Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Trust (at work)

Its amazing what this 5 letter word holds within. So much of our lives revolves around trust, for good or for bad. With trust, you're strong and feel that you can accomplish whatever you want or need to do. Without it, you feel weak and crippled. It is an overlooked value that can affect just about any aspect of your life. I would like to see some power returned to it, especially in the corporate world.

The trend of the last couple of decades has been the over HRification of companies. The need to fence in a company to protect it from pending lawsuits from a litigation happy society (worth an entire post on its own.) Employers could offer trust to their employees to get things done and you end up with happy, empowered workers. But employers tend to keep folders and write warnings and watch their people with distrustful eyes. This results in their workers having no loyalty to a company (loyalty is another great post.) The problem with not trusting your employees is that the lack of trust is returned and then everyone is just dealing with an uneasy partnership.

Imagine the trusting environment, a very familiar atmosphere of a startup company. Everyone comes to work around the same time because they need to be near each other to accomplish their tasks, there is no time clock, just knowledge that people are counting on you. You come to work and start your project, you are left to be productive and everyone just trusts you to honor that. You feel that you own what you're working on and you gain value in that. Each person does their task, you get together to see how your different jobs are working and see if it is as efficient as it could be. It is a positive, productive environment where you respect your peers and vice versa. The "CEO" is in the trenches and you can talk with him directly because, again, you're as much peers as boss/worker.

Now, look at the untrusting workplace, seen in most big corporations. You better be to work on time so your manager doesn't write you up. There is an IMMEDIATE sense of the difference in you and them. You're in direct opposition of them, knowing that if you slip up they will find a way to penalize you. Office Space comes to mind, when you have no value in the company, you'll work just hard enough to not get written up. The employee doesn't trust their boss to support them if they make a mistake or even try to innovate. It is a fearful companionship where the employee doesn't want to anger their keeper. I don't feel that I need to belabor the point here, lack of trust is very normal but hurts everyone.

Obviously there are cases where either of these environments aren't realistic. People can be petty, everyone doesn't like everyone else. You will have the person in a managerial position that just doesn't like someone that they manage. You also have people that will exploit that trust and either not do their part, or simply walk away with resources that aren't theirs. You can't really control that beyond just hiring the right people from the get-go. People aren't perfect, and its rare to find someone truly omniscient and able to spot the bad apples, so the corporate system starts being implemented.

I don't have a solution, there doesn't appear to be an easy answer. I think companies that have peer interviews are a great start. Let an interviewee interact with those they will be working with to make sure everyone sees a good fit. Then this starts to hurt those that are less socially graceful than others. A great smile will beat body odor every day. Sometimes you need the brilliant smelly guy though, so how do you make it all fit together? How do you encourage a cohesive, trusting environment? And how do you scale it?


Post a Comment

<< Home