How to bring trust back in the organization ?

Summary : businesses won’t be able to implement new organization models without increasing the level of trust. But how to do that ? That’s often showed as being a people issue : trust does not exist because people are not trustworthy. But blaming people is an easy way to overlook systemic causes that have to be found at the HR and management level. Not mentioning the numerous cases where lack of trust comes from those who complain about it.

You can look at the problem from any standpoint, businesses won’t be able to change if trust remains at such a low level. As a matter of fact, how to expect participation, emergent and unstructured collaboration, vibrant communities that all require a voluntary step from employee and can’t be mandated if employees don’t want to engage or don’t feel they can engaged without risk ?

The constraining nature of many organizational systems (processes, decision making etc…) comes from the fact than, even when trust lacks, the “machine” needs to work, even on a minimalistic base. Instead of using these processes to increase individual and collective effectiveness, businesses used them as a substitute for trust, making them as rigid as trust was lacking. Now, as they’re realizing that a good process is a flexible and adaptable one, with flexibility points allowing to embed the needed amount of social, human and knowledge capital, they feel quite bothered.

Of course trust is not enough to support everything. Businesses need to be able to work in any circumstances, even limping, what needs a minimum of control and security systems. But trust does not preclude control, it’s a matter of mixture.

So we can talk endlessly about trust. No, you can’t mandate trust. Trust is something one inspires to someone else, it starts from a long term exemplary nature to make employees, slowly, forget their mistrust. But that leads us back to the start of this post : that’s a matter of people. Nothing can start if people don’t want to trust each other, think that it’s both necessary and possible. And in the end the same argument comes back endlessly “you can’t trust people” or “people ar not trust worthy so we’re securing the system as much as possible”. If not everything is perfect in this world and if a perfect world where everyone could rely on anyone is a dream, starting with the premise that “the other is the problem” is an easy way to kick into touch without dealing with the real nature of the issue.

In fact, the trust issue can be partly solved in a systemic way provided the root causes are understood. As a matter of fact, saying “we have a trust issue” can mean three things :

– you have an HR problem : I won’t claim that trust can be scored during a job interviews or tests but there are objective and subjective elements that allows to avoid hiring people who are not trustworthy.  Either the person is not competent, what is enough to end the hiring process, either, and that’s the most common case, the person is a competent professional but is not trustworthy from an human standpoint. And what often happens in this case is that recruiters end up saying “ok…he’s an asshole but with such a CV we can’t let him go elsewhere”. It’s a matter of arbitration…but in the end the cost is high for the collective.

– you have a management problem : one inspires trust by acts, a way of working and organizing life in the workplace. Of course “before asking what your company can do for you, wonder what you can do for you company” but employees are tired of giving without getting anything in return. Moreover, employees have a collective memory, past experiences, they listen and discuss…and in the end there are so many elements for the prosecution that the burden of proof is reversed : it’s up to businesses to prove they’re trustworthy, not to employees. Why ? By organization and work models that prove the organization trusts people, actions that prove that the organization does not  abandon employees in difficulty, by improving well being at work

– The problem is you : you are incapable of trusting anyone. Three cases. First, coaching can help. Second, work on the two above mentioned points to make you and others more comfortable. Third : you’re convinced that your company need to improve trust  but you also know you can’t or don’t want to change yourself. That’s a matter of conscience you, and only you, have to deal with…before your employer deals with it instead of you.

Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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