Tag Archives: employee trust

The looming employee mutiny

The economic downturn of the last few years has taken a toll on employers and employees alike.  In some ways, though, management has held the upper hand.  They’ve been telling employees the only way their company can survive – and people can keep their jobs – is by going “the extra mile” and “doing more with less,” including little if any salary increases.

The End is Near

Choose employee engagement over employee mutinyChoose employee engagement over employee mutiny.Here’s some compelling evidence.  In a recent study conducted by Vistage, 84% of their CEO members answered YES to the question, “Have you learned how to make your business more productive with fewer employees?”  Who can blame them?  Tough times call for tough measures, right? Up to now, employees have pretty much gone along.  But that may be coming to an end. A different study conducted recently by Right Management coincidentally shows that 84% of employees say they’re going to be looking for a new job in 2012 – and for good reason.These days, when young boomers say “50 is the new 40,” it’s not just about age – it’s about being expected to work 50 hours a week for 40 hours of pay. The good news for employees is the job market is improving, giving them more options.  The bad news for employers is that workers are getting fed up, and we’re likely to see an employee “mutiny” in the not too distant future. It’s just a matter of time before people start jumping ship and companies across America begin finding themselves with a serious talent drain that’s going to be very costly to replace.  That includes front line supervisors and middle managers who, in many cases, are struggling hardest of all as job vacancies have been left unfilled and resources have been stripped away. At the same time, they’re still being expected to maintain or expand output. Even if people don’t physically bail out, the “mental mutiny” from trying to keep up that kind of pace is almost inevitable.

Ask the Right Questions

Trying to deal with that challenge, I often hear managers pleading, “How do I motivate my people?”  Problem is, it’s a bad question, and here’s what I tell those managers.

First … Unless God has taken you in as a partner, or you’ve taken in slaves, employee are not your people. They are independent adult human beings who want some say and some control over what happens in the workplace – especially when it affects them directly. Second … You’re wasting your time.  There’s only one kind of motivation, and that’s self-motivation.  Anything else is either carrots, sticks, sweet-talk or begging.  If that’s what you’re using to try and “motivate your people,” the best you can expect to get from employees is compliance – never excellence and certainly not extra effort.   Once managers come to terms with that basic reality, then they can ask a better question about how to engage employees in a dialogue about extra effort: “How can I get the very best that people are willing and able to contribute to the mutual benefit of their own personal growth and the success of this organization?”

 Right the Ship with Trust

The key to getting that voluntary extra effort comes down to a simple, yet powerful 5-letter word – TRUST.  It’s a belief that people will do the right thing … in the right way … at the right time.  So what are some of those “right things” you need in order to build trust?1.  Employees need to see their managers demonstrate behaviors that build credibility – caring, honesty and openness, responsiveness, competence, reliability, and the willingness to admit when they’re wrong and apologize for it.2.  Design the organization’s primary people-systems – measurement, rewards and recognition, communication, learning and development, and continuous improvement – in a way that tells employees loud and clear … “You come first, and we trust you to do the right thing.” History shows that most ship captains who’ve experienced a mutiny have gotten what they deserve.  If companies want to avoid the same fate during the economic recovery, they better change their tune AND start asking the right questions.

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Trust me on this.

It’s ironic, isn’t it, that one of the surest ways to raise suspicion about someone’s motives is for the person to say, “Trust me on this?”  That’s certainly true when it comes to employees and customers.

In the workplace, few challenges have obsessed and perplexed the business world more than the issue of employee trust.  The reason is obvious.  With it, virtually any obstacle can be overcome in an organization.  Without it, every day is filled with uncertainty and anxiety, no matter what else the organization does right.

In the marketplace, few things are treasured more passionately than loyal customers – those people who come back time and again, and even refer new customers to enjoy the same experience.

When you get them both right, it’s business paradise.  The crucial thing to understand is that the two go hand-in-hand.  Without employee trust, customer trust suffers, as well.

Management Credibility Factors
One reason organizations fail to foster a culture of trust is because they focus mainly on interpersonal factors.  They’re important, to be sure, and here are key behaviors that managers have to exhibit to gain employee trust:

  • Caring – Genuine concern about employee wellbeing is where it has to start.
  • Honesty and Openness – Dance around the truth or hide important information, and people tune out and turn away.
  • Responsiveness – Listening and taking action on what you hear tells people you’re sincere.
  • Competence – If you don’t know what you’re doing, it’s hard to win a following.
  • Reliability – Can people count on you to do what you say
  • Apology – If you can admit mistakes and apologize sincerely, trust goes way up.

In a recent article I wrote for Communication World called “Cracking the Culture Code,” the communication VPs for Southwest Airlines and Enterprise Rent-A-Car talk about how their companies observe those behaviors in their extraordinarily successful cultures.

People-First Systems
But…that’s only half of the equation.  You also have to design the systems, policies, and processes in a way that tells employees unequivocally that they are trusted.  We call those People-First Systems, and they fall into five main categories:

  • Measurement
  • Rewards and recognition
  • Communication
  • Learning and development
  • Continuous improvement

Of course, many organizations have some type of mechanism in place for all of those areas.  But do they really demonstrate to employees that they are trusted?  Do they truly reinforce the oft-heard mantra that people are our most important asset?  Fact is, systems in most organizations are designed to protect against the miniscule number of irresponsible people, and those constraints wind up stifling the vast majority of employees you can count on like clockwork.

Bottom line, you can’t have performance excellence without sincere trust and belief in people.  If you have doubts about the merits of that philosophy, consider the wisdom of renowned statesman, Henry Stimson, who said, “The only way to make a man trustworthy is to trust him.”

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