Organizations are struggling with Trust. That's clear. We know that from looking at our data and we can see that before the recession trust was 33% higher than it currently is. Hardly surprising given the last few years of layoffs, salary freezes and pay cuts that many people have experienced. Not to mention the lingering fears that many employees still feel and that some employers take advantage of. I can't recall the number of times leaders have told me that anyone with a job should feel grateful for it in the current climate, and then with almost the following breath say that their people are their most important assets.
When two conflicting statements are made, most of us will automatically assume the truth of the worst one; it's how we have become such a successful species.
But attitudes like this mean that it's no surprise to find that trust has taken a bashing.
Before we go any further let's just define what we're talking about.
Trust may feel abstract but you'll really know when you have it and when you don't because it's the basis for all relationships. Trust means that you can take a risk in the expectation that something good will happen in return. But in an organization trust is more complicated than that. You might for example trust your manager, but not necessarily your organization which makes building trust complicated and tough.
So what can you do if you're in the tricky position of trying to build trust in your organization? Or wanting to feel more of it?
The first thing is to be aware that you need to think about it differently. The old notion of effort in return for reward has gone and that may be no bad thing given the world economy, new working practices developed over the last decade and Gen Y-ers or Millenials (aged 18-24) who are coming our way.
Given this it's time to adopt a new approach which reflects today's environment and which makes people both happy and productive at work.
Instead of expecting the old Skinnerian 'effort - reward' approach, we need to take into account some of the drivers of what makes people happy at work, and build a new trust mechanism around that.
We can see from our research (www.iOpener.com) that a big chunk of personal effort is made when employees feel that they are given interesting and challenging work which is tough, stretching and helps people develop themselves. That helps them use their skills and learn. If people get this kind of work, they'll invest huge amounts of discretionary effort: check out Linux, Apache Wikipedia if you don't believe me. Knowledge work is the new driver of trust and it's time we all recognized this.
The quid pro quo means that when organizations don't have this kind of work, people will simply move on. Or when employees know that they don't want to make a massive effort that others are prepared to, they'll decide to quit.
And in fact this work is already on our doorstep; lots of people are choosing to work like this, they just aren't articulating it. But real power comes when everyone is transparent about what's on the table: after all one of the corner-stones of trust is honesty. So it's time we all got honest about what works best. And adopting this approach will help recalibrate that feeling of power and confidence which so many employees have lost over the past two years.
Of course this kind of trust model will demand that we look inside our organizations to change how recruitment and reward works. Leaders will need to think about:
- What challenging and engaging work looks like inside their organizations - the kind of things that makes people happy and productive - and that will require much more of a servant leader approach.
- How they manage the performance of talented and skilled employees that can find jobs whatever the economy does.
- What values will really engage this group and how they genuinely are deployed in an organizations.
- How people prefer to learn and develop themselves.
- How work gets allocated fairly and squarely to top and developing talent.
That includes you.
So over the next few months think how you might deploy this new approach: where are the opportunities and how can you make the most of them? Because this is how the new trust model will work, and work best for you Inc.
Fair and values
Trust in corporations was traditionally constructed in this way: The individual was loyal. The institution protected and cared for the individual. Employees professed to have no priorities outside their specific institution. And the corporation promised long-term opportunities and enhanced rewards for those who stayed.
Many human-resource practices are predicated on this equation, designed to reinforce it. Pension plans, vesting schedules, and vacation entitlements are obvious examples of practices that reward loyalty with greater care. So are promotions, which often factor in consideration of tenure. More and more companies have established programs to enhance employee retention, and individuals who openly discuss their future plans - their careers past this company - are still viewed as shockingly disloyal.