Trust— in the workplace it’s either a buzzword or a genuine dynamic.
And even the smallest amount of intuition can discern which is at play.
Most of us know all too well what’s it’s like to have an employer pay lip service to the term. We may know too that this not only stifles employees, but hinders entire companies from truly flourishing.
Having been in the workforce for almost 40 years, I can say from both an employee and employer perspective that I have seen the best and worst of this in action. As an employee, most of us want to make our employer proud. We love thoughtful praise from a superior for a job well done. Not many of us like it when we do something that merits criticism or failure.
Although this isn’t without exception, if you’ll allow me to use this generalization—that most of us feel either “good” or “bad” in each case—I’ll be able to describe how trust can become a powerful presence in any given workplace.
Ask any company executive if they trust their employees and invariably you will get a response along the lines of, “Yes, of course.” But I would ask them to also consider the following:
- Do you block some social media websites in your work environment?
- Is using your personal phone in the office frowned upon?
- If employees work remotely, do you have employees record their working hours?
It’s likely that a lot of the employers answering “yes” to the initial trust question would also say “yes” to these questions too. So why is that a big deal? Surely there’s nothing wrong with having some processes in place to make sure everyone is working 100% of the time.
I can assure you—even with these processes in place—no one is working 100% of the time. It’s not human nature. All these limitations do is lead employees to think, “My employer doesn’t really trust me if they put these restrictions on me.”
As an employer you might think there are valid reasons for such measures, but you probably don’t realize how they can backfire against what you refer to as your “most valuable resource”—your employees. If they are indeed your most valuable resource, and you vetted them properly before employing them, then you also ought to trust they’ll do their job without petty restrictions.
Rather than thinking of ways to ensure you are getting what you’re “paying for” from your employees, a more holistic approach would be, “What can I do to empower my team to achieve the goals we’ve agreed to pursue?”
Then, leave them to do the job you trusted them enough to employ them for. If someone doesn’t do the job you expect from them, that’s when a conversation can be had.
Many years ago I was in the process of selling software to a company when we encountered one of their biggest stipulations: they wanted the software to ensure that every step in their sales process had some form of sign-off before proceeding to the next step. The software didn’t do this, and it was a real show-stopper for this company even though it met the other 99% of their needs. Rather than returning to our developers and asking them to program this functionality, I asked, “Why is this sign-off at every step so important? Do you not trust your employees to make a decision for you? If not, why did you employ them?” This question was given considerable thought, and later resulted in the purchase of the software. (Granted, this was after the assurance that every action would be tracked in an audit trail that management could retrieve at any time. Baby steps, but steps nonetheless.)
As an employer you may think best-practice for your business entails tracking this and restricting that, but it’s likely your employees have been met with tremendous frustration in such instances—instances in which they feel like you have little to no trust in them.
Even those with a natural bend towards skepticism may be pleasantly surprised as they give their employees more freedom and independence. Taking a leap in trusting your employees is somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy in that sense—they perceive how you’re believing the best about them, and will most often work gratefully to uphold that belief.
Steve Mackenzie is the President of EventBooking, the world’s first cloud-based venue software company. EventBooking is a 2019 recipient of the Inc. Magazine “Best Workplaces” recognition—a national selection that chooses 300 companies from nearly 2,000 nominations each year.