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Putting Your Trust in . . . Trust

Putting Your Trust in . . . Trust

Trust is an essential component in almost all dealings between human beings, other than outright hostile ones like wars and terrorism. It is certainly vital for the proper running of any organization, as well as for almost all the components of trade and commerce. Lack of trust between trading partners undermines the proper functioning of business. Mistrust is a major cause of excessive (and unnecessary) workload on leaders, since the absence of trust means everyone has to be supervised and monitored almost constantly. Yet current styles of management—especially Hamburger Management—either ignore the importance of trust altogether, or act in ways guaranteed to undermine and destroy it.

The current emphasis on “management by numbers”—the belief that what cannot be measured (or is not measured, by choice) will simply not happen—represents the opposite of trust: an immediate assumption that employees are feckless, lazy, stupid, or just plain awkward. Many years ago, Douglas McGregor described this as “Theory X” and showed how it led to tight controls and an obsession with motivation by direct (usually monetary) incentives: exactly the situation today in many organizations.

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In the workplace, trust is an essential element between colleagues sharing a project, people trusting that the boss will arrange equitable rewards and recognize good work, or customers trusting that the product or service you supply will be there on time and match up to what you promised. Keeping people’s trust (and restoring it, if you have acted in ways that undermine their faith in you) matters a great deal in hard business terms. Managing in an organization low on trust demands much more time and effort (to check up on everyone, attend otherwise pointless meetings for the same purpose, and generally micromanage to the detriment of your own work and sanity). It usually means that other people don’t trust you either. Subordinates don’t trust a boss who doesn’t trust them, and become prone to doing no more than is essential to keep their jobs. Bosses may secretly congratulate you on “bringing home the bacon,” however you did it, but you can be sure that they will have noted any untrustworthy actions and will take care in future that you have no opportunity to deceive them.

It certainly seems that trust is a disappearing asset, in business as elsewhere. At the organizational level, there seems to be ample proof that risking any organization’s reputation for honesty, fair business dealings, and civilized behavior for the sake of short-term gain is culpably foolish. A solid reputation is worth hard cash, and those who lose it, lose a great deal of money as well.Yet that is what too many organizations and their leaders risk doing today, often on a regular basis. Leadership doesn’t only mean taking tough decisions in a technical or competitive sense. It means acting as a steward for the organization’s values and reputation; and— if necessary—defending that reputation stubbornly against those wishing to set short-term personal and organizational profit above everything else.

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People need to be able to trust the boss to give them due credit. Leaders who fail to recognize the contributions of others (or try to pass them off as their own) are actively harming their organizations and themselves. The vast majority of people truly love to contribute their creativity to help the organization. But they won’t do so if leaders, obsessed with their own egos, status, and maintaining the status quo, ignore them, denigrate their contributions, or claim credit for their best ideas. Bosses like that use a well-worn set of rude and dismissive phrases to browbeat their subordinates, systematically destroying any trust that they might have generated by acting fairly and encouraging other people to contribute.

Hamburger Management relies on whatever is quickest, simplest and cheapest, regardless of the quality of the means or the outcome. Its myopic obsession with the shortest of short-term gains leaves no place for anything beyond rigid control and micromanagement. The willingness of Hamburger Managers to sacrifice anyone and anything to “make the numbers” destroys the trust people would otherwise place in their leaders. Without reciprocal loyalty, why should employees be loyal in their turn?

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Leadership of this kind is teaching a generation of people an extremely dangerous set of lessons: that money is all that counts, that the ends justify the means, and that the only set of needs and objectives that really matters is your own. It’s time to put our trust in trust itself: to accept that you cannot possibly watch everyone all the time, that monetary incentives cannot take the place of commitment to a cause and a leader, and that without trust in one another there can be no sense of community or productive relationships in the workplace.

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Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman, and a retired business executive, in that order. He lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his other articles at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to build a civilized place to work and bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership and life. His new book, Slow Leadership: Civilizing The Organization

    , is now available at all good bookstores.

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    Last Updated on August 16, 2018

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system”.

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    The power of habit

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being six hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The wonderful thing about triggers (reminders)

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to make a reminder works for you

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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