The Highly Corrosive Nature of Distrust

By on October 3, 2017
The Highly Corrosive Nature of Distrust

Over and over again, in too many workplaces, I’ve heard words like this, “Lock up the supply cabinet. Somebody will steal something.

Or, on a night shift, no one has a key to the maintenance area. “If they did, people wouldn’t return the tools they took out. They’d be lost.

Or, a company’s finances are guarded like a state secret. “We can’t share profit and loss information with employees. They’d just misinterpret it.

Or, the organization develops a strategic plan without involving the front-line workers who would actually do the work of carrying out the plan. “They don’t really know the big picture so their input would be of very limited value.

And, in each of these cases, the driving force is distrust of employees, either of their honesty or their intelligence.

What’s so ironic about each of these examples is that the employees whose honesty and intelligence are being doubted are also those employees who perform the company’s most important work: They build the company’s products. And if the work they do isn’t done with precision and a dedication to excellence a lot of bad things happen. Defective products are manufactured. Waste abounds in the workplace. Productivity is crippled. Sales quotas aren’t met.

When the supply cabinet is locked, employees needing supplies have to search for someone with a key to unlock the cabinet, wasting time and energy.

When no one on the night shift has a key to the maintenance area and a vital part is needed, one of two things will happen. Production will shut down until a maintenance person comes in the morning…or a maintenance person will be called at 2:00 am and have to come in to get the needed part.

When employees aren’t trusted with knowing how the company is performing financially they come to their own conclusions, often inaccurate and equally often, damaging to morale and, therefore, to productivity.

When front-line employees aren’t respected enough to be asked for input on the development of an organization’s strategic plan, can their lack of enthusiasm in helping achieve the plan’s goals be any surprise? It shouldn’t be. After all, the plan isn’t their plan, the goals aren’t their goals. Whoever owns the process, also owns the goals…and those who don’t own the process, don’t own the goals. It really is that simple.

Here are a couple of ideas I’d suggest are worth thinking about:

Showing trust develops employees who can be trusted.

Showing distrust develops employees who can’t be trusted.

Here’s just one example of the power of trust. For many years, this company had kept a supply cabinet locked. It feared that if the cabinet wasn’t locked employees would steal supplies or take many more of an item than they needed and hid them in their work areas. The result of this was that when an employee needed something from the locked cabinet they had to waste time looking for a supervisor to unlock it for them.

Then one of the supervisors made a radical suggestion. Let’s take the lock off the cabinet and post a note on its front saying, “Only take what you need so everyone can get what they need.”

The result? Employees didn’t take more than they needed. Employees didn’t steal items from the cabinet. Employees and supervisors didn’t have to waste their valuable work time unlocking the cabinet. Trusted employees demonstrated that they were trustworthy.

And here’s another example. Once a quarter this high successful privately held company hosted all employee meetings during with the CEO reported on the company’s financial performance in great detail.

The result? Employees who felt that they were part of a team. Employees who knew that the company’s owner trusted and respected them. Employees who understood the vital roles they played in making the company successful. Employees, who, when referring to company, said “we” rather than “they.” In short, employees who were proud of the team they were on and who wanted “their team” to succeed.

So what can a company’s management team do to develop an organization in which trust is one of the its defining characteristics? Here are some first steps:

  • Regularly go to where production happens. Talk with the workers. Ask for their ideas. Listen to what they say. Act on their suggestions.
  • Mail personal notes to line workers who are top performers, thanking them for their contributions to the company’s success.
  • Periodically hold briefing sessions with frontline employees, reporting to them on the company’s financial performance.
  • Include frontline employees in the process of developing the company’s strategic plan.

Highly successful companies recognize that building high degrees of trust and its corollary, respect, are crucial to their success in the 21st Century’s hypercompetitive marketplaces.

Showing trust builds pride. Showing trust builds teamwork. Showing trust drives productivity. Trust is the engine that drives championship performance.

St. Louis Community College’s Corporate Services Group has a wide variety of training and consulting resources that can help make trust a defining characteristic of your company. I’d like to meet with you to review these resources. You can reach me anytime at 314-303-0612. Let’s talk.

About George Friesen

George Friesen serves as Business Practice Leader - Lean Manufacturing for the Workforce Solutions Group of St. Louis Community College. He has led the College's Lean business practice area since 2000. Prior to joining the College, George worked for Maritz Performance Improvement Company. Over the past 35 years, he has served a wide variety of Fortune 500 companies, specializing during the past eleven years in Lean Manufacturing, focusing especially on the 5S System, Lean leadership and thinking processes, Value Stream Mapping, and Lean team building. George is a graduate of Washington University (AB), Webster University (MA), and United States Air Force Flight Training.

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