Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Underlying Value of Trust in Your Organization

Trust seems like one of those warm and fuzzy attributes. Yet despite how abstract it may seem, trust- or the lack thereof- has a number of easily recognizable consequences in any organization. How can something so abstract have such a noticeable impact?

While working as a COO for a rapidly growing transportation company, I witnessed how the President placed low levels of trust in his operations team. He did not
believe they could handle the intense volume they were experiencing, so he requested that they call him when tough choices had to be made. As a result, the operations people lost their ability to make tough decisions. Additionally, the President would not always have all the information the operations people had. That resulted in poor decisions and sometimes even lost clients. Worst of all, the President was no longer running the organization. He sat in the operations room for hours. Essentially, he was working as an employee on a daily basis which meant there was no one steering the ship.

This environment bred a culture of resentment. People felt if the President was so smart and had all the answers let him deal with the big challenges. People developed the mindset of sitting with their arms folded and watching what the President would do. When clients were lost, the operations team could always blame the President because he was so involved in every decision.

When I was made COO, my first mandate was to kick the President out of the operations room. The next move was to hold the operations team accountable for every decision made throughout the day. The team’s lack of self confidence was immediately apparent. They now came to me with problems and expected me to solve them. I became Socrates and asked questions. I knew they were better qualified to solve the problem than I was. So I asked them questions. By doing so, I helped them develop the thought processes to solve problems themselves.

The team began to adjust though they still resisted solving the problem entirely on their own. They would say, “I know you are going to ask me if I looked at XYZ, and I did. And there is still a problem.” I would still ask more questions. Eventually they came to me to say, “I just wanted to let you know that I had this problem. Here is how I handled it. The client was so satisfied with how we solved a disastrous problem that they referred a new client to us the same day the problem was solved.”  

I trusted the operations people were good at their jobs. And they were. In fact, they became a competitive advantage for the company. If no one had trusted them, they never would have developed the confidence to handle tough decisions. I stopped worrying about whether they could be trusted, and instead provided tools and guidance to allow them to become more effective individually and as a team.

Leading people without trust is a formula for disaster. They will eventually turn on you because they don’t feel valued by you. With trust, they will align with you and go the extra mile.

What do you think? I’m open to ideas. Or if you want to write me about a specific topic, let me know.

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