Trusting Trust

JumpI was sitting with a colleague in the foyer of one of our huge organisations the other day talking about the perennial topic of building trust in the workplace.

I am particularly interested in it from an ethics point of view as all the research points to the fact that the more you depend on controls (process, policy, procedure and compliance) the less you will find trust in the culture.

Stephen Covey (jnr) says this in his book The Speed of Trust. We all know it each time we inch through the lines of surveillance at the airport to board our plane! To summarise (from my reading), he is saying that high control/low trust environments kill engagement, innovation and creativity and furthermore decrease efficiency and productivity.

To get your job done, how many people do you have to consult, get permission from,read the policy for, or obtain a sign off? The more we put checks into the system the more police we need in order to police the checks and it goes on and on… no wonder the system slows down.

Advocates of high control have a list of truisms they wheel out:

  • Trust must be earned – (sigh – a paternalistic truism from teenage years).
  • It takes a long time to build trust (does it?)
  • It’s hard to trust. (really? – it depends)
  • You can’t trust people to do the right thing! (the reasonable reason (sigh) for more rules /processes /procedures – because of the 1% in the org who might be untrustworthy)
  • Trust is either present or not present! (really?)

As I looked around the huge organisation foyer I was in with its coffee bars, restaurants, benches and sofa’s, information desks, concierge, escalators and stairwells with people everywhere, I had a sudden realisation; trust is everywhere. The scene around me couldn’t occur without it!

Its time that organisations such as Zappo and Netflix and the smaller SME’s I know of are listened to. They prove that it is possible to create high trust/low control environments. And. it is the way of the future. Visit Netflix’s Freedom and Responsibility document that went viral. This is the way of the future and it is time the old fashioned and paternalistic, command control style of leadership moved offshore.

But maybe, even if we’re not lucky enough to work in the cultures described above, we can do small things. For example, instead of focusing on the “lack of trust” in workplaces perhaps we should start with what trust there is. When you feel  untrusting of someone, ask yourself, what you can trust about them (however minimal)?

And this is another weird thing. How different we are in judging trust. Somebody’s untrustworthy adversary is another genuine soul. This perhaps points to the fact that we can’t look in the mirror in the morning and say, “I look particularly trustworthy today!”

Trust lies between people; in the shadows, waiting to come out; always present but timid and wary. She waits. To invite trust in is simple; show genuine (and I mean genuine) curiosity, respect and interest in a person; ask them, consult with them, listen and be open…stop thinking you always know best – get your ego out of the way!. Trust responds to this. She creeps out of the shadows and joins with love.