Saying management should build “trust” is like saying, “Buy low and sell high.” It’s a no-brainer…till you try to execute the principle.
Of course, we can always find some amongst the managerial ranks who’d say, “Trust, shmust … I don’t care how you do it, just get it done. I don’t have the luxury of building trust.” And indeed, building trust takes a long time, without guaranteed positive outcomes. Further, any managerial slip, let alone a colossal mishap, could instantly diminish the trust savings account.
I’ve said it many times, and I’ll say it again, and again: There are no 12-step programs for any management topics, especially concerning relationships. For a manager to say, “Trust is my number one goal” is akin to saying to a new acquaintance, “I am going to make you trust/like/fall in love with me.” We can never force a relationship that’s based on mutual feelings.
What then? While building trust is a reiterative process, a manager can start by asking herself, “What do my people need most from their work environment?” Promotional opportunities? Funding? Relief from: Crises all the time/Everything is important/Everything needs to be done now? A shirker or two, or whiners, in the unit? Rigid scheduling? Not only does a manager need to attend to some immediate concerns among his people, he also needs to anticipate obstacles his people may encounter.
Removing some of these obstacles or minimizing their impact may not be glamorous, but is a good foundation for trust. Sometimes, a manager may need to play Machiavelli where she has to choose between the trade-offs of what’s good for her unit and what serves the long-term health of the larger organization. This is probably when a manager feels the most lonely since she cannot really confide in others. More often than not, though, a manager’s candid discussions – on the why’s, the what’s, and the how’s — with her people would go a long way. Eliminating a meeting or two can produce cheering, but managers shortchange interpersonal interactions at their own peril.
In any iterative processes, it is difficult to decide cause and effect. For instance, do you build trust first before delegating? Or, is it by delegating – and truly letting people decide on their own – that a manager begins to win trust? I contend that the onerous responsibilities should always lie with the manager. To put it crudely, managers need to earn their higher salary. However, managers do not need to act as if they know everything. Occasionally saying, “I don’t know,” followed by “but I’ll find out” can be empowering for all parties.
Common sense? Maybe. Most commonsense principles are socially constructed reality. What I consider basic decency in allowing a staff member to pick up a sick child mid-morning, another manager may view as a disruption or even policy violation that needs to be put on record. A manager can start some thoughtful conversations on such topics with her people, and thus begin the process of building trust.
What’s your experience?
Till next time, keep on building that precious foundation of trust.
Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.
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Editor’s note: Dr. Yang has a PhD in Management from the Wharton Business School of the University of Pennsylvania. She taught at Wharton for a number of years, and consulted for small groups and small organizations and on cross-cultural issues. Her professional worldview comprises three pillars: 1. All organizations are social systems in which elements are inter-related. 2. To improve organizations, the focus should be on the positive dimensions on which to build. This philosophical foundation is Appreciative Inquiry. 3. Yang subscribes to the methodological perspective that she is part of the instrument from which to gain quality data from respondents, and with which to compare and contrast with others’ realities.