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April First and Employee Trust

Every performance pyramid or diagram always has trust as the foundation. Duh. Watching our neighbor build his house, I have come to appreciate the time and effort required to build a foundation that can support three stories above it for the next fifty years. When buying our homes we always spend time looking at rooms and walls for signs that the foundation wasn’t set right. The cracks and slopes always show up over time and often kill the sale.

The same is true in organizations as best I can tell. How many stories have you heard or participated in where lack of trust was the main character? Too many for most of us.

The Bible teaches that you reap what you sow. Works for me. What intrigues me about companies is their lack of intentionality in this area. Ask a successful builder about their foundation strategy and expect a lecture with details. Ask a company about their trust strategy and expect a puzzled look or a request for clarification.

A 2009 world-wide survey by McKinsey and Company of line employees aroundthe world supports the lack of intentionality to develop trust. In the middle of the recession, workers were asked what was they needed most for job satisfaction. The top two were 1) more autonomy over their actual work, and 2) signs that senior management really cared about them. Not much sowing first in the survey.

Adding trust to your strategy has to start with your employees. One of the keys of a trust based strategy is the ability to push decision making as low as possible and leave it there. Many initiatives start with this concept and then, as soon as problems develop, problems solving is moved quickly up the organization.

Trust is further cemented when people are rewarded for intelligent failure in pursuit of continuous improvement. When was last time someone was encouraged to take risks versus only produce success? And when a risk taker is stifled, the trust issue somehow enters the informal conversations of the team.

Give yourself the gut check. Go through your organization and ask, “Do I trust this person?” The ones that you have the most hesitation or qualifications are the ones you need to work with the most. Whatever triggered your reaction is the area you should start with. 

How do you sow trust? I usually tell the person directly that I would like to increase the trust level between us. When they act like they are surprised, I tell them that it must be my problem and I would appreciate their helping me improve the situation. I ask them if there is anything I could do that would improve my trustworthiness to them. Usually, they will give me the clue to allow me to start sowing. And the reaping follows.

Put time into the foundation of your people and then see how many stories you can build on it. Trust me, it will be worth it.

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