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


Trust and Development of People

September 12, 2015

There are many things leaders need to do to build a culture of high trust. One important concept is to continually develop their people.

When people see a pathway to higher capability, their work is more interesting and rewarding, so they become more engaged in it.

In high development organizations, people trust the managers to improve their lot in life by making them more valuable to the organization. They recognize the company’s investment in growing them, and they naturally return the favor by applying themselves further to their work.

There is a solid correlation between development of people and the level of trust an organization can achieve with the work force.

Development of people also creates low employee turnover because employees are happier. Here is a prime example of the connection.

Wegmans is a grocery chain in the northeast United States that is based in Rochester NY. This private organization has been on the list of top 100 companies to work for in America every year since 1998, often scoring in the top 10, and won the top slot in 2005.

I am familiar with this company because I live in Rochester. They have worked for years on developing a culture of high trust. They do this through numerous methods championed by their late founder, Robert Wegman.

One hallmark of Wegmans is that they are fanatical about the development of people. It is not the only underpinning of their culture, but it is an obvious pillar of why they are so successful.

People are cross trained, which adds variety and substance to their employment. It also creates bench strength.

A side benefit is that the employees themselves become the teachers, which means that they learn their own jobs better as they teach the process to others.

As a result, Wegmans has extremely low employee turnover: significantly lower than 10% percent in an industry that normally suffers high turnover of about 40% per year.

Colleen Wegman, the current CEO of Wegmans, was asked how she can afford to do so much training in the low margin grocery business. She replied that the money they save by having lower turnover dwarfs the training costs.

Exercise for you: Take stock of how much development you are doing in your organization. Benchmark companies spend more than $1500 per employee and provide more than 50 hours of training each year. If you are doing less, think about increasing that amount.

Every organization I have seen wants to improve employee satisfaction. Managers work feverously on various techniques aimed at making the workplace a better place for the employees.

Not too many organizations recognize that developing people is one of the best and easiest ways to improve employee satisfaction.

Low trust groups think of training in terms of a burden: like compliance with mandated safety training. That mindset is counterproductive and simply overlooks a prime method of creating a great culture.

If you are interested in developing more trust in your organization, consider making larger investments in the development of employees. It is one of the hallmarks of an excellent organization.

 

The preceding was derived from an episode in “Building Trust,” a 30 part video series by Bob Whipple “The Trust Ambassador.” To view three short (3 minutes each) examples at no cost go to http://www.avanoo.com/first3/517


Increase Span of Control

December 2, 2012

span of controlHow much span of control should a particular manager have? Years ago, I was taught that any manager who has more than 6 direct reports cannot do a proper job of supervising the individuals. On the other extreme, with a very flat organization and self directed work teams, it is possible for a manager to be directly responsible for over 100 people.

This article describes some of the issues when considering optimal span of control and also shares some key behaviors that allow managers to broaden their span of control without loss of effectiveness. This is helpful information for leaders because most organizations are heading in the direction of flatter structures.

An overarching question is why we call it “control” at all. The idea that one must have control over people in order to influence or coach them properly is outdated. I agree that the total entity needs to be in control so the goals of the organization are met and the customer is well served, but the individuals within the organization do not need to be controlled like marionettes in order to perform well.

Most of my professional work centers around the concept of trust. If an organization has a culture of high trust, then the individuals within it do not need to be controlled to be effective. If upper management is transparent with information so that all workers at all levels know the goals and are trusted or empowered to do the right thing, then the conventional hierarchy of: group leader, supervisor, manager, vice president, group vice president, president, and CEO is way more structure than is needed.

Let us look at eight manager behaviors that will allow one individual to provide the needed guidance to numerous other people.

Delegate well

When managers back off and let people figure out the best way to accomplish the tasks required to meet goals, less direct supervision is required. The opposite of delegating well is micromanaging the work of others. Few people I have met appreciate, or even tolerate, being micromanaged for very long. It is debilitating to motivation, and it drains the productivity from people.

Trust others

Most managers would like to see higher trust within their group, yet few managers realize the key to having more trust within the organization is to show more trust in the people within it. I hear all the time, “but what if my people are not worthy of being trusted.” There is a simple answer. If people are managed properly and are treated with respect and dignity, nearly all of them will be worthy of being trusted. So, a supervisor who cannot or will not trust the people in his or her group is really the person who needs to change, not the workers. If someone is really not worthy of being trusted, then why are they tolerated in the workforce at all?

Fewer Rules

Standard operating procedures are really helpful guidelines for employee actions. They are vital whether you are preparing a detailed battle plan or trying to run an error-free hospital. But operating procedures should not be confused with constraining rules on how to react to circumstances that arise on a daily basis. Managers who attempt to figure out every possible challenge and invent rules to cover them will find themselves frustrated.

You simply cannot anticipate all the things that can go wrong. Rather, it is better to have some broad operating principles and solid values but let people figure out how to react to each situation at hand. Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos said, “We trust our employees to use their best judgment when dealing with each and every customer.” They do not need detailed procedures to figure out what is right.

Self Development

Much of the administrative and coaching energy that takes the time of managers involves the development of people. Many professionals have government mandated training requirements that cause supervisors to administer training classes for compliance reasons. Beyond the legal mandates, many organizations insist on forced career development discussions and detailed forms to fill out along with specific training hours per employee each year. These details are all well meaning efforts to bring out the best in people. What if we shifted the emphasis to recognize that nearly all people have an interest in doing the best they can?

Given the right encouragement and support, people are fully capable of figuring out how they can be more valuable to the organization in the future. The concepts of coaching and mentoring will help encourage employees who are timid or confused, but we do not need mandated programs that paint all employees with the same brush.

Think of it this way. You can mandate 40 hours of training for each employee each year, but you are not going to be successful at building capability into an employee who does not see value in training. It is far better to encourage employees to become involved in the extent and types of training they receive because they will learn much more. In turn, the organization will benefit much more as a result of employees using the new skills.

Better Mentoring

The power of mentoring is immense, yet the majority of corporate mentoring programs produce tepid results at best. Reason: the mentor selection process is usually done with a third party or a computer program creating the matches from lists of skills and interests of potential pairs. Since a great mentor relationship is based on a foundation of excellent personal chemistry, the number of perfect matches made by third parties will be low. Mentors and protégés go through the motions for some period of time, but they drift apart eventually due to a lack of reciprocal chemistry to keep the benefits coming. A far better approach is for the corporation or HR to encourage mentoring, but let the selection and administration be up to the individuals involved.

Reduce “Administriva”

Many of the supervisory functions that take time are really not necessary or at least could be made much more efficient. Have an audit of the forms and paperwork that managers are forced to fill out and vow to cut in by at least 50%. In most organizations that could be accomplished with no loss of vital information. Cut managers free to do the vital face to face coaching by reducing the Mickey Mouse forms and procedures that leave little time for communication, strategy, and reflection.

Improve Online Communication

It is a rare manager who does not feel buried in the avalanche of e-mail, texts, and social networking notes. The load is way too much to allow time for walking around the area to actually interface with people live. It is possible to reduce the online load significantly without losing vital information. Get help from someone who specializes in efficient online communication and create a culture where these tools are useful but not albatrosses.

Clean house

One reason why managers can only handle a narrow span of control is because there is usually some dead wood in any group. It is well known, by the Pareto Principle, that 20% of the individuals are going to take up 80% of the time of managers. Make sure to cull out the dead wood or disruptive individuals from the organization. That will create more time and allow the managers to serve more people better. Removing just one problem employee can make a huge difference in the entire atmosphere in a work group. It also shifts the balance of management attention from those who cause trouble to those who are doing great work. That will improve the quality of work-life for everyone.

Increasing the span of control is good for the efficiency of any organization. Following the eight tips above will shift the burden for most managers and allow them the time to have broader influence. This saves the organization money and provides a more rewarding environment in which managers can thrive.


Toxic Leaders

September 23, 2012

We are all familiar with the word “toxic” and recognize that toxic substances are known to cause human beings serious injury or death. We are also aware that some individuals have mastered the skill of being toxic to other people. When a toxic person is the leader of an organization, the performance of that unit will typically be less than half what it would be under a leader who builds trust. There is documented evidence (see Trust Across America statistics) that high trust groups outperform low trust groups by a factor of two to five times.

Thankfully, the majority of leaders are not toxic. One estimate given by LTG Walter F. Ulmer in an article entitled “Toxic Leadership” (Army, June 2012) is that 30-50% of leaders are essentially transformational, while only 8-10% are essentially toxic. The unfortunate reality is that one toxic leader in an organization does such incredible damage, he or she can bring down an entire culture without even realizing it.

Why would a leader speak and behave in a toxic way if he or she recognizes the harm being done to the organization. Is it because leaders are just not aware of the link between their behaviors and performance of the group? Is it because they are totally unaware of the fact that their actions are toxic to others? Is it because they are lazy and just prefer to bark out orders rather than work to encourage people? While there are instances where any of these modes might be in play, I think other mechanisms are responsible for most of the lamentable behaviors of toxic leaders.

Toxic leaders do understand that people are generally unhappy working under them. What they fail to see is the incredible leverage they are leaving off the table. They just do not believe there is a better way to manage, otherwise they would do that. If you are in an organization, there is a possibility you are in daily contact with one or more toxic leaders. There are three possibilities here: 1) you have a leader working for you who is toxic, 2) you are a toxic leader yourself, but do not know it or want to admit it, or 3) you are working for a toxic leader or have one higher in the chain of command. I will give some tips you can use for each of these cases.

Toxic Leader Working for you – this person needs to become more aware that he or she is operating at cross purposes to the goals of the organization. Do this through education and coaching. Once awareness is there, then you can begin to shape the behavior through leadership development and reinforcement. It may be that this person is just not a good fit for a leadership role. If the behaviors are not improved, then this leader should be removed.

You are a toxic leader – it is probably not obvious to you how much damage is being done by your treatment of other people. They are afraid to tell you what is actually going on, so you are getting grudging compliance and leaving their maximum discretionary effort unavailable to the organization. The antidote here is to genuinely assess your own level of toxicity and change it if you are not happy with the answer. This can be accomplished through getting a leadership coach or getting some excellent training. Try to read at least one good leadership book every month.

You are working for a toxic leader – in my experience, this is the most common situation. It is difficult and dangerous to retrofit your boss to be less toxic. My favorite saying for this situation is, “Never wrestle a pig. You get all muddy and the pig loves it.” So what can you do that will have a positive impact on the situation without risking loss of employment? Here are some ideas that may help, depending on how severe the problem is and how open minded the boss is:

1. Create a leadership growth activity in your area and invite the boss to participate. Use a “lunch and learn” format where various leaders review some great books on leadership. I would start with some of the Warren Bennis books or perhaps Jim Collins’ Good to Great.

2. Suggest that part of the performance gap is a lack of trust in higher management and get some dialog on how this could be improved. By getting the boss to verbalize a dissatisfaction with the status quo, you can gently shape the issue back to the leader’s behaviors. The idea is to build a recognition of the causal relationship between culture and performance.

3. Show some of the statistical data that is available that links higher trust to greater productivity. The Trust Across America Website is a great source of this information.

4. Bring in a speaker who specializes in improving culture for a quarterly meeting. Try to get the speaker to interface with the problem leader personally offline. If the leader can see some glimmer of hope that a different way of operating would provide the improvements he or she is seeking, then some progress can be made.

5. Suggest some leadership development training for all levels in the organization. Here it is not necessary to identify the specific leader as “the problem,” rather, discuss how improved leadership behaviors at all levels would greatly benefit the organization.

6. Reinforce any small directional baby steps in the right direction the leader inadvertently shows. Reinforcement from below can be highly effective if it is sincere. You can actually shape the behavior of your boss by frequent reminders of the things he or she is doing right.

It is a rare leader who will admit, “Our performance is far off the mark, and since I am in charge, it must be that my behaviors are preventing people from giving the organization their maximum discretionary effort.” Those senior leaders who would seriously consider this statement are the ones who can find ways to change through training and coaching. They are the ones who have the better future. Most toxic leaders will remain with their habits that sap the vital energy from people and take their organizations in exactly the opposite direction from where they want to go.

Another key reason why toxic leaders fail to see the opportunity staring them in the face is a misperception about Leadership Development. The typical comment is, “We are not into the touchy-feely stuff here. We do not dance around the maypole and sing Kum-ba-yah while toasting marshmallows by the campfire.” The problem here is that several leadership training methods in the past have used outdoor experiential training to teach the impact of good teamwork and togetherness. Senior leaders often feel too serious and dignified for that kind of frivolity, so they sit in their offices and honestly believe any remedial training needs to be directed toward the junior leaders.

To reduce the impact of a toxic leader, follow the steps outlined above, and you may be able to make a large shift in performance over time while preserving your job. You can even use this article as food for thought and pass it around the office to generate dialog on how to chart a better future for the organization.


Leaders Teaching Leadership

January 9, 2011

I have seen many corporate training applications where top leaders believe stronger leadership is needed throughout the organization’s ranks. They ask the Training Department to develop a leadership development program. Training mangers are not allowed to “staff up” to do the actual training, so they look outside for the faculty to teach various leadership courses. This could be a mistake, because it overlooks the cadre of potential teachers already on the payroll.

For the senior leaders in an organization, the level of involvement in actually helping to train more junior leaders runs the gamut from zero, as described above, to actually doing all of the teaching themselves. Classroom time spent by a senior leader is a sliding scale; what works well in one instance would be a problem in another case. A good benchmark is if the senior leaders do 20% to 40% of the teaching. It is up to the individual leader, along with the development staff or outside consultant, to determine the optimum level of involvement.

I believe higher involvement by senior leaders often leads to better outcomes assuming the top leaders have the credibility and skill to do a good job of teaching lower level leaders. If there are problems at the senior level, then training dollars would be better spent there to make top leaders capable of being credible teachers as opposed to trying to “fix” the lower levels of management with outside canned leadership training.

If you are a leader, you need to make a conscious decision about how much time and effort you will put into the job of training underlings yourself. If you are a training director or consultant, you will need to decide how much you should encourage the senior leader to be involved. There are numerous personal, organizational, and practical factors that go into these decisions.

For example, if the senior leader is cloistered in financial meetings all the time, and the human side of the work is delegated to operations people, having this person do instruction would likely be a poor choice. If the organization is in the middle of a survival crisis or a merger, the top leader may be unable to spare any time for development of underlings. Perhaps the senior leader is just a lousy leader, and it would be foolhardy to have this person teach others how to screw up. Conversely, the senior leader may be outstanding and consider training the next generation of leaders to be his or her highest calling.

Let’s assume the top leadership has built high trust and has the capability to teach leadership in an engaging manner. Under those conditions, there are several advantages to having leadership classes taught by senior leaders:

1. Shows right priority. If the top brass preach that nothing is more important than having great leaders at every level, then they ought to show that with action and their time rather than give lip service to executive development.

2. People pay more attention. If your boss is in front of the classroom, not only does it send a very strong signal about the importance of the training, people listen better because the boss is putting sweat equity into the equation. It is called leading by example.

3. The best way to learn something well is to teach it. If leaders take the time to organize their thoughts about key leadership concepts, they will be more likely to practice the habits themselves.

4. The content is more applicable. The case examples and materials used to teach the lessons are directly applicable to the particular situation managers are facing every day on the job. They are not hypothetical examples brought in by an outside trainer who does not even understand the local jargon.

5. Training your own leaders is uplifting. Taking a personal interest in the development of up-and-coming leaders helps the top brass assess capabilities better and forms a kind of mentoring spirit that is healthy. The caveat here is to avoid being overbearing or intrusive. Young leaders need to experiment with different ideas in safety, so the mentor needs to establish ground rules that ensure a safe learning environment.

6. Control your own destiny. When leaders develop the course content, it will be laser-focused on the local need. If an outside trainer is teaching leadership, it will be less potent and potentially less effective.

7. Those actually in the trench are better at teaching trench warfare. Great leaders have the instincts and knowledge of how to apply concepts in a pragmatic way on the job. Trainers who have not sat in the leader’s chair do not have the in-depth understanding of the realities. They describe the textbook answers that often fall flat in the real world.

These seven reasons are why it is helpful to have leaders be the teachers of leadership. I acquired this tendency myself as I learned that teaching leadership and trust was one of the most important parts of my job as a Division Manager of a large corporation. I gave the activity roughly 30% of my calendar time, and I am convinced it was the best use of my time.

I grant that many leaders would not have the patience or skills required to be good at teaching leadership. Frankly, many leaders do not have the ability to practice what they preach, so their teachings might ring hollow to stronger underlings. This is where the Development staff needs to focus energy. The top leaders need coaching on how to participate in the hands-on work of teaching leadership in their organization. There is plenty of work for consultants to drive this conversion, but once leaders get the idea and have the skills, it is best for them to take their place in front of the classroom.

Several organizations have taken up the banner of having leaders teach leadership. Becton Dickinson is one group that practices this well. There is a good book on this concept by Ed Betof, if you are interested. The title is Leaders as Teachers. It describes the journey at Becton Dickinson and the incredibly positive impact the practice has had on the organization. However, you do not need to read a book on how to practice having leaders as teachers, just advocate it and start doing it. If that seems unlikely in your situation, it may mean that the top leaders in your organization need some remedial leadership training themselves. Spend your training dollars there first.


Trust Keeps Leaders off the Slippery Slope

August 29, 2010

Great leaders have the ability to build a culture of high trust. They consistently work to nurture an environment where people know it is safe to bring up difficult topics because they will be rewarded for doing so. This atmosphere is hard to find in most organizations, but where it does exist, the entity has numerous sustainable competitive advantages. Let’s examine ten of the more obvious ones:

1. Lower risk of ethical debacles – When people know they will be rewarded for speaking their truth, a remarkable thing occurs. They will tell you if an action is not the right thing to be doing. You may be saying “we would never be guilty of doing anything unethical.” Well, most likely you would be wrong. Reason: The number of potentially unethical activities that are on the margin are legion. Any leader will unintentionally step over the ethical line from time to time and not even realize he or she is doing it. That is how most ethical messes, like Enron, get started. At first, it might be just a cosmetic, and perfectly legal, change in reporting transactions to improve clarity. Then, if it is OK to do that today, tomorrow we can do a little more. The day after that someone else is involved, and we slowly but surely head in a direction where everyone would agree we are in an ethical quagmire. It may have started out innocently, but in the end it was clearly illegal. In a culture of high trust, all employees are the watchdogs who let leaders know if they are in danger of heading toward eventual problems, long before anything illegal or dumb has transpired. In high trust organizations, whistleblowers are a blessing rather than a problem.

2. Higher productivity – It is pretty simple, really; turned-on people produce more. Because there is less bickering and selfishness in high trust groups, people tend to pay attention to the true mission and goals. They motivate themselves to do excellent quality work rather than what we see in most organizations where management is constantly trying to figure out more attractive carrots to dangle before workers in a desperate, often pathetic, attempt to “motivate them.”

3. Lower costs – This occurs because people are engaged in the business rather than in outdoing each other. Stephen M.R. Covey, in his book The Speed of Trust, highlights that when trust is high costs go down because speed goes up. It is axiomatic. If something can be accomplished faster, it will take fewer resources of all kinds, so it will be provided at lower cost.

4. Less conflict – The most significant sources of conflict in any workplace are the little things that people do which annoy one another. One of my favorite behavioral rules for teams is “We will remember that we are all adults and try to act that way most of the time.” Low trust encourages people to squabble with each other, often acting like children. In high trust environments, there are still petty differences, but they are usually resolved by open dialog long before a public food fight begins.

5. Focus on the vision – Trust lets groups work side by side in harmony, free to focus on the critical vision rather than build fences of doubt or fear. When trust is low, people focus on the negative side of everything and spend much time trying to protect their parochial interests. Silo thinking is the result. Actually, this is a good test for the level of trust in an organization. Just keep track of the ratio of negative to positive statements you hear in an average day. If the ratio is over 50% negative ( for whatever reason) you can be sure the environment is one of low trust.

6. Trust is evident to customers – When people walk into a business where there is low trust, they get a creepy feeling almost instantly. Human beings are quick to pick up small clues in the body language or tone of voice of the people serving them. People instinctively seek to do more business with an outfit that has high trust.

7. Focus on development of people – High trust organizations spend more energy developing people because it breeds satisfaction and is just smart business. Learning organizations with great bench strength have lower turnover and more dedicated employees. Low trust groups are so consumed with stamping out problems of their own making there is little time or energy to put into developing people.

8. Improved communication – In employee satisfaction surveys, the issue of communication is habitually mentioned as the most significant problem. Reason: In low trust environments, communication is often viewed as manipulative. People sense a degree of spin or even lies, and the leaders lose credibility. There is communication in low trust groups, but most of it is from the “back channel” of rumors and gossip. In high trust groups, communication is credible and believable. The news may not always be good, but people respect their leaders for telling them the truth.

9. Better reinforcement – When leaders in high trust groups reinforce the workers, it feels good to them. Whatever form it takes, (verbal praise, special recognition awards, small bonuses, theater tickets, parties, etc.) people appreciate the sincere effort to recognize great performance. When trust is low, efforts to reinforce workers are often met with skepticism. Reason: People are used to being manipulated, so the reinforcement appears to be part of a ploy to squeeze the last drop of productivity out of an overworked group of people.

10. More efficient problem solving – When trust is low, solving a problem is like wrestling an octopus. As you work on one part of the problem, another tentacle having to do with personal interaction starts winding around your neck. In high trust groups, solving problems is efficient because the only thing to resolve is the problem itself, not a myriad of other gremlins hiding under the surface.

These are just ten ways a high trust organization has a huge advantage over a group with low trust. There are probably dozens of other advantages one could name. The point is that if you are running or involved with an organization of low trust, you cannot possibly hope to compete long term. Seek to build trust and maintain it in every action every day. The payoff is huge.


Leaders: Get Off Your Butts

August 8, 2010

The people in your organization who are the best teachers of leadership are not the development staff or the outside consultants. While there is a vital role for trainers and consultants, I believe it is the leaders themselves who are in the best position to train the next generation of leaders. Too often they sit in musty budget meetings or downsizing briefings all day and never get the chance to actually pick up a marker and share their passion for leadership with their employees. What a tragedy! I believe they are abdicating their responsibility, not only to their organization, but to the broader society as well.

There are many exceptions to this observation, and these leaders should be honored for their giving spirit and their foresight. They have understood the opportunity and gotten off their butt to get out and teach rather than just perform the leadership function all day, every day, as if playing a Whack-a-mole game. I will mention just three notable exceptions here for brevity, but there should be hundreds of thousands of exceptions like this, because the simple logic is so compelling.

Jack Welch got the idea a couple decades ago and built his Leadership University at Croton on Hudson. Jack was known to say that the times he felt best about his job were when he was actually in the classroom (called The Pit) teaching the next generation of GE executives how to lead. He devoted much time and energy to this effort, and it paid off huge rewards not only for the corporation but also for a whole generation of outstanding leaders who were fortunate enough to participate at GE.

Ed Betof has written a book titled “Leaders as Teachers,” in which he describes the journey to this model of excellence in the Becton Dickinson Company, a manufacturer of medical supplies and syringes. Ed was the CLO of BD working under the direction of CEO Ed Ludwig, who understood the value of having the top brass actually doing the instruction instead of relying exclusively on training professionals. For a great video describing their program you can navigate to http://www.corpu.com/leadersasteachers/

Probably the most famous and long term practitioner of the notion of having executives roll up their sleeves is Warren Bennis, who has been teaching leadership for over 60 years. As a leader himself for much of that span, Warren spent a good chunk of his time actually facilitating classes on leadership. He is currently still teaching and probably will until he drops. He noted: “The single most important thing I’ve done at USC over the past 15 years is to co-create and co-teach a course on leadership with Steve Sample (the current President of USC).”

So, if you are a highly paid executive working crazy hours doing the business of business, I humbly suggest you get off your butt and walk down the hall to where they are conducting the leadership classes for your upcoming generations of executives. Roll up your sleeves, and start sharing your philosophy of leadership. The first thing that will happen is that you will shock the suspenders off everyone in the room. Second, you will begin to realize this is a key part of your function as a leader. Third, you will come to really enjoy this activity as the high point in your day or week. You will see the immense benefits and willingly carve out time on your calendar in the future. Finally, after doing this for a while, not only will the profitability of your organization be substantially improved, but the morale of your executives will be greatly enhanced.