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LEADERSHIP: Workplace Trust

In Stephen M.R. Covey’s book, The Speed of Trust, he suggests that trust is critical to the workplace because of its effect on speed and cost. When we have high trust, speed increases because we believe in the other person. As speed increases, cost goes down. Conversely, in a low trust or trust bankruptcy environment, everyone becomes much more cautious, deliberate, and mindful that the other person may not deliver as promised. Speed goes down; cost goes up.

Recently, I asked a group I was training to identify circumstances in their work when trust is important. I thought this might be difficult for them because trust isn’t something that you can touch or see. Yet they quickly identified these circumstances: 

  • when defining expectations, timelines and deliverables
  • when giving out assignments and responsibilities
  • when counting on another person’s experience and expertise
  • when a problem emerges and you need honesty and openness to solve it
  • when meeting tight timelines and counting on people not to cut corners
  • when sharing information and communicating with others
  • when counting on another person’s leadership
  • when trying to resolve conflicts and you need to believe another person’s apology

I then asked them to identify what happens where there has been a breach of trust. How do they handle it? They mentioned that they often get fed up and do the task themselves; they become more rigid and question everything. They noted they become more suspicious, guarded, and use email as a way to have records of all conversations. Most interesting, however, was the acknowledgement that they ask for an SOP (standard operations procedure) document to be written to generate a form of contract. I hadn’t thought of SOPs as related to a lack of trust before. Yet in some ways, isn’t that what SOPs, auditing, standard work, and other shop floor management strategies imply if we aren’t very careful? Ideally, we want them to be seen as useful tools to help employees know best practice and that tasks have been completed correctly. However, it’s also easy to see why these tools are sometimes misunderstood as indicators that others don’t trust us.

My last question to the group was to see where they would begin to improve trust in the workplace. They suggested the following:  improve my own communication, put down my guard, see each other as partners, treat each other with respect, improve my own reliability, train and educate myself and others, and sometimes allow failure so the other person learns the significance of trust.

In his book Covey says, “If developed and leveraged, trust has the potential to create unparalleled success and prosperity in every dimension of life. Yet, it is the least understood, most neglected, and most underestimated possibility of our time.” Stop for a minute and think about yourself and your own environment. Rate the level of trust you create in the workplace and identify one thing this week you will do to make a deposit into the “trust account” others have with you. It may be the most important efficiency step you take this week.

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