Our Tryst with Trust
An environment of trust and trustworthiness is what comes to mind when you describe a great organisation. And for trust to be woven as the fabric of any organisation, communication is the thread and this thread needs to be strong and long! Let’s hear from the authors - Harini Sreenivasan and Rajesh Navaneetham as they put together their experiences and experiments with ‘Trust’ and ‘Communication’.
Ever wondered what’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you describe a great organisation? We asked this question to our friends and colleagues and 8 out of 10 responses were ‘TRUST’. So without any doubt, trust is what we all expect in order to create awesome workplaces. A closer examination of this magical sounding word reveals that it is a complex combination of behaviours and human dynamics. Teams at the workplace are a lot like trapeze artists. When a trapeze artist is swinging at 50 feet above the ground, the only thing that makes her/him confident to jump is the trust on the co-performer. In fact, trust and communication go hand-in-hand. If you have noticed, the trapeze performers call out to each other when they are ready to jump or catch. That communication is absolutely critical in timing as well. Similarly, at work too, people make better commitments only when they can trust their co-workers. For trust to be woven as the fabric of any organisation, communication is the thread and this thread needs to be strong and long!
At the workplace, at first glance, it appears as though trust is all about behaviours such as being honest in communication, not fudging reports, not forging bills, not faking expense reports etc. While these are of course essential behaviours to establish trust in the workplace, these are insufficient to describe trust in its entirety. What we saw above constitute the trust of character. Other critical aspects of trust include trust of competence, judgment and intention. To understand just one aspect, say, trust on competence, let’s explore an example of how a manager assigns work to a team member. When a manager tells a team member every single step of what needs to be done and how exactly it needs to be done, or simply put, ‘micromanaging’, it conveys subtly an implicit lack of trust on the team members competence. Instead, an approach of introducing the big picture, and enabling team members to jointly arrive at what needs to be done by when and then allowing the team member the space to accomplish it the way she/he thinks is best, conveys trust. And this, in turn, leads the team member to put her/his brain to work, instead of blindly following instructions. In our conversations with many managers, we asked them the reason for micromanagement. The feeling is of fear of failure by the team members. One might then wonder what if the team member repeatedly fails to deliver. Even then the approach is not to micromanage but to identify a role that aligns with the team members competence with corresponding impact on compensation. A compromise on competency match is never a solution. If no role exists that suits the competence, then its best to part ways instead of filling the team with members that just follow instructions.
What we saw is just one example – organisations are replete with everyday interactions that are opportunities to enhance or decrease levels of trust. For example, status review meetings are forums that reflect levels of trust that exist in the organisation. Now let’s look at some of the common impacts of low levels of trust in an organisation. When there are instances of misuse of trust, the typical reaction of an organisation is to design and impose controls. While this may be the easiest and quickest thing to do, often the long-term impacts are detrimental. Controls reduce the pace of the organisation. Let’s take the example of Travel Policies. This is something one can easily relate to. organisations typically build cumbersome travel requisition, approval, expense report filing, another round of approval of settlement and audit processes. All this to prevent misuse by some. Is it fair to subject all the employees to this ignominy for the infraction of a small minority of employees? Such controls not only cause bitterness and make one feel small but sometimes are just silly. If one were to do a simple cost-benefit analysis and factor the cost of the time wasted by the traveller, cost of the audit/accounts team, etc, and compare it to the estimated loss because of misuse of the policy, one would find it hard to justify the need for such a control.
In fact, what about all the policies, controls and penalties at workplaces? Do we really need them to be implemented as controls or could trusting workplaces replace them with guidelines? There is a common misconception that to build a trusting workplace is to encourage mediocrity. In fact, it’s just the opposite. A trusting workplace is a mirror of high accountability. In Semcostyle, we call this ‘Treating Adults as Adults’. As Ricardo Semler puts it beautifully – “Why is it that companies hire adults and when they join, impose boarding house rules such as when to come, what to wear, where to sit, etc and treat them like children ‘’? So, when we as leaders, practice the art of communicating the desired outcome and trust our colleagues to use their individuality in delivering, the result is bound to be unique. The missing element of trust would result in managers creating mere ‘lookalike photocopies’ of themselves without any originality! Isn’t that really mass production of mediocrity?
Like they say, ‘Practice makes you perfect’, the art of transparent, adult to adult communication can be practised until perfection. And once that becomes a way of life, it translates to trust at the workplace. And abra-ca-dabra, what you have just created is #MakeWorkAwesome! Let’s be those perfect trapeze performers at our workplaces with timed and clear communication trusting that our co-workers know their roles and will not let us fall or fail.