Workplace Trust Model
Not winning? It might be the “trust thing”.

For all of our talk of “Social” media, developing real  relationships in our workplace can be uncomfortable for many leaders.  The ones we hear of  most seem to be dysfunctional, inappropriate or nonexistent.

When leaders speak of trust it is often as an abstract concept if they talk about it at all.  Yet trust may be the single factor aside from technical competence that makes for true high performance.  A study presented at a Purdue University conference stated that high trust organizations outperform low trust organizations by a factor of 2.5X

Without trust engagement is only a dream.

Trust is a one on one thing, right? So how can we make trust building an organization imperative?   How does this work on an organization scale?    Dan Harding, our guru of leadership models, developed a way of looking at the trust “mechanics” in an organization.  It starts with the premise that there are crossroad moments where organization trust has the opportunity to grow stronger or to erode:  1. Knowing if we are winning or losing, and 2. Responding to the wins and losses.  Leaders influence both of these to a great degree.

1.       Do we know what winning is? 

Most will say of course…however it doesn’t take long to dig into the organization to find people unclear about success - especially when it comes to their own job.   They may understand winning as filling orders or completing tasks.  These may contribute to winning – but not necessarily they are only final acts of a series of events where people have an opportunity to act with care.

What does this have to do with trust?  The dominoes begin to fall…

When people are not clear about winning – in terms they can measure…in ways everyone clearly sees... then the result is confusion.  Confusion leads to an over reliance on personal interpretation.  Personal interpretation puts more value on personal agendas.  Personal agendas become more important and behaviors become self preserving.   Self preserving behaviors usually result in I win – you lose strategies.  When people don’t care about losing – as long as it is someone else -  the trust level in the organization heads to the bottom.

We met once with the operations director of a highly technical electronic component facility in Europe.  We had difficult feedback to deliver.  Over the years, the facility had been through a number of changes.  Different parts of the factory were making many different things for many different customers. When we asked a group of employees “Who gets the parts you are making?”  They answered “I think they go into telephones?”   In reality they went into aircraft guidance systems.  When we shared this with the Operations Director he exclaimed “that’s not possible… I told them!”  When we dug deeper it became clear that telling them meant a 30 minute mass presentation on all aspects of the business – done only once in the last three years.    Somewhere in all of the cool slides, the definition of winning was lost to everyone but the Operations Director.  It may not be surprising that the level of trust was low. Very low.  You saw it when you walked into the workplace.  People avoided eye contact.  Interactions only happened when you initiated one.  I called it a low smile index

Can you guess why we were there?  Yep - they were not winning.

What can you do?

Walk around your organization.  Engage in conversations with your employees.  Ask them question like:  “What does winning look like here?”   If you see people hesitate or if answers seem to be unclear then you may have a problem.  If winning is defined only as “we make a profit” you may also have a problem.  

Next, toss the next questions to them “So, yesterday, did you win or did you lose?” and “How do you know?”  If the answers sound too vague or if the answers seem disconnected from other groups… you have an opportunity.  Get to work.

Here’s a cheat sheet:
  1. Find out if people clearly understand if they are winning or losing
  2. Define winning clearly. Make sure people see connections to your purpose statements
  3. Create a way that everyone can translate winning for their level. Again, make sure connections are easily seen to organizational winning.
  4. Create opportunities for individual to evaluate wins and losses in a way that learning and improvement become fun and develop a passion for winning. 

In the another post we will look at part 2 : Responding to Winning or Losing.

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