Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Trust is the Keystone.

"We need to Open Hearts and Minds! This is more difficult when there has been a history of bullying, control and command. Most of the successful transitions to a high trust culture come from key decision-makers being prepared to let go of outdated ways of behaving and create safe space. Clear evidence needs to be shown as to why a new trusting environment is going to better serve the business and the lives of the people involved. Unless clear reasons are made why a more trusting culture is better, the flow and stimulation of knowledge will struggle.

Some of the common strategies to help make this transition are about creating new ways for people to contribute to the business. In some cases this may mean setting up cross-functional teams, communities of practice or special projects for people to work and learn together on. People who have a history of excellent knowledge stimulation and teamwork would be a good place to start. When these trust building activities have meaning and are seen as worthwhile you will have greater potential to foster a new way of learning together"

says Alastair Rylatt. (Alistairs declared mission is to inspire the spirit of learning, enlightenment and innovation in business... I like it).

There are certainly compelling reasons for taking the time to build trust. Here's 4 of them:

"... in low trust groups, interpersonal relationships interfere with and distort perceptions of the problem. Energy and creativity are diverted from finding comprehensive, realistic solutions, and members use the problem as an instrument to minimize their vulnerability. In contrast, in high trust groups there is less socially generated uncertainty and problems are solved more effectively." Zand, 1972

“The most productive people are the most trusting people. If this seems to be an astonishing statement, it shows how distorted the concept of trust has become. Trust is one of the most essential qualities of human relationships. Without it, all human interaction, all commerce, all society would disappear.”Taylor McConnell in Group Leadership for Self Realization

“Under conditions of high trust, problem solving tends to be creative and productive. Under conditions of low trust, problem solving tends to be degenerative and ineffective.” R. Wayne Boss Harvard Business Review, 1977

“Creates a reservoir of goodwill that helps preserve the relationship when, as will inevitably happen, one party engages in an act that its partner considers destructive.” Nirmalya Kumar Harvard Business Review November/December 1996

One of the saddest statistics was reported in a US study last year where 70% of workers surveyed said they would not speak up for fear of reprisals. Whether or not their fear is well founded, the perception is enough to prevent full participation in the workplace. No participation - no commitment, no engagement. All that unrealized potential going to waste, all those people not ejoying their work.

And trust once lost takes five times the effort to rebuild. Typically, rebuilding trust involves admissions of guilt, apology, compensation and/or punishment - each of which may have significant costs. It hard for us to trust again as it involves repeating a decision to trust that was proven to be wrong the first time.

One of the biggest factors in workplace trust is the employees perception of their managers' behavioural integrity. In other words, do they do what they say they will do. Three simple principles will move a manager, and anyone else for that matter, a long way towards building trust with their people:

  1. "Walk the talk" and "talk the walk". Model the behaviours and values you want to see and talk about them in ways that people can relate the behaviours and values to their own situations.
  2. Communicate authentically and effectively - no mixed messages, make sure that the message sent was the message received, listen,listen,listen. Be aware of your personal assumptions and value systems and don't project your reactions onto others. Understand and own your emotions and responses.
  3. Be willing to be called on it if you slip up - and you will, no-one is perfect!

Sounds simple doesn't it? We know it's so important that we should spend more time on it than we do. Somehow perfecting our processes is easier than this kind of "heart work". Yet without trust, those processes will not survive or at the very least, will never realize their full effectiveness.

In every stone archway there is a keystone. It is the central stone that bears the weight and makes the arch possible. Trust is the keystone for every other workplace practice. Make an effort - trust me, it will work.


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