Change and Trust

I’m writing to share an observation: the people around us — our customers, reports, coworkers and bosses — pay attention. Especially in the workplace, those around us tune in not just to the things we say and do, but also to our motives (whether stated or implied) behind our actions. They want to know that we can be trusted and that they can trust us with their best interests.

Trust makes good neighbors.

Even up here in staid northern New England, the average Joe and Josephine have their personal antennae up almost all the time.

My ER doctor-friend, for example, was closing on the purchase of 100-acres atop a hillside in Vermont when rumor had it his commute to the hospital (two hours by car) was to be by helicopter. Without a word, the town council placed a no-helipad restriction on his deed (so for kicks I occasionally threaten to put a windsock up there while he’s away on vacation). There had been no plan for a propeller-commute, and, had either party taken the time to build trust, the town council could have avoided embarrassing themselves.

Speaking of antennae, one night in our small town, a patrol car pulled me over for a burned out tail light. The next morning all the police scanner owners in my shop ribbed about my reckless driving, but I digress.

Trust gets things done.

Positional PowerI wonder, are many managers are aware of this? After all, people tend to hide their feelings pretty well. It may be that in many cases management is so overwhelmed with handling the big issues that they forget the importance of building their credibility and trustworthiness among their subordinates.

Invariably, those managers (well, I suppose we have all committed this offense) try using their positional power as a shortcut to some quick win, and what happens?

The same managers are struck suddenly by their subordinates’ apparent resistance to change. Workers who previously merited high praise now are regarded as stubborn and lazy. Frustration sets in. Pretty soon, the supervisor concludes that the staff aren’t listening, can’t learn, or worse, they have innate incapacity to self-actualize (see Maslov’s Pyramid).

Truth is, when people are behind you all the way, they will walk on hot coals to get the job done, whatever it takes. But when we have no trust for those in command, and no confidence in the mission, we drag our feet.

The Vista Litmus

Peter Weller is RoboCopSo I ask you, did you rush right out and adopt Windows Vista when it first shipped? If you did not, you are in good company.

With Vista, Microsoft failed to check for trust before releasing a new product. Had they done so, they might have discovered:

  1. Most XP customers still had vivid nightmares recalling the costly, time-consuming ordeal they endured upgrading from Windows NT/2k/98 to XP.
  2. Over several years, a battery of patches and service packs managed to tame XP into a relatively well-mannered OS that met most everyone’s needs (except Microsoft’s, presumably).
  3. Microsoft’s rationale, “Vista will be more secure than XP,” rang hollow among more knowledgeable members of the XP user community, raising doubts about the company’s true motives (profits?) for an unwanted upgrade.

As with Microsoft Vista, organizational initiatives for change often precipitate legitimate concerns about motive, method, impact and outcome.

The Fifth Discipline Vision and Core Values

MIT professor Peter Senge writes in his book, The Fifth Discipline:

Many who are otherwise qualified to lead fail to do so because they try to substitute analysis for vision. They believe that, if only people understood current reality, they would surely feel the motivation to change. They are then disappointed to discover that people

The Tuck School’s Vijay Govindarajan likes to use an anecdote from the heyday of NASA to illustrate how vision unites an organization. When a reporter in the 1960’s asks a custodian at NASA what it is that he does, his answer is, “I’m helping to put a man on the moon.” How did this lowly employee come to be imbued with so compelling a mission? Someone must have made quite an impression on that custodian.

Currency  The Bottom Line

The economy all by itself is squeezing everyone so much that we are willing to be driven to extreme heights of soul-searching and attitude adjustment. Rather than a man on the moon, the epiphany now is food on the table. The stakes have never been higher.

The view that trust between management and subordinates is little more than a quaint concept is over. If a manager and her reports get along and trust one another, is not merely a perk, it’s essential to the viability of the organization because it directly affects the bottom line.

One need not look any further than today's headlines to find the consequences of loss of trust:

People are watching. They’re looking for integrity, transparency and even humility in their leadership. Today's true leaders do not always hold a title or official office. They are the kind of people who are not only decisive, but who work hard to foster an environment in which it is safe to be creative, to oppose the status quo when it’s wrong, to exercise those higher order skills.

In a very real sense I believe the world is also watching, and holding a lot of our debt. I think they wonder if we can still beat the rest of the societies of the world in providing the good life, in being the shining city on a hill.

These days, trust is not optional. Trust is a prerequisite.


So, tell me, am I the only one who sees things this way? Have you, or someone you know, ever been in the position of wanting to go with the flow, but you "just couldn't do it" ? What do you think could have been holding you back? 

And what about your customers? Have you ever delivered an on-the-money recommendation, but they just couldn't buy into it? What did staying-put cost them?


by Greg Wadlinger
Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.
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4 thoughts on “Change and Trust”

  1. Pingback: 21 Touches | AV-1

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