Jo Geraghty


The culture of trust

Date added: 07th May 2014
Category: Employee Engagement

Learning to trust is one of life’s most difficult tasks.

Isaac Watts

How much do you trust your employees?  Perhaps you trust them to turn up each day, perhaps to follow the rules and procedures which you have laid down, perhaps even to complete a set number of tasks?  And in return you do what?  Give them a regular pay check; tell them you will ‘treat them like adults’ until they let you down; expect them to be at your beck and call?

We’ll let you into a secret.  None of that is trust.  Rather it is the sign of a toxic business culture which corrupts and dictates and treats employees as things.  True trust is something far different.  Proper trust comes when the relationship is that of equals and people carry out tasks because they are engaged and enthused in the beliefs and behaviours of the organisation.  Proper trust means empowerment and flexibility and a shared belief.  Proper trust means respect.

But so much of business practice today lends nothing to trust.   The recent move by France to ban work e-mails being sent after 6pm to those in the digital and consultancy sectors has been hailed by some as a victory for the work/life balance.  Following on from a similar move in Germany, the ban has come into effect following a joint agreement between employer federations and unions.  But why was it necessary in the first place?  Quite simply, because the culture of organisations owed little to trust and much to treating people as consumable assets.

In an organisation with a strong culture there would be no need for a ban on e-mails outside core hours, quite simply because leaders wouldn’t expect employees to be at their beck and call.  Yes there may be some working in the evening, but it would be occasional and mutually agreed and would flow on from true flexi-working with the employee taking other time off to compensate.  With leaders trusting and respecting members of their team they would plan and organise the workload and would take personal considerations into account before making requests.  The sort of culture which expects that a sudden whim to have x report prepared before a meeting tomorrow would be instantly met with vast numbers of out of hours working just doesn’t happen when respect is around.

Changing a culture to one of respect and trust doesn’t happen overnight.  Creating an alignment between business strategy and the people through whom it will be delivered takes work and time.  We call these the 4Es.

  • Education – providing people with the understanding and rationale behind actions
  • Engaging – ensuring individuals are motivated and support the business in a positive way
  • Empowering – encouraging employees to take ownership and responsibility
  • Enabling – creating the environment to ensure people take action and can deliver

None of this happens unless and until the leadership embraces the need for change and is prepared to champion that change.  You can work all you like to engage employees in the beliefs and behaviours of the organisation but the first time that you demand a report at short notice without considering the consequences, the first time that you sign off the installation of a new system which will take up vast amounts of extra time for little return, the first time that you blame employees for the results of your poor leadership is the first time that trust flies out of the window for good.

How much do you trust your employees?  You might just want to look again.

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