Summary : trust is the fuel that will power new forms of work and management and make change possible. But trust can’t be mandated and has to we won over time. In fact, it’s being lost, day after day, for decades by actions that look anecdotical for organizations but are meaningful to employees who feel belittled and considered as poorly responsible, unworthy of trust and unable to understand the challenges at stake. The trust deficit is very actual and costs a lot to organizations every day, not mentioning it makes changes hard to drive. But they still can change their message and, so, their future.
Debt is very trendy topic these days. Most of times it’s about states, not businesses which have pretty good results. But, as states have refused to consider their financial debt for decades, businesses are exposed to a similar form of risk that is not related to money but another kind of matter.
It’s been said again and again : trust is key to business competitiveness. Because its impacts collaboration, collaboration and knowledge sharing. Because it supports the new forms of management that are needed in such contexts. Because no change program aiming at adopting new forms of work can be successfully undertaken without trust.
But that’s a fact : trust is more and more uncommon in the workplace. Weak between colleagues and nearly non-existent between businesses and employees. And this works in the two ways. It’s hard to tell who, businesses and employees, started the move that is leading the couple into this diabolical helix…But we can suppose that the management and operation models that were born at the beginning of the industrial revolution contributed a lot to the disappearing of trust, because of businesses. By putting trust into the system and not into people who act in the systems, businesses made the gap become wider and wider.
To such an extent that I recently wondered if businesses, abstract entities, did not have their own consciousness, independent from the one of people that are part of it. When you see how people who are deeply humane can consider and treat their fellow colleagues once they’re in a work context you can really wonder. At this moment they are not themselves anymore but a part of the system. A part that treats other parts, those they have authority over, like immature, irresponsible and unworthy of trust people.
I’m not talking about face to face relationships (even if…sometimes….) but systemic relationships. Where the ones make decision that apply to “other” people they don’t even know. Examples are numerous.
The cult of presenteism, which is pillar of the control and command system. People have to be here, no matter why. The myth of “work hours” that makes no sense for more and more occupations. Restrictions to internet access. Policy of use for communication and collaboration tools. I’m not saying that some barriers should not exist. I’m only questioning which ones are legitimate, how high they should be and what words should be used to explain them.
Social media guidelines : evidence of trust for some, anti-trust weapon for others
Social media guidelines are a concern for many organizations these days. I remember the first time I had to work on such a document. It was in the early days of 2006. At this time I took my inspiration in the very few things that were available on this matter, essentially the work that has been done at IBM (As early as 2005 !), a continuously evolving document, co-created by the enterprise and the employees to quickly react to the permanent evolutions of the matter. In 2006 I found this document very relevant (and I still do). In short it says “make the most of this new opportunity for you and the company, don’t do stupid things…but we don’t worry, you’re responsible adults”. The documents sets a direction, a framework but does not constraints people.
If, as an employee, I had to sign to accept a document such as the IBM one I would tell to myself : “Oh! That’s cool…I’m being guided but I’m free to take initatives…at least this company trusts me!”.
I often have to read documents that have the same purpose. On the one hand the company says “networking, sharing, responsiveness, bla bla, strategic challenge for our future”. On the other hand, guidelines that can be described with only one word : castrating. In the “do and don’t” game, the dos must have been forgotten somewhere. But none forgets to clearly mention the risk and incurred disciplinary action. This does not mean the official discourse is only for show but that there’s an internal misalignment between those who have the vision and those who execute it. In the lack of a sponsor that understands that his role is to make it clear for everyone that their call is not avoid any novelty because it brings new risks but to make change possible….
Erecting sur barriers is a little bit like when parents are stating to give autonomy to their kids. First parties at some, first nights out, first holiday trips with friends, first time they borrow the parent’s car…. If the words are “that’s ok, be careful of one or two things but have fun”..;that’s ok. If the words are “if anything goes wrong, no party, TV or pocket money for the next three years (not mentioning the slaps…)” there are many chances the kid gives but because the risk/opportunity balance looks unfair…but most of all he will slowly disengage and even rebel. Such an attitude will make the parents trust him less and less…etc…
I was mentioning the impression social media guidelines like the IBM ones would make one me. On the contrary, other kinds of guidelines, not as well-advised, would make me think something like “we can’t trust you, we start with the assumption that that you don’t understand what’s at stake, what’s happening, that you’re not responsible. You’re a danger for the organization”. Can you think even one second that it will stimulate engagement, participation ? So employees disengage because they don’t want to put themselves at risk, so organizations stands firm in the face of those employees who don’t want to play the game…and are not worthy of trust. Then, the system races…
When it comes to rules, content matters but the message can be destructive
When enacting such rules, do people understand that, more than setting up a framework they also send a message top employees ? Obviously not !
I’ve used the example of social media guidelines because it’s a trendy topic. But the same play has been being played again and again for decades, on any new field.
- “you’re a reckless and irresponsible person. You don’t understand. We do.”.
-”ok…so leave me alone”.
-”do you refuse the rules ? So our assumption war right”.
- ” Get lost ”
Trust needs to be won over time. It can’t be borrowed
So the trust debt becomes bigger and bigger. And interest has to be paid. At a very high rate. Turnover, low motivation, ambient skepticism, productivity…. Interest increase the debt…and the story goes on.
Then, when businesses need to engage their employees to improve, to face today’s challenges, the fact they’re running out of trust prevents them from moving on. Unfortunately there’s no on demand bailout for trust. Trust can’t be borrowed from the bank or anybody.
Trust is something one win over time and can’t be borrowed. When it’s wasted, the price has to be paid one day.
PS : for those who work on social media guidelines, internal or external, and lack inspiration, in addition to the great ones from IBM, I advise you two documents that show that even in sensitive fields, things can be done well.
- this video from the department of justice of Victoria (Australia)