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


Trading Off Long and Short Term

August 25, 2013

360 DegreeA conundrum for most leaders is the issue of long term versus short term results. Most western cultures reward executives based on the short term result. Eastern cultures tend to have a longer view of performance, but even there, patience for short term problems wears thin.

It is easy to say, “Well, you need to do both,” which is a kind of cop out statement. Of course both are needed. If you fail to do right by the long term there is no future for the entity, but if you fail in the short term, there may be no future for you.

Compensation plans for most senior leaders have tended to favor the short term focus. Ethical or legal problems crop up when the pressure for quarterly numbers becomes too great. There are hundreds of stories where companies have pulled material from inventory and called them “sales.” This is an example of an unethical behavior that ultimately causes a crash. Reason: When accounts are juggled in an effort to maximize the short term, the organization is already on a slippery slope. The difference has to be made up sometime, so the long term is in jeopardy.

When you recognize the temptation to “shade” earnings to look most favorable is like a drug, it is easy to see how large corporations get caught in a whirlpool that eventually pulls them under. The Sarbanes Oxley Act was one attempt to make it more difficult to cheat on short term results. In fact, SOX worked! It is more difficult to cheat, but it is also much more expensive to operate, and cheating is still possible. It simply requires more creativity. We should not depend on legislative band-aids to save our corporations.

There is ample evidence that doing business in an ethical manner with a balance of emphasis between long and short term goals is not only more comfortable, it is much more profitable. The Conscious Capitalism Movement is one example of how organizations are finding ways to become more secure, more profitable, and more ethical at the same time. By working to satisfy the needs of all stakeholders rather than just the shareholders, a kind of self-balancing situation arises that is clearly good for business both short term and long term.

John Mackey and Raj Sisodia wrote a book entitled Conscious Capitalism that has started an entire movement. They stress the balance of having all decisions work to satisfy all six stakeholders: 1) Stockholders, 2) Customers, 3) Employees, 4) Suppliers, 5) Community, and 6) Environment. Balancing the needs of all stakeholders gives a better chance at making rational decisions that balance the short and long term benefits to not only the corporation but to society as a whole.

The entire Conscious Capitalism model includes much more than just considering the six stakeholders in decision making. The full model includes:

1. Developing core values and a higher purpose
2. Instilling higher leadership
3. Integrating the needs of all stakeholders
4. Developing a conscious culture of management

The Conscious Capitalism Model is a great way to view business, and I recommend the book to any leader who feels habitually caught between the long term and short term decisions that drive them crazy. It is a very good read that makes a convincing case that doing things the right way from the start is not only less stressful, but far more profitable and sustainable.


An Antidote for Executive Stress

July 26, 2013

BankruptIf you are in an executive position, chances are you live in a very high stress world. Conditions and events in the world over the past decade have led to a much higher level of complexity and risk in everything we do. The pressure for performance and the razor thin margin between success and failure have resulted in health problems for numerous executives. It seems there is no way of avoiding the incredible pressure executives face daily.

What if there was a way you could get out from under the immense pressure and have the ability to relax, even though the challenges at work often seem insurmountable? Would that be helpful? I truly believe there is a pathway to this kind of existence. It is under your nose. Unfortunately, most executives do not see the wisdom or power in the method I am about to explain, so they go on with the same struggle, day after day, rarely gaining on the very problems that are making them sick.

The antidote is to carve out time to work with your organization to create an improved culture. This suggestion sounds impossible to most CEOs I interview, because they are more than fully consumed trying to survive. How could they possibly create enough slack time in the schedule to actually work on the culture? This attitude means these executives are literally stuck in the rut they hate with no viable way out. I call this phenomenon the “Executive Whack-a-mole Syndrome.” When top executives spend 100% of their time dealing with crises and problems, there is no time left to develop a culture where there are fewer problems.

Investing in the culture means spending time with people learning how to work better as a team. It means documenting your behaviors or how you intend to treat each other so it becomes possible to hold each other accountable. It means learning to listen more often and more effectively, so the communication problems are significantly reduced. Also, it means learning to trust each other, so more delegation is possible and the micromanagement is not necessary. The perceived need to micromanage creates a significant percentage of executive stress.

Improving the culture means having the executive be more willing to be transparent and admit mistakes. This practice makes him or her more of a human being: subject to being fallible, but willing to be vulnerable and human. This behavior enables stronger rather than weaker leadership. It also leads to an environment that is more relaxed and healthy. In this culture, the problems are diminished and replaced with sanity and the joy of achieving great goals together. If you know an executive who is playing the Executive Whack-a-mole Game, print this article out and leave it someplace where it will get read.

If you are an executive who has nearly reached the limit of endurance, you might want to try investing in the culture. You will find it to have a much higher ROI than any other activity you can envision. It could even save your life!


Creativity: 7 Pathways

September 16, 2012

I read a quotation in a student paper a while ago that was interesting, “Demanding creativity is like yanking on a seed to pull out the flower” (by the famous author “unknown”). The optics in this quote really work for me. I have been referred to as a creative person at times, and I even won an award for it once, yet if you stand over me with a scowl on your face, my creativity will dry up faster than a drop of water in a red hot frying pan. Most people have a creative side that can be brought out if properly nurtured.

The benefits of creativity and innovation are well documented. Unfortunately, while all leaders yearn for higher creativity, their behaviors often squash it. This analysis provides some pathways to encourage more creativity that are simple and powerful. Here is a list of seven ways this can be accomplished:

1. Let people play – Natural creativity is closely linked to the concept of play. Just observe children who are about 3 years old, and you will see some of the most creative people on the planet. Reason: The world has not yet taught them that certain things are impossible. They see clearly with their imagination.

2. Give them the tools – We typically use “Brainstorming” to get creative at work, yet the technique has been so watered down over the decades since it was invented, it has lost most of its potency. Put Brainstorming on steroids using Morphological Analysis, which is a technique where you put dissimilar concepts on two axes and then brainstorm ideas at the intersections of the resulting matrix. This forces the mind to conjure up connections that we habitually ignore.

3. Do not legislate – You cannot force creativity. By trying to nag people into getting creative, you can actually reduce the chances for novel ideas. Most people are more creative at specific times of the day. Allow people to pick the times when they experiment with new ideas.

4. Create an environment of innovation – This is done by encouraging people to tinker and rewarding them when they come up with unusual approaches. If leaders in the organization overtly promote creative behavior, then it will spread.

5. Measure it – The old adage of “what gets measured gets done” is true for innovation. The measure can take the form of documented new procedures, patents, new product announcements, and many other forms. I once knew a manager who found a creative way to measure creativity. He placed a cork bulletin board in the hall with a fence around it. The sign on the board read “Sacred Cow Pasture.” Then there was an envelope full of silhouette cows made of different colored construction paper. Workers were encouraged to uncover a sacred cow, write it on the cut out and pin it in the pasture. The management team would then set about eliminating the sacred cow.

6. Reward good tries – Not all ideas are a smashing success from the start. Leaders need to encourage people to try, even if there are failures along the way. The failures are really successes, because they uncover other ways it will not work. This points the direction to what eventually does work. Thomas Edison had to find nearly 10,000 things that did not work before he figured out how to make the incandescent lamp a reality. That kind of deep curiosity and dogged determination needs to be rewarded. Impatience and a short term mindset are the enemies of innovation.

7. Brag about your innovative culture in public – When leaders point out the great creative work going on in all areas of the organization, not just in the lab, people tend to get more excited about it. This leads a dramatic increase in innovation similar to spontaneous combustion in a pile of tinder.

The secret to innovation and growth is to develop a culture where creativity is nurtured rather than forced. Follow the seven tips above, and soon your organization will be known as one of the most innovative ones around.


Real Motivation

April 8, 2012

Every manager I have ever met, including myself, would appreciate higher morale and motivation among his or her team. After all, these two attitudes lead directly to productivity and employee satisfaction, which are pivotal in sustaining a healthy business. Many managers have a stated goal to improve morale, motivation, or both. I contend the mindset inherent in setting goals for these items shows a lack of understanding that actually will limit the achievement of both.

The reason is that morale and motivation are not objectives; they are the outcomes of a great or a lousy culture. If you spend your time and energy trying to improve the environment to include higher trust, then higher morale and motivation will happen. If you try to drive morale, it may sound to the employees like the famous saying, “The beatings will continue until morale improves.”

I have seen a group of people at work with such low motivation, there seemed to be no way to get any work done. If a manager dared try to speak to a group of employees, they would heckle or just pay no attention. Nothing the leader said or did had much impact on the employees, so in desperation, the manager would stoop to threats. This would elicit a half hearted groan and some compliance for a time, but the quality of product would suffer, and the gains would be only temporary.

I have seen that same group of workers six months down the line after putting in a really good leader. The atmosphere was entirely different. The employees showed by their body language that they were eager to do a great job. If there was a dirty or difficult job and the leader asked for volunteers, half a dozen hands would go up immediately. When they were at work, they resembled the seven dwarfs whistling while they worked rather than slaves in the belly of a ship being forced to row.

How was that one leader able to accomplish such a turn-around in just six months? The leader focused on changing the underlying culture to one of high trust rather than just demanding improvement in the performance indicators. The motivation and morale improved by orders of magnitude as a result rather than because they were the objective. Let’s look at some specific steps this manager took early in her term that turned things around quickly:

Built trust – She immediately let people know she was not there to play games with them. She was serious about making improvements in their existence and had that foremost in her mind. She built a real culture where people felt safe to come to her with any issue and know they would not be insulted or punished.

Improved teamwork – She invested in some teamwork training for the entire group, offsite. These workshops made a big difference in breaking down barriers and teaching people how to get along better in the pressure cooker of normal organizational life.

Empowered others – She made sure the expectations of all workers were known to them but did not micromanage the process. She let people figure out how to accomplish tasks and got rid of several arcane and restrictive rules that were holding people back from giving their maximum discretionary effort.

Reinforced progress – The atmosphere became lighter and more fun for the workers as they started to feel more successful and really enjoyed the creative reinforcement activities set up by their leader. She let the workers plan their own celebrations within some reasonable guidelines and participated in the activities herself.

Promoted the good work – the manager held a series of meetings with higher management to showcase the progress in an improved culture. The workers were involved in planning and conducting these meetings, so they got the benefit of the praise directly from top management.

Set tough goals – It is interesting that the manager did not set weak or easy goals. Instead, she set aggressive stretch goals and explained her faith that the team was capable of achieving them. It first, people seemed to gulp at the enormity of her challenges, but that soon gave way to elation as several milestones were reached.

Support – The manager supported people when they had personal needs, and made sure the organization received the funding needed to buy better equipment and tools.

Firm but fair – The manager was consistent in her application of discipline. People respected her for not playing favorites and for making some tough choices that may have been unpopular at the moment but were right in the long run. Her strength was evident in decisions every day, so people grew in their respect for her.

This manager turned a near-hopeless workforce into a cracker-jack team of highly motivated individuals in six months. Morale was incredibly high. Even though improving morale was not her objective, it was the outcome of her actions to improve the culture.

If you want to be one of the elite leaders of our time, regardless of the hand you have been dealt, work on the culture of your organization rather than driving a program to improve morale and motivation. Develop trust and treat people the right way, and you will see a remarkable transformation in an amazingly short period of time.


Don’t Do A Survey

February 26, 2012

In most organizations, when managers want to know how people are feeling, they do a QWL (Quality of Work Life) survey to find out. I there are more direct ways to identify what people are thinking. By simply discussing the need for a survey, the most insightful data is already spilled all over the table. To mop it up, you need to improve the level of trust in your organization.

Taking an employee engagement survey usually does not reveal trust weaknesses or their causes because in low trust environments people will either not be totally honest or be turned off by yet another survey to gather data.

Most people believe the data will sit in a desk drawer anyway, and it will not provide real change. How many times have you heard employees say, “They keep doing these satisfaction surveys, but nothing ever changes around here”?

Taking a survey feels like progress to a management team with their hearts in the right place. They believe they can dig in and really understand the problems in depth, but I believe there is a far easier and more accurate way to get the data in most cases.

In an environment of high trust, the information about what is working well and what needs to change is as ubiquitous as the air we breathe. People do not need to fill out boxes in a computerized screen to identify the most pressing needs. Improvement opportunities will be offered up continuously, and action can be taken immediately, not after 11 staff meetings to discuss the 27-page summary of the employee satisfaction survey.

The illusion of progress made by taking a survey happens in nearly every organization because managers are not thinking of alternative methods. Besides, the survey gives managers something to talk about and point at to demonstrate they care and are trying to understand.

A better way to make progress is to identify which management behaviors are causing people to hold back the truth out of fear for their job or something else. Rather than contemplating an employee satisfaction survey, Management should be asking themselves questions such as:

1. How can we change the culture to eliminate the need to take surveys in the future?

2. How can we modify the way we interact with people so we always know what is on their minds when problems are small and can be easily resolved?

3. How can we get more time in the workplace to chat with people rather than be cooped up in our offices composing e-mails, or sitting in boring meetings?

4. How can we continually test our understanding of what is happening in the hearts of people by listening and watching their body language?

5. Why do we have an insular management team? When we look around the room, why do we not see more workers in our meetings?

6. Why do the people think our values are not consistently practiced? We say people are our most valuable asset, but do we always make decisions that support that ideal?

7. Why are our goals not fully understood or supported by the people doing the work?

If management energy is focused on creating a real environment where people are not playing games with each other in order to survive, then improvement ideas will flow like water down a mountain stream. If the culture is frozen by fear, the resulting ice makes it necessary to have a blast from a survey in order to move the water, and the data will not be accurate due to fear or apathy.

The survey blast does not change the underlying cause and thaw things out to a more fluid state. It only temporarily provides questionable data so there is an appearance of progress. If managers and leaders would ask questions like the ones above and seek to gain information in those ways, the progress will be far easier to achieve and more robust.