Successful Supervisor Part 4 – The Role of Trust

December 11, 2016

The topic of trust in organizations has been my life’s work over the past 45 years, and it will be until I am no longer able to communicate. I have written four books and produced hundreds of articles and videos on various aspects of trust.

For this article, I will confine my comments to the role trust plays for supervisors. Obviously, the points made here extrapolate to leadership in general.

Since the supervisor is the link between upper management and the first line employees, she needs to consider the impact of trust and how to achieve it in both venues, and they are substantially different.

First I will cover the bond of trust with her direct reports, then I will reverse the logic and discuss trust with peers and upper management.

Trust with Subordinates

My observation is that without trust between workers and the supervisor, people spend a lot of energy playing games with each other. You can observe all types of childish behaviors on the part of people who want all the goodies they can get with the least amount of effort.

They form cliques in order to protect themselves and work to undermine other people as they jockey for favor with the supervisor.

The majority of people in production jobs have been abused by at least one tyrant manager in their career, so it is easy to mistrust anyone who is perceived as “management.” The suspicions are easily confirmed, as some heavy handed managers in the hierarchy shoot themselves in the foot with respect to trust on a regular basis.

This situation creates numerous headaches for the supervisor, because to the front line employees, she represents “management” and is painted with the same brush as all managers.

If some manager up the chain commits a bonehead move, the credibility of the supervisor will go down, even if she did not agree with what the upper level manager did.

It is critical that the supervisor establish relationships of trust with people in her group. This is often accomplished one person at a time or perhaps with small groups. Since people are predisposed to be suspicious, any misstep or perceived false statement (even if it has been misinterpreted) only makes the problem worse.

There are literally hundreds of behaviors the supervisor needs to exemplify if trust is to be achieved, maintained, or in some cases, repaired. It is not in the scope of this article to list all of the necessary behaviors, as I have written about these in my books. For this article I will mention the most powerful way a supervisor can build trust and apply it in her daily work.

Best Way to Build Trust

The supervisor needs to build a safe environment where people recognize they will not be punished when they bring up perceived problems or things that appear to be inconsistent.

She needs to work tirelessly to instill a fair workplace where people see her as impartial and approachable. It is a tall order to create such an environment, since some individuals will try various tactics to advantage themselves in comparison to their peers.

The Role of Alignment

The best approach for the supervisor is to create full alignment within the group. Everyone needs to know the values of the organization and also the vision: what the group is trying to accomplish.

Each person must buy into the mission and recognize that by accomplishing the mission he or she will be better off. The role of the supervisor is to create this alignment by constantly reminding people that what they are working for is a better future for themselves.

Operating under Different Conditions

The supervisor needs to be the “head cheerleader” when things are going in the right direction and the “coach” when things get off track. She needs to insist that everyone on the team pulls his or her share of the load and not tolerate selfish behaviors. Basically, the supervisor needs to constantly build the team.

Building Trust Upward

At the same time, the supervisor needs to support high trust with her peers and upper management. The origin of trust in any organization starts at the top and flows down throughout the whole organization.

It is the behaviors of the senior-most leaders that normally determine the level of trust in an organization.

It is the role of the supervisor to support the vision of the entire organization through the efforts and activities of her group.

The most difficult conundrum for a supervisor is if she is asked to implement a policy that she personally believes is a mistake. To prevent this, the supervisor must have built up enough trust and stake with upper management to have a seat at the decision table and be listened to as a respected member of the management team.

Sometimes you can find a brilliant supervisor who has the “Midas Touch” for creating a great culture within her group, but that group is placed in a toxic environment from above.

When this occurs, the supervisor ends up trying to translate the needs of her team upward and the demands of the larger organization downward. It is a delicate balancing act, and those supervisors who can perform well in that dichotomy are scarce and precious.

Usually the supervisor ends up trying to influence the organization in both directions. She constantly works to build the culture of the group reporting to her while simultaneously trying to advocate upward for the needs of the group.

This is the reason that I believe the role of the first line supervisor is one of the most important and most difficult in all of management.

The role of the first line supervisor in maintaining trust within the organization cannot be overstated. If she loses the culture of trust, then the struggle will be one of various degrees of warfare, and productivity will be severely impacted.

I think the best approach is to have a solid training program for supervisors that continually builds the skills to manage in a complex world. If the supervisor is not provided with the training program at work, then she should start reading books and watching videos on the topic and gain skills that way.

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

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


TRUST: The New Corporate Currency

March 19, 2016

There was a seismic shift in the status of trust in corporate life that took place as a result of the recession of 2009.

Before that time, trust and transparency were seldom mentioned in the lineup of the things that are important to US Corporate reputation. After the recession, most informed adults put both trust and transparency at the very top of the list of things important for corporate reputation.

This represents an unprecedented shift in the perceived importance of trust and transparency in organizations. Let’s take a peek at some data.

In 2006, the top three items mentioned by respondents to the Edelman Trust Barometer Survey were:

1) Quality products and services 53%,
2) Attentiveness to customer needs 47%, and
3) Strong financial performance 42%.

By the 2011 survey, The top three items were:

1) Transparent and honest practices 83%,
2) Company I can Trust 83%, and
3) High Quality products or services 79%.

Note that as of 2016, financial returns are as important as they always were. It is just that Trust and Transparency show up as being far more important than they were before the recession in terms of corporate reputation.

Put another way, without Trust and Transparency, good financial returns are not going to be sustainable.

For the past decade Richard Edelman and his team have surveyed people around the world. They interview about 5000 people a year. These are college educated professionals from 25 to 65 years old in the top quartile of income and who are savvy about domestic and world events.

The data are then analyzed for trends and reported with detailed analysis. The study is about the things that are driving trust in all major countries. The focus of the survey is on three main sectors, Business, Government, and NGOs (Non-government Organizations).

For the business sector in the United States, these data ring out a signal that is loud and clear.

Edelman put it this way: “Trust, absolutely, is now a product for companies to pursue and pursue avidly. Why? Because it enables company performance and stock price to prosper. We see an interlinking of share price and trust.”

He notes a dramatic correlation between his Trust Barometer and the S&P 500 index over the past several years.

If your company is not measuring the level of trust and actively managing it, you are not focusing on the right things. Seek, through education, to understand these variables and how to obtain and maintain high trust in your organization. It is extremely powerful.

 

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow, Inc. an organization dedicated to growing leaders. He can be reached at bwhipple@leadergrow.com 585-392-7763. Website http://www.leadergrow.com BLOG http://www.thetrustambassador.com He is author of the following books: 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.


Merger Double Duty

August 9, 2014

small babies twins on parental hands isolated on white backgrounThe announcement of a merger can send people scurrying to their offices to begin piling up sandbags of defense against the flood of change.

Many mergers are handled with all the sensitivity of a Gestapo raid. The story below may seem extreme, but it literally goes on in many organizations that rush into a takeover.

In the planning phase of the merger, top management has a gag rule on information because they are afraid people would panic if they knew what was going to happen.

They are convinced that to avoid sabotage, and other problems, it is best to keep things “under wraps” until the merger is ready.

Rumors start as a result of all the secret meetings. Layoffs are expected, because one primary result of a merger is to consolidate staff positions.

People are aware of this and hope they will be one of the survivors. In reality, some people are smart enough to hope they do not survive.

Top brass announces the merger, but it is really not a shock to the people in the organization. They are just glad to have the news out in the open. Being held in the dark is a most uncomfortable feeling. Now, at least people will know if they are “impacted” or not.

The dreaded day approaches and finally arrives. The boss calls the impacted people in one by one to tell them the bad news.

Guards walk them back to their area to get belongings and escort them out the gate. A quick handshake and the exchange of the employee pass is all it takes to complete the deal.

Oh sure, there is the promise of support from HR: “Go to a place off company property over the next week, and we will help you network in the community for another job.”

A packet arrives in the mail to sign up for COBRA Insurance to tide over the family. I would have thought they would call it BOA CONSTRICTOR Insurance rather than COBRA Insurance. At least that title would fit the reality.

A remaining employee, let’s say Mary, breathes a sigh of relief until the boss calls her into the office and says,

“As you know, we have let Jake go, so you will now cover his responsibilities.”

Mary says, “But I already have a full workload of customers, and I don’t know anything about Jake’s job.”

The insensitive Boss says, “Just do the best you can, and remember, as one of our most talented people, you still have a job here.”

In a daze, Mary wanders into Jake’s empty office. She looks around and shakes her head. “Well, I might as well dig in here and see what Jake’s job entails.”

She looks halfheartedly into Jake’s desk drawers, throws out an old can of shoe polish, and starts trying to make sense of the mess. She looks at the 4-drawer file of Jake’s former customers, now her responsibility.

Think about this scene. Have you ever tried to decipher someone else’s files with no crossover? It is impossible.

The sound of the phone ringing in her office wakes Mary up. She runs down the hall and grabs the phone in time.

It is the familiar voice of one of her own customers. Thankfully, she is able to answer the question and satisfy the concern. She does a double take and realizes that there are 14 messages on her answering machine from the past two hours.

She starts clearing out her backlog and becomes totally engaged in her old job – the one she knows and can handle.

Every day for the next several weeks, Mary goes to Jake’s office for a couple hours (usually including her lunchtime) in a feeble attempt to keep the most vocal customers in Jake’s area from blowing up.

There is little understanding or history to back up her actions, so she is not very effective. It is impossible to keep up with Jake’s workload in a couple hours a day, so Mary focuses most of her attention on the job she understands.

Customers eventually write nasty e-mails to the top manager who jumps all over the area manager. Customers are taking their business elsewhere because there is no service being rendered.

The boss rushes into Mary’s office and says, “Mary, you are not performing like your usual self. We have customers that are your responsibility who are defecting. I know you are super busy, but you simply cannot afford to ignore customers who are in need.”

Mary says, “You are right, Bill. I cannot. Another thing I cannot afford is to work here for you any longer. My family and my doctor tell me I am heading for a stroke, and I am simply unable to perform what is expected. Therefore, I am handing in my two week’s notice.”

Note the simple but inevitable consequence of a decision by top management to ignore transparency out of fear. The old saying, “penny wise and pound foolish” applies in this case.

The company lost valuable customers and one of its most valuable employees. In addition, this situation is going on multiple times in the work unit, because Mary was not the only one whose work load doubled with no training.

There is no way to make up for this damage. It is a major blow to the business; in many cases it is fatal.

The fault here is not the merger itself. It is the veil of secrecy around the planning that was the major culprit. That is silly because holding back information really did not prevent it from becoming common knowledge.

Limiting transparency made the damage much worse than it could have been.

I am not saying that mergers are a picnic if people are informed ahead of time, and there are legal restrictions on how much information can be shared.

Many of the problems will occur no matter how the disclosure is handled, but if we contrast the above scenario with a slightly modified one, the result has the potential of a brighter outcome.

The area manager calls all employees together on day one. He says, “We are contemplating a transition, and we are probably going to need a layoff in the next few months.

None of us are happy about this, but it will probably happen. The best thing you can do now is focus on your job. As we plan for how many people will need to leave, I will keep you informed and be available for questions.”

During the next couple of weeks, the need for a layoff becomes clear. The boss calls Jake into the office and says, “Jake, as you know we are projecting a layoff. It looks like you will be impacted and either be let go or have to assume a different role.

I would like to work with you to find the best option for you and see if we can keep you in the company in a different role. I will do my best.

You should begin networking now, both inside the company and outside. In the meantime, can you please work with Mary to introduce her to your customer base?

I will tell her that we are combining her job with yours, but we will reduce her report writing duties to allow her more time to accomplish the combined area.”

In the discussion with Mary, the boss stresses that she is a highly valued employee being called on to stretch her influence with the customer base. A reduction in paperwork will provide some relief in order to allow her more face time with customers.

She will also receive a modest bump in pay as a result of the increased responsibility. She will inherit Jake’s accounts and should get up to speed on them over the next two weeks.

I grant that this second scenario is far from easy or painless for all parties, but the consequences are far less debilitating for the business.

By treating all employees like adults from the start and leveling with them, many of the problems in the first scenario were prevented.

The most significant reason for the difference between the two cases is that the top boss or HR function allowed the local manager to operate with transparency.


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.


How to Build Trust if Your Boss Doesn’t

January 25, 2014

AccountableIn my work with leaders who are trying to build higher trust within their organizations, I often hear mid-managers say, “I really want to build trust, but my boss seems intent on doing things that destroy trust almost daily. How can I be more effective at building trust in my arena when the environment I am working in doesn’t support it?”

This is an interesting conundrum, and yet it is not a hopeless situation. Here are six tips that can help:
1. Recognize you are not alone. Nearly every company today is under extreme pressure, reorganizations and other unpopular actions are common.

There are ways to build and maintain trust, even in draconian times, but the leaders need to be highly skilled and transparent.

Unfortunately, most leaders shoot themselves in the foot when trying to manage in difficult times. During the struggle, they do lasting damage rather than build trust.
If your boss is destroying trust with other people in the organization, chances are the bond of trust between you and your boss needs some work as well.

Let the boss know you are concerned with the level of trust within your own area and ask for his or her assistance in improving the situation. Open up the dialog about trust often, but do so using yourself as the example of the leader trying to improve trust.

This way you get your boss starting to verbalize the things that build higher trust as he or she tries to be a coach for you. This gives you the opportunity to ask some Socratic Questions about how broader application of the ideas might be helpful to the entire organization.

2. Realize that usually you cannot control what goes on at levels above you. My favorite quote for this is “Never wrestle a pig. You get all muddy and the pig loves it.” The best you can do is point out that approaches do exist that can produce a better result.

Suggesting your leader get some outside help and learn how to manage the most difficult situations in ways that do not destroy trust will likely backfire.

Most managers with low Emotional Intelligence have a huge blind spot where they simply do not see that they have a problem.
One suggestion is to request that you and some of your peers go to, or bring in, a leadership trust seminar and request the boss come along as a kind of “coach” for the group.

Another idea is to start a book review lunch club where your peers and the boss can meet once a week to discuss favorite leadership books.
It helps if the boss gets to nominate the first couple books for review. The idea is to get the top leader to engage in dialog on topics of leadership and trust as a participant of a group learning process.

If the boss is especially narcissistic, it is helpful to have an outside facilitator help with the interaction.

The key point here is to not target the boss as the person who needs to be “fixed,” rather view the process as growth for everyone. It will promote dialog and better understanding within the team.

3. Avoid whining about the unfair world above you, because that does not help the people below you feel better (it really just reduces your own credibility), and it annoys your superiors as well. When you make a mistake, admit it and make corrections the best you can.

4. Operate a high trust operation in the environment that you influence. That means being as transparent as possible and reinforcing people when they bring up frustrations or apparent inconsistencies.

This can be tricky because the lack of transparency often takes the form of a gag rule from on high. You may not be able to control transparency as much as you would like.

One idea is to respectfully challenge a gag rule by playing out the scenario with alternate outcomes.

The discussion might sound like this, “I understand the need for secrecy here due to the potential risks, but is it really better to keep mum now and have to finesse the situation in two weeks, or would we be better served being open now even though the news is difficult to hear?”

My observation is that most people respond to difficult news with maturity if they are given information and treated like adults.

If your desire to be more transparent is overruled by the boss, you might ask him or her to tell you the words to use down the line when people ask why they were kept in the dark.

Another tactic is to ask how the boss intends to address the inevitable rumors that will spring up if there is a gag rule.

Keep in mind there are three questions every employee asks of others before trusting them: 1) Are you competent? 2) Do you have integrity? 3) Do you care about me?

5. Lead by example. Even though you are operating in an environment that is not ideal, you can still do a good job of building trust. It may be tricky, but it can be done.

You will be demonstrating that it can be accomplished, which is an effective means to have upper management see and appreciate the benefits of high trust. Tell the boss how you are handling the situation, because that is being transparent with the boss.

6. Be patient and keep smiling; a positive attitude is infectious. Many cultures these days are basically down and morose.

Groups that enjoy high trust are usually upbeat and positive. That is a much better environment to inspire the motivation of everyone in your group.

If your boss is not good at leading in a way that enables trust throughout the organization, you can still help get the benefits of trust if you approach the situation correctly using the six tips above. In doing so, you will be leading from below and helping your organization rise to much higher productivity and employee satisfaction.


The Meaning of Trust

October 26, 2013

SSE-Cover-10-2013thumbYou may be interested in an article that was published in the October edition of Sales and Service Excellence Magazine. I reveal my top five ways to build trust within an organization.

Meaning of Trust October Sales and Service Excellence, October 2013

The following video is referenced in the article:


Announcing a Downsizing

July 21, 2013

AnnounceThe need for excellent leaders grows more urgent every day. I believe the most crucial shortage threatening our world is not oil, money, or any other physical resource. It is the lack of enlightened leaders who know how to build trust and transparency. We are at an all-time low in terms of the number of leaders who can establish and maintain the right kind of environment. The outrageous scandals of the past few years are only a small part of the problem. The real cancer is in the daily actions of the many leaders who undermine trust with less visible mistakes every hour of every day.

The current work climate for leaders exacerbates the problem. Most organizations have been forced to take draconian measures in a desperate struggle to survive. In these environments, the ability to maintain trust and transparency often is eclipsed by the extreme actions required to keep from going bankrupt. This conundrum is a unique opportunity to grow leaders who do have the ability to make difficult decisions in a way that maintains the essence of trust. One of the most complex situations occurs when there is a need to trim the current workforce. While there is no one formula that fits every situation, here are some ideas that might prove helpful if you are in that situation.

When a downsizing is going to be required, many managers wrestle with when and how to break the news to the work force. On the surface, it feels like the safer thing to do is to procrastinate on announcing the difficult news, which may be directionally the wrong way to go for the long term health of the organization.

Thankfully, there are processes that allow leaders to accomplish incredibly disruptive restructurings and still keep the backbone of the organization strong and loyal. It takes exceptional skill and care to accomplish this, but it can be done. The trick is to not fall victim to the conventional ways of surgery that have been ineffective numerous times in the past. Yes, if you need to, you can cut off a leg in the back woods with a dirty bucksaw and a bottle of whisky, but there are far less painful, safe, and effective ways to accomplish such a traumatic pruning.

One tool is to be as transparent as possible during the planning phase. In the past, HR managers have insisted that the risk of projecting a need for downsizing or reorganization might lead to sabotage or other forms of rebellion. There are also legal considerations with premature divulging of information, so there is a balance that must be considered. The irony is that, even with the best secrecy, everyone in the organization is well aware of an impending change long before it is announced. Just as nature hates a vacuum, people find a void in communication intolerable.

Not knowing what is going to happen is an incredibly potent poison. Human beings are far more resilient to bad news than to uncertainty. Information freely given is a kind of anesthesia that allows managers to accomplish difficult operations with far less trauma. This can be helpful for three reasons: 1) it allows time for people to assimilate and deal with the emotional upheaval and adjust their life plans accordingly, 2) it treats employees like adults who are respected enough to hear the bad news rather than children who can’t be trusted to deal with trauma and must be sheltered from reality until the last minute, and 3) it allows time for the people who will be leaving to train those who will inherit their work. All three of these reasons, while not pleasant, work to enhance rather than destroy trust.

One caveat is that pre-announcing a downsizing may cause some of the best people to go job hunting elsewhere. The wise manager understands this and makes sure the critical resources know their situation is secure. It is better to have a forthright discussion about the situation and future than to have people making assumptions based on speculation.

Full and timely disclosure of information is only one of many tools leaders can use to help maintain or even grow trust while executing unpleasant necessities. The method is not universal for every situation and culture, but it will have merit in many situations and should at least be considered as an option. My study of leadership over the past several decades indicates the situation is not hopeless. We simply need to teach leaders the benefits of trust and transparency and how to obtain them.