Trust starts in the words that we use

I think it goes without saying that large parts of society have an issue with trust. Whether it is trust in politicians, trust in the media or trust in business. Institutions that once were seen as being cohesive forces in society are now the perpetrators, if not originators, of societal fragmentation.

At the heart of this mistrust is our inability to speak openly and honestly about subjects that are of mass importance, to be clear about the impact of change, to face into the repercussions of our actions. I wrote a few weeks ago about a session I did a number of years ago where I portrayed a rather bleak future on the back of the introduction of technology and how it fell on deaf ears compared to the sugar coated, unicorn riding, emancipation argument being offered on the other side. I’ll bet my house on which one of us is right.

The point though isn’t the change itself, it is our inability to be honest about the implications. And this is something that we see everyday in organisations, in the same way that the “self employed” delivery driver being measured by the second doesn’t recognise the benefits of technology allowing an executive to answer their emails from the Bahamas, too often we communicate an artificial version of the future that just doesn’t match with the reality that people experience.

Last month, Tesco announced around 4,500 job cuts in order to “serve shoppers better”. That’s right, having fewer employees in stores will be better for shoppers. Well I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of one time I’ve been in any retail outlet and thought, “I wish there were fewer employees here to serve me”. Of course the reality is that Tesco needs to cut overheads in order to compete on price and maintain its dividend and one of the most effective ways of doing that is through staff numbers. So why can’t they say that?

If we are going to try to regain trust in our organisations, in business as a whole, then we need to start by being honest. That means being straight up about the good and the bad, it means being honest when things will have a negative impact, it means facing into the implications of the decisions that we make. It means treating employees (see also voters readers and viewers too) as grown ups who are able to understand when they are being told the truth and when they are being fed an institutional mistruth.

Our corporate norms reject ideas of candour, the call for palatable half truths. Our corporate norms, however, have got us into this situation. Maybe now is the time to reappraise. If we can’t be open and honest, we can never truly build trust.

 

Care just enough

How many times in life have you put off doing something because of the perceived consequences, only to find out when you did take the action, that it wasn’t so bad after all?

It’s a tricky thing about leadership – the multiple demands on emotion and energy that can make sometimes even the most straight forward of decision, feel just a little bit too hard. And as outsiders we look on and think, “that’s obvious, why aren’t they doing something about it?”

This situation is amplified when it involves decisions that materially impact other human beings. Whether it is a promotion, a restructure, a performance issues or a reward challenge. We can look at this situation with our own lens and see our own version of perfect clarity, but we will never see the situation from the leader’s perspective.

As a partner or advisor to that leader, our job is to seek to understand, to help, to support, to maintain forward movement and prevent emotions from getting us stuck or avoiding the challenge. Most people understand on a rationale level the things that need doing and the decisions that need taking, but they get complicated by the feelings, emotions and fears.

As a leader, our job is to care enough, but not too much. We shouldn’t eschew all reference to the personal or the human, we should recognise that part of what allows a leader to truly own that title is their ability to feel. At the same time, we need to recognise when we’re allowing “emotion” (and I use this term in a more scientific, rather than literary sense) to prevent us from acting in line with our beliefs.

Where people are involved, there will always be difficult decisions to be made and there will always be outcomes that are less desirable than others. There simply is no other way, regardless of the rhetoric that is sometimes easy to believe. And leaders and their advisors, being human beings too, will bring their own emotional frameworks, relationships and history to any given situation.

Caring at work is really important. We just shouldn’t let it get in the way.

The last resort

We draw inspiration from some funny places. The moments, the stories, the experiences that sometimes we even struggle to place can form our thinking, our feeling and our doing. As a kid, I had a collection of Aesop’s Fables, I can’t even remember whether they were read to me, or I read them myself. Or perhaps even both. But I remember the stories.

The one that sticks with me most is the story of the North Wind and The Sun. If you’re not familiar with the fables then you can read more about it here. The message being that gentleness or persuasion is more powerful than force or bluster. A lesson that has stuck with me through life and work.

The organizational context within which we co-exist is becoming increasingly complex, with relationships stretching across borders and boundaries. Inter connecting departments, shared purpose with separate ownership, leadership from within not above.  The world of work is increasingly full of ambiguity.

And faced with ambiguity and complexity, the natural instinct is to create order from disorder, certainty in uncertainty and control the uncontrollable. But the rules of the games have changed forever and the traditional methods of management are themselves ineffective, outdated and the refuge of the ineffective and outdated; the last resort of the inept.

In this increasingly complex and inter connecting world those that succeed are the ones that understand that trust beats control, that persuasion beats force, that collaboration beats independence. We create cohesion not by instruction, but by willingly coming together, we create certainty by collectively defining the future, we create success through self-determination and empowerment.

The future of work bears little resemblance to the past, the environment is changing at such a pace and some will adapt, but many won’t. The scared, ill prepared and ineffective will try to hold it back. The wise will listen, understand, talk, create, co-operate and succeed.

When things are bafflingly complex, only through empowering, respecting, trusting and collaborating will we find the way through.

Only by letting go will we hold on.

It’s all about trust

So loudmouth Morrison spoke at the CIPD conference last week about social media. And to be honest, in my reflection on the event I’m not really sure I was talking about social media. Ok…..so I WAS talking about social media….but it was more of an example of where I think organisations and HR teams go wrong. And the lessons are applicable to so many other areas.

I was talking about TRUST.

So this is an old-fashioned concept, right? Work is all about supply and demand. Anything else is just side dressing.

I’m not so sure.

The thing is this, how many of you can turn around and say, “we truly trust our employees” or “we trust our employees to do the right thing for us and for them”? My guess is that a lot of you will be saying yes…..yes we do.  So then let me ask you this…..why do you have so much of your HR infrastructure set up to kick into play when something goes wrong?

I’m talking about disciplinary procedures, performance improvement procedures, policies on this, that and the other. Ways in which we monitor, evaluate, measure and generally rip the soul out of the heart of the organisation.  We all do that. Be honest…..don’t we?

So why is trust so hard? Why is it that we manage the majority with the fear of the minority? Why do we shy away from the bold actions of trust, individual responsibility and mutual support and respect? Why do we seek to punish people for “non-compliance” rather than seek to understand?

Because we are weak, scared and generally under prepared to deal with the responsibility of managing the expectations that are set upon us. So control, structure and managing to the lowest common denominator are simpler, less scary and without doubt more certain.

And that, my friends, is the challenge that we’re up against.  Whether we’re talking social media, or whether we are talking about any other aspect of the human experience at work.  We need to decide if we’re prepared to truly trust, or if we want to say we do but orgainse ourselves as if we don’t.

There’s a huge opportunity out there, there is a changing agenda. The brave and bright will get it, the rest will become a thing of the past. You have a choice.