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


Create a STOP DOING List

April 23, 2016

From time to time, we all get overwhelmed with activities, and most of us turn to a “To Do” list to manage the priorities. There are several systems that help keep people organized and assist them in making the most of their time. In this article, I suggest that having a specific “Stop Doing” list can be just as helpful at managing time as having a “To Do” list.

Time is the most precious commodity we have. What makes something precious is comprised of two factors. The thing must be of intrinsic value to us and it must be scarce.

Diamonds and coal are chemically identical and both have intrinsic value to us, but diamonds are very hard to find, so their value is infinitely higher.

Time has value to us because it is all we have to live with, and nobody can get more than 24/7 each day. Therefore, time has extremely high value; it is both important and scarce.

The world serves up a huge smorgasbord of activities every day. I am sure that each person reading this article has a huge number of things to do today. Carving out a couple minutes to absorb this information means that something else is not going to get done.

We normally make decisions on our use of time thousands of times a day. Most of these decisions are unconscious. It becomes more critical to make the right decisions in times of peak load.

I am pretty sure you have not had a day this year in which you could just kick back and do whatever you wanted for the entire day. So we manage the time by prioritizing the things we must do or want to do.

Rarely do we take an objective look at the time-burning habits that are not really logical. Sometimes we do these by rote and don’t think about it. An example of this might be putting on makeup. For me, I have a habit of checking my blood pressure ten times in a row each morning and average the numbers to arrive at a data point for today. One time would probably be sufficient.

If we had a system of bringing our time-consuming habits up for conscious decision often, we might be able to purge several things off our list. It is a gut reaction to sort the things we want to do in terms of priority, but it takes specific effort to focus on time wasters and cull out the ones we can live without.

In the past month I joined our local Rotary Organization. It has been on my agenda to get involved in Rotary for a long time because I believe in their work, and it is in my DNA from my father and great uncle.

The problem is that Rotary takes a lot of time if you are going to be fully involved, so before joining, I stepped off a Board of Directors that I had been active on for the past decade. I have a firm rule not to serve on more than three boards at any time. So now I am on two boards and have added Rotary. Time will tell if I can handle that load with my regular business demands, teaching, and personal life.

Try this experiment. Sit down in a quiet place and try to identify at least 10 things you could stop doing this week. If you find the exercise helpful, you might want to make a date with yourself a couple times a year to hone your “Stop Doing” list. You will have a wonderful feeling of really managing the most important commodity in your life: your time.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change, The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change. 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


Holiday Gifts

December 20, 2014

happy mature business man with santa hat  is giving you a presenThis time of year, we naturally think of giving gifts. Whether with family or friends or in the work environment, we want to show our affection for each other with tangible presents.

At work, we often see some kind of bonus or financial benefit that has been baked into the compensation package long ago.  It arrives during the holiday season by design. While welcome, if the bonus is expected and predictable, the impact as a gift is muted.

How can leaders combine the habit of giving gifts with a resolution to do things better in the future. Do you have a way to figuratively place “gifts” for the people who you interface with on a daily basis? I am not thinking of the tangible gifts, but rather presents of a different kind. Here are a few of the gifts you might consider giving more often to people at work, or at home.

Time

The most precious thing for all people is really time. Reason: scarcity and value are what make something precious. Time is scarce because it is fixed (24/7), and it is valuable because we are all habitually short of adequate time.

You can give time to people by thinking through how you can be more considerate of theirs. For example, you can have shorter meetings, cut out some Mickey Mouse work, reduce conflict, lower the e-mail load, prioritize better, eliminate redundancy, communicate more clearly, and so forth. There is a never ending supply of ideas to save people time at work.

The other way we give time to people is to make ourselves more available to them. We are all pulled too many ways and find it difficult to balance our own needs with those of others.

People do recognize and appreciate when you take time for them if they need it. Giving the gift of time means demonstrating with your calendar that you are accessible.

Trust

When you give people the gift of your trust, it multiplies and then comes back to you with more trust. Real trust is essential for people to function as they were designed to do.

So many people dwell in an environment of extremely low trust at work every day. In most environments, the extension of more trust is the most effective way to uplift the culture and improve the work experience. For example, reducing the tendency to micromanage is a great way to demonstrate higher trust.

Attention

In the rush of daily activity, it is easy to take people for granted. We get wrapped up in the stresses that consume our day and forget to acknowledge other individuals who are striving to do their best. See them work, and recognize their effort and dedication.

Care

Empathy for what others are experiencing is the best way to have people realize you care about them. If you show an interest in their challenges and triumphs in life, they will see that love and reflect it back to you. The visceral feeling of being cared for is part of the human condition that is essential: like the air we breathe or the food we eat.

Support

Strongly linked to care is the notion of support. We all need help from time to time, and the gift of our physical or emotional support can make a huge difference in the quality of another person’s day. Be proactive with your support. Be more like Santa and less like Scrooge.

Recognition

Reinforcing people in an appropriate and thoughtful way when they do good work helps improve their self esteem, and is always a welcome gift. Recognition triggers their intrinsic motivation to do more good things. It enables empowerment and is kind of a liberating force that encourages people. Thus, recognition is a force multiplier.

This list could get very long if I let it, but I will keep it short to give readers the gift of brevity. My present to you this holiday season is the idea that with very little time and effort, you can have the wonderful spirit of giving gifts  every day in your work and home life.


What’s Under Your Tree

December 24, 2011

I would like to explore the spirit of giving in this article. The Christmas Tree is a great symbol and tradition because it provides a locus of opportunity for us to place large and small gifts for the people in our life.

Let’s focus on the equivalent of a Christmas Tree in your work environment. Do you have a way to figuratively place “gifts” for the people who you interface with on a daily basis? I am not thinking of the tangible gifts, but rather gifts of a different kind. Here are a few of the gifts you might consider giving more often to people at work, or at home.

Time

The most precious thing for all people is really time. Reason: scarcity and value are what make something precious. Time is scarce because it is fixed (24/7), and it is valuable because we are all habitually short of adequate time. You can give time to people by thinking through how you can be more considerate of theirs. For example, you can have shorter meetings, cut out some Mickey Mouse work, reduce conflict, lower the e-mail load, prioritize better, eliminate redundancy, communicate more clearly, and so forth. There is a never ending supply of ideas to save people time at work.

The other way we give time to people is to make ourselves more available to them. We are all pulled too many ways and find it difficult to balance our own needs with those of others. People do recognize and appreciate when you take time for them if they need it. Placing the gift of time under the tree is demonstrating with your calendar that you are accessible.

Trust

When you give people the gift of your trust, it multiplies and then comes back to you with more trust. Real trust is essential for people to function as they were designed to do. So many people dwell in an environment of extremely low trust at work every day. In most environments, the extension of more trust is the most effective way to uplift the culture and improve the work experience.

Attention

In the rush of daily activity, it is easy to take people for granted. We get wrapped up in the stresses that consume our day and forget to acknowledge other individuals who are striving to do their best. See them work, and recognize their effort and dedication.

Care

Empathy for what others are experiencing is the best way to have people realize you care about them. If you show an interest in their challenges and triumphs in life, they will see that love and reflect it back to you. The visceral feeling of being cared for is part of the human condition that is essential: like the air we breathe or the food we eat.

Support

Strongly linked to care is the notion of support. We all need help from time to time, and the gift of our physical or emotional support can make a huge difference in the quality of another person’s day. Be proactive with your support. Be more like Santa and less like Scrooge.

Recognition

Reinforcing people in an appropriate and thoughtful way when they do good work helps improve their self esteem, and is always a welcome gift under the tree. Recognition triggers their intrinsic motivation to do more good things. It enables empowerment and is kind of a liberating force that encourages people. Thus, recognition is a force multiplier.

This list could get very long if I let it, but I will keep it short to give readers the gift of brevity. My present to you this Christmas is the idea that with very little effort, you can have the wonderful spirit of placing gifts under the tree every day in your work and home life.


Quality Check for Meetings

November 27, 2011

For most of us, meetings are our most significant time-wasting activity. If you have not found yourself frustrated while sitting in a useless meeting with no escape, you must be a hermit.

The interesting thing is that we, the participants, really do have the power to manage these interfaces between people in ways that are productive, impactful, and fun. In this article, I want to focus on a simple quality check as a means to improve meetings.

The way time is used in meetings is a part of the overall culture of a team. Managing meetings well is one activity that will improve team performance, but it should not be done in a vacuum. It should be a part of an overall process to improve trust and accountability within the team. Leaders normally set the pace for what goes on in any team, so they need to take a lead role in managing meetings for better outcomes.

I advocate that teams have a quick evaluation at the end of each meeting. The leader simply states the following. “Our time is precious, and meetings use a lot of time. It is our responsibility to make sure we are making the best use of every minute. How many of you think this meeting was an excellent investment.” The feedback can be in the form of a quick discussion, a questionnaire, or, if trust is high already, just a thumbs up for good, thumbs down for bad. Of course, if a binary vote turns out to be mostly negative, a conversation needs to take place to understand the specific issues. It can take less than a minute, but it gives a quick feedback. The other benefit is that it lets people know the leader is not clueless and is open to suggested improvements for next time.

For this method to be fruitful, the leader must establish an environment of trust. People need to know they will not be punished, in any way, for giving their opinions. If the leader reacts well to comments, even if the input suggests the leader is wasting the group’s time, then trust will be enhanced. Another benefit occurs if the leader includes other people in planning future events to prevent the same problem at the next meeting.

It is critical if the leader does such an evaluation that he or she follows up and actually makes the changes suggested. A subsequent time check should not bring up the same issues. If it does, then stronger action is required before going further. The leader is responsible for the follow up and modification of meeting processes, even though he or she may ask for help from others as well.

This quality check allows everyone to take ownership of the meeting process to ensure it is vital and adding value. If there are problems in the meeting format or content, they can be addressed before the next meeting, so bad habits are not proliferated. I urge you to add this simple check to the end of all your meetings. It will pay big dividends.


Fewer, Shorter Meetings

September 28, 2011

The ruling paradigm on meetings is that they should be scheduled for one hour. If a manager sends a note to her administrative assistant to schedule a meeting sometime this week, the assistant will instinctively assume the duration is one hour.

We come by this paradigm through convention, and it is an opportunity to challenge the status quo. Suppose the administrative person scheduled the meeting for 40 minutes. What would be the outcome? In most organizations it would mean that everyone invited to the meeting saved at least 20 minutes. As a side benefit, the 40 minutes spent at the meeting would be far more productive because the standard paradigm has been broken.

Start by challenging the need for a meeting at all. This is especially true for “standing meetings” (by this I mean the kind that happen automatically each week, not the kind where there are no chairs in the room – BTW, no chairs is a great way to encourage shorter meetings). Since standing meetings often do not have a specific agenda, they frequently degrade into “group grope” sessions.

There are numerous things that can be done to improve the time utilization at meetings, Here are nine of my favorite techniques;

  1. Suggest that the person leading the meeting be extremely mindful of the duration. After all, what we have at work is our time.
  2. Have a meeting agenda and stick to it unless the group makes a conscious decision to adjust priorities.
  3. Shock people into a realization of what is actually happening:  Set up the meeting to start at 2:17 pm and end at 2:49 pm. That would be a 33 minute meeting (if my math is correct).
  4. Put a premium on how the time is spent in meetings. Make sure the agenda is specific as to how much time will be devoted to each topic and stick to that schedule. Have a PITA assigned to keep things on track (PITA stands for Pain In The Rear).
  5. Acknowledge the need for important side issues, but do not let them derail the meeting.  Handle them efficiently or find another venue to deal with them.
  6. Start and end each meeting on time.  Become known as a stickler for this. You can be courteous and bring stragglers up to speed on what has already been accomplished, but you are really enabling them to continue the practice. It is not polite to others to arrive late for meetings. It is also not polite to attendees for the leader to extend beyond the advertised finish time.
  7. Have a set of expected behaviors for your meetings and post them. Hold each other accountable for abiding by these rules.  Here is a favorite rule of mine. It is expected that when someone feels we are spinning our wheels or not making the best use of time, he or she will give the “time out” signal to the person running the meeting (finger tips of one hand touching the palm of the other hand).  Nobody will be punished in any way for making this sign. It simply calls the question as to whether we are spending our time wisely right now.
  8. Have some time set aside in each meeting to reinforce good behavior and feel good about things that are going well. If we spend 100% of our time dealing with the bad stuff that needs to be fixed, we will never smell the roses.
  9. Obtain and use a meeting cost calculator. You can find free programs on the WEB.  Just plug in the average salary and the number of people, and the calculator lets you know how much money is being spent.  With this information visible on the screen, wordy managers find it beneficial to shut up sooner.

All these rules are common sense. It is too bad they are not common practice, because they help preserve our most critical resource: our time.