Leadership Barometer 54 The Impact of a Culture of High Trust

June 9, 2020

Over the past 20 years, I have taught Business and Leadership at seven universities, along with several hundred corporate and professional groups.

One thing that has disappointed me is the discussion of corporate culture in most of the MBA textbooks. They usually leave out the most important parts of culture. This topic has fascinated me for years.

The success and longevity of any organization is directly linked to its culture. We sometimes notice the parts that make up culture, but often they are transparent because they are just a part of doing business in a particular group.

If we stop to think about what defines culture and work to manage or influence it, we can uncover some powerful leadership leverage.

Most of the Leadership textbooks I have read describe the culture in terms of physical attributes that characterize an organization.

For example, here is a typical list of the things purported to make up a company culture.

1. Physical structure
2. Language and symbols
3. Rituals, ceremonies, gossip, and jokes
4. Stories, legends, and heroes
5. Beliefs
6. Values and norms
7. Assumptions

The above list is a montage of the lists in several textbooks. When you think about it, these items do go a long way toward defining the culture of an organization.

Unfortunately, I believe these items fall short, because they fail to include the emotions of the people. After all, organizations are made up of people, at all levels, interacting in a social structure for a purpose.

Let us extend the list of things that make up the culture of an organization to include how the people feel.

1. Is there a high level of trust within the organization?
2. To what extent do people have the opportunity to grow in this organization?
3. Do people feel safe and secure, or are they basically fearful?
4. How do people treat each other on their own level and on higher or lower levels?
5. Is the culture inclusive or exclusive?
6. Do people generally feel like winners or losers at work?
7. Is the culture one of reinforcement or punishment?
8. Are managers viewed as enablers or barriers?
9. Are people trying to get into the organization or trying to get out?
10. What is the level of satisfaction for people in this organization?
11. Can people “speak their truth” without fear of reprisal?
12. Do people follow the rules or find ways to avoid following them?

I could go on with another 20-30 things that relate to the human side of culture. I hope you agree that the items above are at least as important as the items on the first list in terms of describing the culture.

Why then do most textbooks on leadership not mention them when they discuss culture? It baffles me.

Perhaps the view is that these “people-centered” items are best discussed separately and only the “system-centered” items define the culture. Personally, I do not agree with that.

Let’s zoom in on just one item of my list above: item #1. The level of trust in an organization is actually the most significant part of the culture, in my opinion.

The reason I put Trust in the front and center of culture is that with high trust, all of the other things (rituals, ceremonies, values, language, etc.) work to engage people in the business. With low trust, you can have all the trappings, but people will laugh at you behind your back.

You are probably familiar with the CEO who spouts out the values at every chance, but does not live them, so there is no trust. The values are just a useless pile of words.

In fact, they are worse than useless, because every time the CEO mentions the values it reminds people what a hypocrite he or she is.

Why is Trust so powerful? Let’s contrast a few dimensions for a company with high trust versus one with low trust to view the impact.

Problems

All organizations have a steady stream of problems. If the culture is one of low trust, each problem represents a high hurdle to overcome. We have to stop everything and have a meeting to figure out who said what and try to unscramble the mess.

We also have to contend with the interpersonal squabbles that are part of a low trust culture.

If there is high trust, first of all there will be fewer problems, but then the remaining problems are easily overcome, like pebbles in the road we kick aside with our shoe. We can focus energy on the vision rather than the problems.

Any problems will be resolved quickly, and the solutions will be of higher quality, because people will not be afraid to voice their creative ideas.

Communication

In groups with low trust, trying to communicate is like walking on eggs. Every word or phrase is a potential trigger for a sarcastic remark. Things are frequently taken the wrong way and create damage to control.

With high trust, communication seems easy. People have the ability to “hear between the lines” and the instinctively know the intent of the message even if the words come out wrong. Employees are not coiled and ready to strike anytime there is an opportunity.

Focus

In areas of low trust, people are focusing on protecting themselves or bringing other people down. Most of the energy is directed inward to the organization in numerous battles that really don’t help the organization succeed.

If trust is high, people are feeling aligned, so their focus is outward at the opportunities (customers) or threats (competition). This shift in focus from inward battles to outward opportunities is huge in terms of organizational success.

Rumors

When trust is low, rumors spring up due to poor communication. Since there is nothing to retard them, they take on a life of their own.

The rumors and gossip spread like wildfire all over the organization creating significant damage control for management.

In areas of high trust, there will still be rumors from time to time, but they will be easily extinguished before they do significant damage. This is because people believe management when they say something is not true.

Attitude

Look at the people in an organization of low trust; what is their general attitude? Usually it is one of apathy. They need their job in order to live, but they dearly wish it wasn’t such a struggle.

Now look at the attitude of people in an organization of high trust. You will see passion and motivation to really help the organization succeed. The difference here is huge in terms of organizational survival.

For one thing, customers notice the difference immediately. You know the feeling of sitting in a restaurant where the trust level between management and the servers is low.

You get an uncomfortable feeling and may net even realize why you decide to not patronize the place again.

Impact

With these differences, the result when workers have high trust has been shown by several authors is that they are between 2-5 times more productive than low trust groups.

Think of the number of organizations where managers are constantly feeling under-staffed. “We need more people,” is the common phrase.

My retort is that it is a leadership problem. What you need is not more people, but better leaders who know how to build a great culture of trust.

We could go on with numerous more examples of the difference between a culture of high trust and low trust, and that is only the first item on the list above.

I hope it is obvious that having the right kind of culture makes all the difference in the ability to survive in business.

Take the time and energy to work on your culture; the ROI is astronomical.

The preceding information was adapted from the book The TRUST Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, by Robert Whipple. It is available on http://www.leadergrow.com.
Mr. Whipple is also the author of Leading with Trust is like Sailing Downwind, , and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change.
Bob consults and speaks on these and other leadership topics. He is CEO of Leadergrow Inc. a company dedicated to growing leaders.


Building Trust When Operating from Home

April 2, 2020

In the current environment, many teams are forced to operate remotely. This article is based on one that I wrote with Nancy Settle Murphy in 2013 and recently modified to apply in today’s pandemic conditions.

I think Nancy is one of the most effective consultants to help build more cohesive remote groups. Her blog “Communique by Guided Insights” is normally centered on how to operate effectively with a virtual team.

Today’s astonishing economic and social distancing situation affects virtually every working individual around the globe. As organizations are forced to make drastic cuts and other difficult changes to remain viable, the need for competent, credible, trustworthy leaders has never been greater.

At the same time, the very nature of our global pandemic and economic collapse has bred deep distrust for many business leaders, money managers, politicians and others who contributed or are reacting to the current morass.

Leading an organization through turbulent times requires an uncommon ability to inspire trust. But when people are geographically dispersed, especially in scary times, they are far more likely to be fearful, suspicious and immobilized in the absence of trust.

Industry studies show that in the best of times high-trust teams are between 200-300% more productive than low-trust teams. In tough times, that delta is likely to be even greater. That’s why organizations that operate virtual teams need leaders who know how to earn and cultivate trust among teams that feel increasing pressure to perform.

Here are nine practical tips for leaders who struggle to maintain trust in these troubled times.

1. Verify a vision and goals eye-to-eye.

Without a shared vision and focus, conflict and distrust become frequent and harder to resolve. Virtual teams have few opportunities to test for shared meaning, validate assumptions, and spot disconnects before they become problems.

Arguably, this alignment might be achieved through a series of superbly-executed team calls and online conferences; but in reality, the surest and easiest way to galvanize a team is to bring people together face-to-face, if not in person, then virtually live.

Once coalesced, the team can then modify goals and verify buy-in from afar on a regular basis. All team members need a palpable connection with the root vision. Without it, the best intentions of team leaders are likely to fall short.

2. Agree on a shared set of team principles, behaviors and norms.

To build trust, all team members need to hold each other accountable to some standards of behavior. If these principles are nothing more than vague intentions or fuzzy “feel good” rules, they won’t provide the specificity members need to call each other out in case of a transgression.

When leaders permit some members to violate agreed-upon norms, they risk their credibility with team members who expect them to enforce the rules.

An example of team behavior that can help enforce desired behavior: “We will eliminate ‘silent no’s’ from our conference calls.” (A “silent no” is when a member of the call does not agree with the conclusions but does not voice objections and instead works to undermine the decision, destroying solidarity and trust in the process.)

3. Reinforce candor.

To foster a culture of trust, the leader needs to ensure people are not worried about being punished for voicing their reservations or concerns. The ability of a leader to encourage and reinforce candor lies at the heart of the trust-building process.

When people are naturally paranoid about their longevity in an organization, they will stifle any misgivings unless the leader is explicit about the safety of voicing concerns. Trust cannot grow in an environment where people are scared to speak their truth.

4. Anticipate and address stress points.

When people feel pressured to perform, unattractive behaviors such as finger-pointing and defensiveness can emerge. When team members can’t have face-to-face conversations to smooth ruffled feathers, such behavior can quickly derail even the most well-aligned team.

By creating a culture of mutual support and respect, team members can minimize the fall-out after a misstep. Establishing ground rules related to giving and taking responsibility, solving problems and escalating issues can help.

Creating norms around communications during times of conflict or dissension are essential. The leader’s behavior sets the stage for all members. If lapses should occur, the leader needs to acknowledge them as such, lest team members assume they can follow suit and violate other norms.

5. When in doubt, reveal more rather than less.

Team leaders are often privy to inside information to which others don’t have access. Err on the side of being more transparent rather than less, providing you don’t violate any policies.

Even in the best of times, remote team members may feel left out of the communication loop. But when futures seem uncertain, remote team members may feel even more discomfited and disconnected.

Team leaders might open each Zoom by asking members what rumors they’ve been hearing, and then address each point with the latest, most accurate information they have.

If team members seem reticent, open an anonymous virtual conference area where team members can pose questions or express concerns, to which team leaders can respond to the team as a whole.

6. Celebrate the small wins.

Especially in these difficult times, it’s important to highlight the good things that happen in small ways on a daily basis. In addition to recognizing achievements and milestones, team leaders might also acknowledge instances of collaboration or creative use of resources.

Leaders might establish a program where members can recommend other team members for a reward based on behaviors or actions that contribute to the success of the whole team.

For example, members might earn rewards doing more than their share to keep the project on track or finding “free” resources. Rewards can include a gift certificate for an online store or a personal note sent to the person’s home.

When setting formal team goals, make sure that the team has many opportunities to celebrate milestones and that the goals always have the appropriate amount of reach.

7. Encourage creativity and reasonable risk taking.

Surviving in today’s tough climate requires courage, creativity and a certain amount of fearlessness. This is particularly true for health workers or other vital service providers.

Team leaders need to be clear about the type of risks that are allowed, versus those the organization cannot afford to take. Once ground rules are in place, team leaders can find ways to move creative ideas into action.

For example, brainstorming sessions can be set up via phone or virtual conference area where all team members can easily contribute a volley of ideas, which can then be vetted and acted upon.

Even when new ideas don’t pan out as planned, team leaders should congratulate team members for their creativity, helping to cultivate an innovative, energized, and supportive environment that is so important in difficult times.

8. Keep an eye out for the small problems.

In some remote teams, members may have never even met each other or may have only a superficial relationship. As a result, it can take a long time to cultivate trust, especially when in-person interactions are limited.

When team members don’t feel entirely comfortable having candid conversations, little annoyances can lead to big problems. Since people may be feeling near their endurance limit with personal issues, they may be more short-tempered than normal.

Team leaders need to be vigilant about addressing small rifts and immediately bring team members back to the sense of purpose. In some cases, this requires an open conversation with the whole team, and in others, a private phone conversation may be more appropriate.

If turf battles become too much of a distraction, it may be time to bring all or some team members together on one Zoom to settle differences and repair relationships. The way leaders can prevent silos from forming is to continually remind the groups that they share a common goal at the next higher level.

9. When draconian actions are required, let people grieve.

Nearly all businesses will need to make increasingly difficult decisions to remain viable. Layoffs, salary freezes, pay cuts, forced furloughs, divestitures, and mergers all take a huge emotional toll on the workers who remain.

Leaders should encourage team members to discuss their sense of loss and talk about their grief rather than giving members a cheerful pep talk or ignoring the pervasive sense of loss.

In the wake of each such change, leaders can start team calls by asking people how they are feeling. Remember that individuals need to go through the stages of the grieving process (anticipation, ending, transition, and beginning) in their own way and time.

Having time to grieve allows people to become fully functioning players in the new order rather than continually mourning for what was lost. When individuals are part of the rebuilding process, they’ll be more emotionally committed to the success of the team.

Keeping a team motivated, energized and productive during times like these will test the mettle of even the most accomplished leader. But when team members work remotely, team leaders must take extraordinary measures to cultivate mutual trust and a truly level playing field among everyone on the team.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations



Leadership Barometer 22 Be an Enabler

October 29, 2019

There are hundreds of assessments for leaders. The content and quality of these assessments vary greatly. There are a few leading indicators that can be used to give a pretty good picture of the overall quality of your leadership. Here is one of my favorite measures.

Strong leaders are enablers

On this dimension there is a stark contrast between great leaders and poor ones. In organizations with great leaders, people view their leaders as enablers. They provide a clear and believable vision of the future that is truly compelling to the workers.

They provide the resources and support required to reach that vision. They engage and empower people to put their best efforts into the journey toward success.

They celebrate the small wins along the way. If there is a problem, the leaders work to reduce or eliminate it.

Strong leaders also enable trust by creating a SAFE environment where people are not afraid to express their true thoughts.

Weak leaders are the opposite

When leaders are weak, you see the exact opposite. Leaders are viewed by the employees as barriers. They get in the way of progress by invoking bureaucratic hurdles that make extra work.

They use a command and control philosophy that stifles empowerment. There is a foggy vision or the vision is not that exciting to employees. Like if they struggle to make it happen, the result will not be so great.

Weak leaders destroy trust by creating fear within their organization.

A real example

I felt that kind of leadership in my final years with a company I once worked for. The vision was very clear; they had to shrink their way to success. That meant huge stress and more workers who would be let go year after year.

What an awful vision! I left and never looked back. In organizations with that kind of vision, people feel they are operating with both hands tied behind their backs. Fear lurks around every corner.

This condition leads to poor performance, and so the leaders pour on more and more pressure to compensate. It is a viscous circle that reminds me of the water funnel in a toilet. In fact, it is very much like that.

If you want to measure the caliber of a leader, just start asking the people in the organization if that leader is an enabler or a barrier to progress. Their answer will tell you quickly how talented that leader is.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders. He speaks and conducts seminars on building trust in organizations. He can be reached at bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585-392-7763.


The Benefits of a High Trust Environment

March 26, 2019

The advantages of working in a high trust environment are evident to everyone from the CEO to the shop floor, from suppliers to customers, and even the competition. Building and maintaining trust within any organization pays off with many benefits.

Here are 12 benefits of working in a high trust culture:

1. Problems are easier to solve – because the energy is on the real problem, and people are not afraid to suggest creative solutions.
2. Focus is on the mission – rather than interpersonal protection.
3. Efficient Communication – less need to “spin” information.
4. Less unrest – little need for damage control.
5. Passion for the work – that is obvious to customers.
6. A real environment – no need to play head games.
7. People respect each other – less bickering and wasting time.
8. Fewer distractions – things get done right the first time.
9. Leaders allowed to be human – can make a mistake and not get derailed.
10. Developing people – emphasis on being the best possible.
11. Reinforcement works better – because it is not perceived as manipulative.
12. People enjoy work – the atmosphere is light and sometimes even fun.

With advantages like these, it is not hard to figure out why high trust groups out perform low trust organizations dramatically. There have been many studies that indicate the leverage you get with a high trust group over a low trust one is at least three times. That is why it is common for groups to more than double productivity in less that a year if the leaders know how to build trust.

There are dozens of leadership behaviors that will develop higher trust. An example would be to do what you say (“walk your talk”). I believe the most powerful leadership behavior that will develop higher trust is to create a safe environment. My quote for this phenomenon is “The absence of fear is the incubator of trust.”

Creating a culture of low fear is not rocket science at all. Leaders simply need to make people understand that they will not be put down for sharing their opinions as long as it is done in an appropriate way and time. I call this action “reinforcing candor,” because the person needs to feel welcome to share a contrary view without fear. Leaders who can accomplish this kind of culture will have the advantages listed above.
Work to consistently build, maintain, and repair trust in your organization. I believe the leverage in doing so is the most significant path to greatness in any organization.

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.TheTrust 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 600 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


Successful Supervisor 18 – Avoid Playing Whack-a-Mole

March 19, 2017

Unfortunately, there is a situation in most organizations where the supervisor is served up a never-ending supply of tasks to do and problems to resolve.

Let’s picture a supervisor named Marcie. She comes to work on a typical day with 2-3 problems left over from the previous night. Her calendar is jammed with discussions and meetings to report on the status of problems or work on emergency situations.

Perhaps there is an immediate need to reorganize her group because of an unexpected order or the absence of some key people.

She faces several new problems or crises every day. Sometimes the problems are waiting for her outside her door when she arrives in the morning. There are certain to be several new ones when she looks at her inbox or her manager shows up unexpectedly.

She instinctively knows the organization could run a lot better, but there is simply no time to even work on a long term plan. So, poor Marcie runs herself ragged and just keeps her head out of the water on most days. She goes home exhausted, yells at her kids, and tries to clear out a few more issues online before going to bed.

I call this condition the “Supervisor Whack-A-Mole” syndrome, after the famous carnival game. Every time a mole comes out of one of the holes you whack it down, but there are others emerging all the time. You can never get them all down at the same time, and they keep coming up faster and faster.

The poor supervisor feels totally overworked and cannot begin to think strategically about how to improve her conditions.

This problem is not universal, but it is far too common in most organizations. There is a way out of the maze, but it requires courage and vision. The way out is to invest time creating an improved culture within her team.

Supervisors need to see one of their key roles as creators of culture, not just problem solvers. Developing an environment of higher trust is an investment that pays off many times over the cost. This shift in mindset has numerous advantages.

First, carving out time where the entire team can work on trust issues will result in less friction between people in the future. Since many of the “problems” have to do with people being unable to work together efficiently, this investment pays off in two ways: Employees work better together with fewer problems, and employee satisfaction improves, resulting in greater productivity.

Second, by focusing on teamwork, the supervisor emphasizes that many employees are capable of solving the inevitable daily problems themselves. The supervisor has many willing hands to lighten the load of problem solving in the future.

The employees feel good about having greater responsibility as well. They become empowered and trusted to handle many situations previously delegated upward to the leader.

Third, the tendency toward burnout is greatly reduced when there is time set aside to work on the culture. Getting temporarily out of the “rat race” every once in a while to think about what is happening and do some planning is cathartic.

People have the opportunity to vent and rebuild relationships in a “safe” atmosphere. In some situations this is best handled with the help of an outside expert schooled in conflict resolution.

Of course, the supervisor needs to be creative and fit the development work into times when the pace of production is not at a peak level. This means she needs to consider how to get snips of time that would otherwise be not fully loaded and use them to figure out how to improve relationships among the team.

In the time crunch on every supervisor, many believe it is impossible to invest a few hours every few weeks to work on the culture. They are too busy solving problems and juggling all the balls on a daily basis. However, those supervisors who are able to carve out some time, find the payoff is far greater than the investment. It leads to a stronger, more productive, and more smoothly running organization. It also leads to fewer health problems due to burnout.

 

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


How Trust Helps Solve Problems

April 18, 2015

Leadership SolutionsThe level of trust in a group has a profound impact on the ease with which they solve problems.

I sit on several Boards of Directors, and one of them is a pretty low trust group. When a problem comes up, it seems the team is always tiptoeing around the interpersonal issues.

Low trust groups often fail to solve the real problem and frequently have to deal with a lot of acrimony, often unrelated to the problem.

This low trust group can discuss things for an hour and not even get close to the real problem at hand. We quite often end up putting “BandAids” on the symptoms hoping the problem will resolve itself. We all know the world does not work that way.

It is very frustrating because we waste a lot of time and energy with low output.

Another BOD I sit on is a particularly high trust group. They solve problems quickly and efficiently because they get to the heart of the issue fast without people playing games with each other. One hallmark of high trust groups is that they solve problems quickly and with high quality solutions while having fun.

The quality of solutions is higher because people are not afraid to voice creative ideas. They don’t need to protect themselves from ridicule. Brainstorming possible actions is spontaneous, light, and often comical.

It is important to assess the level of trust on every team. There are numerous surveys available online if you just do a quick search. As an alternative, I have developed a quick survey that can be very helpful at understanding the level of trust on your team. It is available at the following link

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/ZZGQVD3 .

Take the time today to do an assessment of the trust level on your team. This is especially important if your team seems to struggle at times. Make sure all members of the team take the instrument and share the data.

If trust is lacking, then get a commitment to do something about it. Here is a link to several articles about trust on my Leadergrow Website

http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/categories/17-trust

Putting up with interpersonal issues that result from low trust is a sign of mediocrity. You can move to excellence simply by investing some time and energy into raising the trust level. It is not impossible, and your team will become much more efficient.


Why M&As Fail

June 24, 2014

HindenbergAccording to one study, (Selden & Colvin, 2003, Harvard Business Review) nearly 80% of mergers or acquisitions fail to reach their initial performance targets.

Not all of those crash and burn, but the results are none-the-less disappointing.

The reasons for these failures are as numerous as leaves on a tree. I believe there are some conditions that align to stack the odds in the direction of failure rather dramatically. Here are ten examples:

1. Perspective Problem

When first contemplating a merger, the benefits are rather easy to see and to quantify.

The problems or impediments are far more numerous, yet most of them are hidden from view, like bats in a cave. They will eventually come out and swirl around us, but at the start we do not know the magnitude of the problems.

If we are lucky, and we picked the right cave, the problems will be small and manageable, but if we are unlucky, the sky can turn black with a swarm of issues, and our safety nets are woefully inadequate.

2. Over Enthusiasm

The senior leader “falls in love” with the concept of the merger and loses a sense of reality.

If anyone dares to question the sanity of what is being contemplated, that person is dubbed a non-team-player and sent off to the minor leagues.

Just as love can be blind, managers can ignore the symptoms of problems until it is far too late. Then, all that can be done is to mitigate the damage.

3. Focus on Financials

The deal is conjured up as a financial arrangement having to do with ownership of property, technology, and processes.

The cultural aspects of getting people to work together effectively is assumed until the deal is struck.

The polarization between groups and the interpersonal hassles metastasize throughout the organization and become untreatable very quickly.

4. Wrong People on the Bus

During the run up to a merger, people are aware of what is going on, even though there is a laughable charade of secrecy.

The highest performers recognize the risk and have their alternate landing spot already selected. By the time of the announcement, some of the best people already have job offers elsewhere.

The poorer performers hunker down in the trenches and become problems to deal with after the news is announced.

5. Lack of Trust

The games played during the due diligence and negotiation end up destroying trust within both organizations, and neither group has much trust in the other entity.

Building up a culture of high trust is a daunting task under the best of conditions, and trying to do it amid the chaos of a whole new organization is about as likely as the sun turning blue.

6. Stiffing the Customer

The customers of both organizations don’t care a whit about the integration. They just want seamless service and excellent quality products on time.

When both organizations are urgently focused on stamping out internal problems and redefining their processes, there is little focus on satisfying the established customer base.

In hundreds of ways the poor customer’s needs get shoved to the back burner every day. Since there are alternatives, it does not take long for smart customers to turn elsewhere.

7. Uncertain Environment

People at all levels are petrified. They really do not know their future, and they just hang on until the dust settles.

Teamwork is pretty rare, and everyone is looking out for number one. Meanwhile the work is not getting done as before because people are not getting clear marching orders.

8. Spotty Communication

Since a good portion of the discussions are supposed to be secret (which is a true sham since everyone in both organizations knows what is going on) little credible communication is coming out of the top level.

This environment is a perfect incubator for rumors and gossip that only add more instability to an already fragile system.

9. Faulty Assumptions

Many of the procedures must be recast with both groups having to change in some ways. It is common for both groups to feel they have been “taken over” and forced to revamp their culture to accommodate the other entity.

Bitter feelings arise as people would rather live in the world that existed before. Of course that is not possible, so there is a grieving process going on, just when the organization needs people to be at their best.

10. Chaos

You can observe true chaos in one of these situations. It is as if a major earthquake just hit off the coast, and people on the island are scrambling because of the tsunami to follow. Not much constructive work is happening during this time.

These are just ten of the conditions that make the M&A process so chancy. There are dozens of other negative things going on as well. It is no wonder the track record of success against the goals is so low.

My new book, Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change, explains how to improve the odds dramatically by focusing equal energy on the cultural parts of the integration as the mechanical process. Doing this mitigates all of the problems listed above and gives a fighting chance for success, despite the issues.

Trust in Transition Cover060The book will be launched on August 18, 2014 by ASTD Press and is currently available for preorder. The book is about how organizations must do a better job of preserving and enhancing trust when they go through changes such as reorganizations, mergers, acquisitions, or other restructurings. Your purchase of the book includes access to a set of videos that enhance several of the key points. For a video introduction to the book, click here.


Please Help Me Understand

August 26, 2012

On a daily basis, we experience situations where we are at odds with the actions or words of other people. It is human nature to disagree with other people at times. How we handle ourselves when this happens determines our quality of life, because it will establish how the rest of the world reacts to us.

John Wooden, the iconic basketball coach of UCLA, used to challenge his teams to learn to “disagree without being disagreeable.” We need to find the words to signal a disconnect without short-circuiting relationships. If you listen to people as they interface about their differences, you will hear all kinds of phrases that cause an increase in heat within the conversation. Here is a small set of examples you will recognize:

• What makes you think that…
• How could you possibly believe that…
• Who died and made you the queen of…
• You are not only wrong, you are stupid if you…
• What part of “NO” don’t you understand….
• Don’t you see! My way is better because…
• You never listen to me…
• If you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you…

There are millions of ways to humiliate other people when we disagree with their words or actions. Note that the statement may be current or past, written or verbal, and the action may be historical, or something that just occurred. What we need to do is suppress the human urge to blast the other individual and seek a more politic way to have an adult conversation.

The four word phrase, “Please help me understand…” is an excellent one to use as long as it is not given with a sarcastic tone of voice. Reason: The phrase does not start by putting the other person down. It is shorthand for a message indicating open mindedness but also some confusion about what the other person is saying or doing. It does not assume the other person is clueless, underhanded, dishonest, or has any other character flaw.

The phrase simply asks for more information. It calls into question the action or statement without violating the other person. It may not work in every application, since we are all different. Some individuals might even read something negative into the phrase. I think it has a lot to do with what is in the heart of the sender.

By sending a polite signal about a disconnection with the other person, it gives him or her time to rethink what was said or done to see if it was too edgy. Often just this little nudge will cause the person to reframe the action or statement into something more reasonable. It is also an honest way to stop the conversation for a gut check on reality.

When you are tempted to blast a co-worker for something said, written, or done, think about saying “Please help me understand,” and you will see a more helpful and constructive reaction in most cases.


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.