this point on we will adhere strictly to the 15 minute break periods.”

That course of action may work in certain cultures, but it will backfire with most groups. What she will get is a kind of scorn that mocks her attempt at discipline.

I recall one manager early in my career tried to enforce quitting time by memo. What happened is that one of the technicians built a “bugle” out of copper tubing, a funnel and a pneumatic fitting.

Every day at precisely quitting time he would blow the bugle to signify time to go home and everybody would stampede to the elevator. Essentially the employees were mocking the manager’s attempt to control the time employees left for the day.

Solutions

1. Discuss in small groups

One way to control the following of rules is to work with people in small groups and discuss the reasons for the rules. The supervisor can be open to suggestions but ultimately has to ask the group if they intend to follow the rules.

If they say “yes” then she should ask them to police themselves in that behavior. If they say “no” then the supervisor might ask what it would take for them to comply. I believe asking questions in these situations is more helpful than citing rules from the book.

2. Identify the informal leader and enroll that person as an ally

In every group there is one or more informal leaders to whom the rest of the people look to for guidance. Usually this person is easy to spot.

The supervisor can confide in the informal leader her dilemma at getting people to keep breaks to a reasonable level. She can ask for the informal leader’s help or suggestions as to how to get people back to a reasonable break length. If the informal leader gets up from the table at roughly the specific time for end of break, then the others will notice and break up their visiting quickly.

3. Join the group but leave at the proper time

The supervisor can actually join the group of workers to have some social time and have a break along with the others. She can then get up from the table at the appropriate time. This action puts everyone on notice through behavior rather than trying to reason with people verbally or by e-mail.

4. Avoid trying to incent people to follow the rules

I knew one supervisor who tried to regain control by offering a pizza party at the end of the week if the crews would only comply with the specified break times. This approach is a kind of slippery slope that will become an albatross down the line. Do not provide additional incentive for people to do what is expected of them. You do not reward a driver because he stops at a red light.

5. Examine the rule to see if it should be altered

If shutting down the process plus a bathroom break take so long that there is no real “break” without stretching things, maybe the rule is too restrictive. The supervisor could lead discussions on how to make up the productivity losses to give employees a sense of ownership.

Often some form of staggering break times is a reasonable solution. That way the process can limp along and never shut down throughout the break period.

Special situations with Smoke Breaks

Smoke breaks are a special condition that can easily get out of hand. The ultimate problem with frequent smoke breaks occurs with fellow employees who have to cover for the person who is outside indulging his habit. This stress can become a real problem for any group. Here are some ideas:

1. Make it illegal

Many organizations have made the entire premises a smoke free zone, and that ends the stress of people taking too many smoke breaks. Supervisors need to be sensitive to people who are truly addicted. Sometimes medical assistance during the transition is helpful.

2. Confine the activity to the standard break time

Some groups allow smoking only during standard break times in an effort to be fair to all employees. In other words, let it be known that a person can smoke on break time but then not be allowed to take an additional 20 minute break for another smoke the very next hour.

3. Have a Wellness Program

Many groups run wellness programs that encourage employees to do a number of things to improve their overall health. Coaching on quitting smoking can be one of the major things a supervisor can employ to help people improve the quality of their lives. This may involve professional help from the outside.

Owning the Rules

At the start of this article I promised to address a different kind of ownership of the rules. Many companies have adopted practices that allow employees to feel true ownership of the business. There are several organizational techniques that can lead to this kind of ownership.

One such arrangement is an ESOP, where the employees are literally the owners of the business. As the business does well financially, the employees are directly compensated for that good performance.

There are several other methods to achieve a similar dynamic, and where it is truly embraced throughout the organization, the need for a supervisor to enforce rules becomes significantly diminished.

If you are a supervisor in a conventional organization, realize that the employees are going to test you in every way imaginable. You must be worthy of the test and maintain good control without becoming like Ebenezer Scrooge.

You also need to determine when it is necessary to bend a rule for a personal emergency situation. These tests will determine your level of effectiveness, because they ultimately define the culture in which your employees work.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Successful Supervisor 24 – Holding People Accountable

April 29, 2017

In my corporate work on leadership, the most common issue that comes up is accountability. Reason: most leaders do a poor job of holding people accountable, so they do not get the change in behavior that they would like to see.

This issue is particularly evident at the supervisor level because the span of control for supervisors is normally much wider than for higher level managers. This article outlines a model for improved accountability discussions based on five concepts that all begin with the letter “C.”

Clarify Expectations

People must understand expectations to have any shot at meeting them. In some complex situations, a written document is required, but most of the time it is a matter of spelling out what the requirements are and gaining a verification that the employee has truly internalized them.

Often a failure to perform at the prescribed level can be traced to a misunderstanding between the supervisor and employee.

Supervisors sometimes make the mistake of assuming the employee understands what is required because he or she has heard the instructions.

To verify understanding it is critical to have the employee state in his or her own words the specific requirement. It needs to be framed up in terms of the specific action to be done by a specific time and with certain level of quality.

The employee can decide how to accomplish the task, but the deliverable must be crystal clear to avoid ambiguity.

Having the employee parrot back the expectation has the additional benefit in the event the deliverable is fuzzy. The supervisor can take the time to reiterate the specific deliverable before the employee attempts to do it. This saves time and money while reducing frustration.

If an employee has a pattern of habitually missing expectations and later blaming it on a misunderstood specification, then it is a good idea to put the expectation in writing.

In cases where the employee is on progressive counseling, it would be a good idea to have the employee sign the written document for filing. A copy should be given to the employee.

Contribution of Supervisor

Often the supervisor will attempt to hold an employee or group accountable when the reason for the shortfall was a blockage caused by the supervisor rather than the workers.

Most people will do a good job if the culture and environment set up by management are conducive to working well. When supervisors micromanage or otherwise destroy positive attitudes of the workers, they are contributing substantially to the shortfall they see within the workforce. They are quite often the root cause of the problem, yet they find it convenient to blame the workers for not meeting expectations.

I recall one supervisor who lamented that “all my people are lazy.” As I dug into the situation, it was evident that the bully attitudes of the supervisor had caused people to become apathetic and perform only when beaten.

The supervisor blamed the workers, but she was obviously the source of the problem. She could not understand this connection of cause and effect.

Her “command and control” way of managing was the root cause of her problems. If this supervisor was replaced by an empowering leader, those “lazy” workers would quickly become productive and show high initiative.

Care

When giving feedback on performance, especially if performance is not at the level expected, be sure to treat the employee the way you would want to be treated if the situation was reversed. “The Golden Rule” provides excellent guidance in most cases.

There are some exceptions where the Golden Rule breaks down (like suppose I enjoy being yelled at and confronted), but they are rare.

If the manager demonstrates real care for the individual, even when the feedback is not positive, the employee will usually respond well to the input.

Comprehensive and Balanced

This principle means that the leader must take the big picture of what is going on into account when deciding if an individual is meeting what is expected.

There may be a specific reason for not living up to the agreed performance that is totally out of the control of the employee. If a dog is left locked up in the house all day, it is entirely possible you will find a mess on the floor, even if the dog would have loved to have been let out.

Make sure that the feedback is balanced such that you account for the good things they do as well as for times they fall short. Since most people do things right far more often than they fail, your holding people accountable should normally be a positive discussion.

Rapport and trust are destroyed when employees only hear from management when they are having problems. It is a common refrain for an employee to say “My supervisor only talks to me when I screw up.”

Collective Responsibility

If the accountability discussion has the flavor of everyone, including the manager, being responsible, then that feeling of a family working together will permeate the discussions, and they will be more fruitful.

When the manager points the finger at a specific worker and fails to involve the other people who also make up the system, the employee feels picked on. This results in hard feelings and creates more problems than it solves. When the atmosphere becomes one where “we win or we lose together,” then the proper level of teamwork is assured.

These five C’s will help you create an environment where holding people accountable is far more productive and effective. Try to remember these principles when you are dealing with the people in your life.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Successful Supervisor 23 – Delegation and Micromanagement

April 22, 2017

I have written on the topics of delegation and micromanagement before on this blog. In this article I will describe the issue from the point of a supervisor, because the caveats are even more critical in that arena.

It is normal, but not universal, that the supervisor of a work cell has a very deep understanding of the processes that are performed in her area. This situation is because a common path for an individual to become a supervisor is to work herself up from the shop floor as a result of her content knowledge of the processes.

She has worked in the area for many years and has shown some leadership ability and dedication to the organization, so when an opportunity arose she was promoted to supervisor.

A supervisor taking this common pathway is in a precarious position relative to the concepts of delegation and micromanagement. I will describe these issues separately and then discuss an antidote for both problems.

Delegation

If you start with the premise that the supervisor knows the process at least as well as the people working for her, it is a challenge to delegate because she knows very well how the tasks should be performed. Her employees are often less experienced, so they will need some instruction, which will take time to accomplish.

Picture the logic going on in the head of the average supervisor as she contemplates delegating the task of making a widget to an inexperienced employee.

“I can spend the next three hours explaining to George how to do this job correctly and safely, but there is a good chance he will mess it up anyway because it is very tricky. Chances are I will need to come in and bail him out when he gets stuck, which will take me more time. I could do the job myself in a little over an hour and know it will be done correctly, so I am far better off just getting it done.”

Another issue with delegation is that the supervisor has a rigid picture of what the finished product needs to look like as a result of her history. She will not be amenable to creative solutions that work just as well, or maybe better, than the old way.

If someone comes up with an “improved” version of the function, it will appear to the supervisor as a problem to be resolved rather than a breakthrough to be embraced.

The natural tendency is for the supervisor to limit delegation for the above reasons. That practice stifles the growth of her employees and blocks new methods from being developed.

Micromanagement

Since the supervisor knows full well how the job should be accomplished, she will be quick to intervene if an employee is not on the right track. She will insist that the employee use the standard process in every case and hover over the employee to ensure that happens.

We all know that the impact of micromanagement is highly negative in terms of motivation. We have experienced the exasperation of being asked to do something only to be guided every step of the way as to exactly how to do it.

That practice takes all the fun and initiative out of doing the job, and the employee grinds his teeth and is forced to comply with the instructions.

The unfortunate result is stagnation, because to reach excellence we must go well beyond compliance and achieve the full energy of everyone in the workforce.

In addition, the supervisor cannot possibly witness every step of every operation simply because she has many people reporting to her, so she becomes fragmented and frustrated herself even though she is trying to do things right. What a mess!

The Antidote

To reduce these problems, the wise supervisor leans less in the direction of a manager trying to force everyone into a compliant mold and more in the direction of a leader who empowers people to use their own brains.

She ensures that employees are trained on how to do the job safely and according to specifications. Then she needs to step back and give the employee some breathing room. Quite often the employee will discover a way to do the job faster and better than the supervisor could.

I recall one supervisor who had a penchant for micromanaging. One thoroughly frustrated employee brought in a fake pair of handcuffs and kept them in his work station.

When the supervisor came around and started to bark out orders for how to do the tasks, the employee would get out the handcuffs and put them on. He would say something like, “I will do whatever you force me to do, but I think if you take the cuffs off I will get a lot more done.”

The supervisor got the message rather well and changed her pattern. Of course such a direct approach might be viewed as insubordination to the supervisor, so I would not advise trying it.

If you are guilty of micromanaging more than you should, how can you tell? Look for clues in the body language of the people you are coaching. A stiffening of the facial muscles is an indication of stress.

Also, watch the hands; if you see the fingers clench into a semi fist posture when you suggest that the person try something, it is a good bet that person is feeling micromanaged.

Another easy way to tell if you are too intrusive with your suggestions is simply to ask the person. “Am I being too prescriptive here?” often will generate an honest reply, especially if you have not bitten off the person’s head the last few times he has opened up about his feelings or expressed an opinion.

You can also ask other people if you have a tendency to micromanage. Have the topic of micromanagement be on the agenda for group meetings and have an open discussion about the level of coaching you are giving. It may lead to healthy and valuable input.

When a supervisor does not delegate enough or tends to micromanage tasks, it sends a strong message that she does not trust her employees to do things right. That visible lack of trust will quickly break down a culture, and the work area will become much less productive.

To prevent this decay, she should take the slight risk and delegate tasks more freely. Also, she needs to avoid hovering over people to verify they are doing everything according to her paradigm. Taking these steps will enhance rather than squash employee engagement.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Successful Supervisor 22 – Foundations to Build Trust

April 16, 2017

We are all aware of things we can do that build higher trust. In my seminars on trust, I ask groups to name some things that build trust, and they quickly create a list of dozens of behaviors in just a few minutes.

For example, here are a few of the things typically named that will help to build trust:

• Operate with integrity
• Do what you say
• Use the Golden Rule
• Be respectful of others at all times
• Admit mistakes
• Be as transparent as possible

These actions and hundreds of others like them are needed to build and maintain trust at all levels of management. Each level has a different focus on why these things are important, and at the supervisor level employees look for these behaviors constantly.

Because of the span of control, supervisors must be alert to applying these behaviors in a consistent manner to avoid the perception of playing favorites, which is a major trust buster, especially among first level employees.

The conundrum is that while we know numerous things that will build trust within an organization, in most organizations there is still a serious lack of trust.

I believe the reason is that there are four conditions that form a foundation on which all of the other trust-building behaviors rest that makes them work. These four conditions provide a deep understanding of the nature of trust in an organization, so they act like the concrete blocks upon which we ultimately construct a lasting building.

This article will name these four conditions and describe why I believe having this foundation underneath the common behaviors gives them much more power to build trust. Then I will explain why these concepts are just as important at the supervisory level as they are at higher management levels.

Condition 1 – The First Law of Trust

Trust is reciprocal. You trust every person you know at some level, and that person also trusts you at some level. The levels are not always the same, and they fluctuate based on the transactions between you and the other person.

Any communication between the two of you will impact the trust level for both people. It may be face to face conversation, a phone call, e-mail or texting, or even body language at a meeting that impacts trust either positively or negatively.

Trust may go up in one direction but down in the other direction from the same transaction. It is a highly dynamic system.

When you extend more trust to another person, he or she will instinctively respond by showing more trust in you. This “First Law of Trust,” as I call it, is not true 100% of the time, but it is directionally right with such high frequency that it makes a pretty good law of nature.

If you want more trust with another person, find ways to show more trust first.

Condition 2 – Values-based Behaviors

When I begin work with new clients, I always ask if they operate from a set of values. Normally the senior leader is able to produce a list of some values that the group has adopted. Sometimes the values are on a plaque on the wall, and other times they are buried somewhere in a desk drawer.

I then ask the senior leaders point blank if they always follow the values, even when it means making a difficult decision.

The question is usually followed by a pregnant pause and finally someone says, “Well we try to follow the values at all times, but sometimes it is impossible.” While the answer is an honest one, it really signals a kind of hypocrisy that leads to organizational dry rot of trust.

The correct answer must be “yes” at all times in order to preserve trust.

When leaders adopt values they cannot abide by in all circumstances, they set themselves up for failure. That is why one tempting value: “People are our most important asset” is a dangerous one.

If people are really our most important asset, then when there is a downturn in business, we will keep the workforce and sell buildings or other assets to survive. Few companies actually do that, so it is unwise to adopt that phrase as a core value. You simply must abide by the values you advertise or trust becomes a casualty.

The specific values adopted at the supervisor level must mirror the values set at higher levels. There may be some different phrasing to make it apply to first line employees, but the intent needs to add up to the same conclusion or the organization will not be aligned.

Condition 3 – Balanced Accountability

The word “accountability” has become more popular in recent years. It is a shame that in most organizations accountability takes the form of a “gotcha” mentality where all accountability discussions are negative.

My observation is that most people on most days go to work intent on doing the right things for the right reasons. They need to be held accountable in a positive way for the things they are doing right and in a corrective way for the things that did not get done correctly or on time.

If the accountability discussions were not always focused on missed opportunities, then people would not get the impression that the only time they hear from supervision is when they mess up.

I invented the phrase “hold people procountable,” which means that we need to feedback performance that is directionally right as well as the corrective feedback. The nature of the feedback needs to be proportional to the holistic nature of the performance.

This philosophy should be spread across the entire organization, but it is particularly important for the supervisor, who is working at the critical junction between management and the workers. Negative accountability discussions are often the downfall of an inexperienced supervisor.

Condition 4 – Reinforce Candor

This fourth condition I believe has more power to create trust than any other leadership behavior. That is why it is one of the foundational conditions. It consists of creating an environment of low fear where people believe it is a good thing to point out areas where the behavior of higher managers is monitored for consistency.

If something appears to be inconsistent with our values or ethical standards, employees know they will be rewarded rather than punished for bringing it up.

I believe “the absence of fear is the incubator of trust,” and the logic holds at all levels of the organization.

Supervisors can improve the level of trust by making sure all employees know their observations are valued and appreciated. In practice it is not easy to reward someone who points out that some of your behaviors appear to be hypocritical.

Make a special effort to make sure when an employee questions a decision or action on your part that the employee walks away glad that he brought it up.

If the preceding four elements are in place, then I believe the foundation is laid where all the other things that create higher trust will be highly effective.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Successful Supervisor 21 – The Importance of Trust

April 8, 2017

In my seminars on trust, I always do an exercise that illustrates the pivotal importance of trust in any organization.

In this experiential exercise I split the group up into small discussion groups and give each group a different dimension to work on by answering the following question: for your dimension, can you contrast what it is like to try to accomplish it if you are working with a high trust group versus a low trust group?

I could think up dozens of dimensions to explore, but to keep the exercise bounded in terms of time, I use only nine dimensions with groups. Here is a list of the nine dimensions along with my comments on the contrast of trying to do them in a high versus low trust group.

1. Solving Problems

In organizations of high trust, problems are dealt with easily and efficiently. In low trust organizations, problems become huge obstacles as leaders work to unscramble the mess to find out who said what or who caused the problem to spiral out of control.

Often feelings are hurt or long term damage in relationships occurs. While problems exist in any environment, they take many times longer to resolve if there is low trust.

In addition, the creative ideas of people are more readily accessible to the group when people aren’t afraid to speak their minds.

Sometimes a lack of trust can cause small problems to bloom into first class disasters.

A good example of this progression is the Challenger Disaster in 1986. The Rogers Commission (1987) found that NASA’s organizational culture and decision making process were key contributing factors of the accident. Technicians who were aware of a problem did not feel it was safe to bring it up due to low trust levels.

2. Focused Energy

People in organizations with high trust do not need to be defensive. They focus energy on accomplishing the Vision and Mission of the organization. Their energy is directed toward the customer and against the competition.

In low trust organizations, people are myopic and waste energy due to infighting and politics. Their focus is on internal squabbles and destructive turf battles.

Bad blood between people creates a litany of issues that distract supervision from the pursuit of excellence. Instead, they play referee to a bunch of adult workers who often act like children.

Trust leads to constancy of purpose as well as focus. In Managing People is Like Herding Cats (1999), Warren Bennis wrote: “A recent study showed people would rather follow individuals they can count on, even when they disagree with their viewpoint, than people they agree with but who shift positions frequently. I cannot emphasize enough the significance of constancy and focus.” (p.85)

3. Efficient Communication

When trust is high, the communication process is efficient, as leaders freely share valuable insights about business conditions and strategy.

In low trust organizations, rumors and gossip zap around the organization like laser beams in a hall of mirrors. Before long, leaders are blinded with problems coming from every direction. Trying to control the rumors takes energy away from the mission and strategy.

High trust organizations rely on solid, believable communication, while the atmosphere in low trust groups is usually one of damage control and minimizing employee unrest.

Since people’s reality is what they believe rather than what is objectively happening, the need for damage control in low trust groups is often a huge burden. Not only is verbal communication enhanced by trust, all forms of communication including e-mail, body language, and listening are improved by trust.

In A Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership, Steven B. Sample (2002) discusses the concept of Artful Listening which enables a leader to “…see things through the eyes of his followers while at the same time seeing things from his own perspective” (p.22). He calls this skill “seeing double.” Sample stresses that Artful Listening is enabled by trust.

4. Retaining Customers

Workers in high trust organizations have a passion for their work that is obvious to customers. When trust is lacking, workers often display apathy toward the company that is transparent to customers.

Most of us have experienced this apathy while sitting in a restaurant where the service is poor. If there is a low trust environment, we feel an uncomfortable tension that discourages our future return to that establishment.

All it takes is the roll of eyes or some shoddy body language to send valuable customers looking for alternatives.

5. A “Real” Environment

People who work in high trust environments describe the atmosphere as being “real.” They are not playing games with one another in a futile attempt to outdo or embarrass the other person.

Rather, they are focused toward a common goal that permeates all activities. When something is real, people know it and respond positively.

When trust is high, people might not always like each other, but they have great respect for each other. That means, they work to support and reinforce the good deeds done by fellow workers rather than try to find sarcastic or belittling remarks to make about them.

The reduction of infighting creates hours of extra time spent achieving business results.

6. Saving Time and Reducing Costs

High trust organizations get things done more quickly because there are fewer distractions. There is no need to double check everything because people generally do things right.

In areas of low trust, there is a constant need to spin things to be acceptable and then to explain what the spin means. This takes time, which drives costs up.

In The Speed of Trust, Stephen M.R. Covey relates that when trust is low, organizations pay a kind of “tax.” This tax increases costs and reduces speed (Covey, 2006).

7. Perfection not Required

A culture of high trust relieves leaders from the need to be perfect. Where trust is high, people will understand the intent of a communication even if the words were phrased poorly.

In low trust groups, the leader must be perfect because people are poised to spring on every misstep or misstatement to prove the leader is not trustworthy. Without trust, speaking to groups of people is like walking on egg shells.

The irony is that leaders should be glad when people are vocal about apparent inconsistencies between actions and values. People will not do so unless the leader has created an environment of trust.

This phenomenon was described by Noel Tichy (1997) in The Cycle of Leadership as follows: “The truth is that the leader gets nailed to the wall for failing to live the values only if he or she has created an open and honest shop. More often, people simply become demoralized and ignore the values just as the leader does” (p. 43).

8. More Development and Growth

In low trust organizations, people stagnate because there is little emphasis placed on growth. All of the energy is spent jousting between individuals and groups.

High trust groups emphasize development, so there is a constant focus on personal and organizational growth, as described in Treat People Right (Edward Lawler, 2003).

 

9. Better Reinforcement

When trust is high, positive reinforcement works because it is sincere and well executed.

In low trust organizations, reinforcement is often considered phony, manipulative, or duplicitous, which lowers morale. Without trust, attempts to improve motivation through reinforcement programs often backfire.

The trick is to get people to want to do the right thing through reinforcement.

Ken Blanchard (2002) in Whale Done wrote “Instead of building dependency on others for a reward, you want people to do the right thing because they themselves enjoy it” (p. 56).

Once groups wrestle with these nine dimensions and contrast what it is like to operate as part of a high trust group versus a low trust one, they understand the immense impact that trust has on every aspect of how an organization operates.

Simply put, if you have high trust, all aspects of the organization work well, but with low trust, nothing works as expected.

Seek to build trust at every level all of the time. If trust becomes compromised for any reason, move swiftly to repair it (the subject of a future article).

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763