The value of trust?

Hsssssssss....Trust in me!
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How much do you trust your boss is a question asked by management consultants and organisations involved in management training on a regular basis. It appears that inherent trust in management is often at an even lower level in the private sector than it is in the general business world. Why is that?  

As a member of the Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM), I’ve read with interest much of the extensive research they have carried out into the subject…  

ILM – Leadership Trust Research 2009: The research focused on six dimensions by which the trustworthiness of leaders and managers is measured. These drivers are: ability, understanding, fairness, openness, integrity and consistency. These dimensions, weighted by the importance respondents applied to them, were then examined against a number of factors, ranging from the size of the organisation and its industry sector to the age and gender of manager and employee, plus the length of their service and relationship with leaders and managers. (Read more and/or take the Trust-ometer test)  

The issue of management trust was a question I have often asked myself and my colleagues. During my thirty years service as a police officer the question was a regular topic, especially whilst bumping our gums during a coffee break.  

Some may find this surprising, given the role and task because as with the military, you would think that a risky occupation such as policing would promote a culture of ‘family values‘. The type of values where you can actually rely on both your co-worker and your manager… A kind of ‘brotherhood’ or family.  

I have to say that when I originally joined the police, that type of culture actually existed. As the years have progressed, and society has become more self-centered and self-interested, this trait is unfortunately in decline. A factor that is also reflected in our society’s workforce which is sad. We are arriving at a point in our social evolution where it is very difficult to know who you can actually trust.  

ILM Research 2010: In the midst of a new government, huge spending cuts and a cautious emergence from the deepest recession in living memory, employee trust is a fragile commodity. It is against this backdrop ILM launches the second annual Index of Leadership Trust 2010 – the UK benchmark of employees’ trust in their leaders and managers. (Read more)  

Trust like respect, is one of those personal qualities that actually has to be earned. It isn’t usually bestowed lightly or blindly, this is also where the problem starts, many of today’s managers actually expect both trust and respect, without actually earning it. Not with standing the self-centered factors already alluded to above, the propensity for not following through with professed beliefs or, being prepared to bury them and tow the corporate line simply compound the issue. Another common factor that has a bearing is that, today’s management often lacks any real experience of the task at hand.  

Much of this follows the belief that; you can be trained to manage, a thought process which is only partly correct. I agree you can be taught the basics, you can be educated about various ‘management models’ or theories however, you can’t train ‘experience’. It is actually a fallacy to believe, once you posses that training and accreditation, you can manage any task, irrespective of experience in the role. Unfortunately too many individuals (particularly in the public sector) believe this to be the case. This also leads to diminished trust levels.  

Some will say, the military train their officers (managers) without them having to have been soldiers (workers) and that works, why doesn’t it work in business? I would suggest it’s linked to the fact, any graduate from officer training is usually fully aware, if they disregard the needs and comments of their subordinates, they are unlikely to go very far in their chosen career. A feature of their training that appears totally opposite to much of that in business.  

I’d like to take a moment to look at some examples; consider the following and decide where you would naturally tend to lay your trust, even before knowing the person for any length of time…  

  1. Your line manager arrives at work and asks “how are you this morning?” As you start to answer the question, they disappear into the distance muttering “great, must rush I’ve got a management meeting, catch you later” – Yes/No
  2. Your line manager at Strategic telecoms PLC (newly recruited from sales at Fresh Co Supermarkets) asks, “what appears to be the problem with the widget project?” You give a comprehensive and concise picture of the issues and they reply, “I’ll get back to you on those points” and never do. – Yes/No
  3. Your line manager (Graduate entry) tells you “we need to do some ‘blue sky thinking’, let’s ‘brainstorm’ the issues and decide on a corporate approach” when all you asked was, “any chance of an early finish for my boys school presentation tomorrow evening?” – Yes/No
  4. Your line manager tells you in a PDR meeting, “great work this year, you are a true asset to the organisation” and two weeks later serves you with a provisional redundancy notice. – Yes/No
  5. Your line manager says “we’ll work through the issues together” then asks when you show them the machine failure, “how does this work then?” – Yes/No

I would expect all your answers to be ‘NO’ and if they aren’t, I’m also a little worried.  

The test may have been simplistic however, it provides an insight into some of the issues creating a lack of trust in managers. When you add the propensity for saying one thing to your face and a totally different one behind your back or, constantly striving to rubbish the views of a co-manager in pursuit of personal gain, then you start to understand the problems.  

In the ILM report, some of the following results give pointers towards the ‘trust drivers’…  

  • Employees’ confidence in the CEO’s ability to do their job is the most important factor in breeding trust among the workforce.
  • CEO’s ability to demonstrate a strong sense of personal integrity.
  • The larger the organisation, the less trust employees are likely to show in its leadership.
  • The longer CEOs and line managers have been in post the more trust employees have in them.
  • It appears that female employees are affected more acutely by change.
  • Trust takes time to develop and is improved when the relationship between leader and follower is close.
  • Trust in public sector CEOs compares poorly to many CEOs in the private sector.

The CEOs of these organisations (public sector) have the steepest hill to climb to establish trust, and they will not be able to reach the summit without demonstrating a strong sense of personal integrity. If they can’t show the qualities of principle and honesty, and that they are in it for the long haul, not just as a lucrative or advantageous career move, they will not be trusted. (download full report)  

As seen above, these management failings (which I have personally endured over recent years) are common place in today’s public sector. This is why the workforce are always asking, which snake in the grass can I actually trust? Unless we achieve erstwhile values of genuine belief, honesty, empathy, professionalism and credence for role experience, in short professional management integrity, workers will continue to ask this and similar questions.  

The glue that holds all relationships together – including the relationship between the leader and the led is trust, and trust is based on integrity. (Brian Tracy

Until that point, perhaps it is far more sensible to place our trust in voodoo dolls, faith totems or talisman, a higher authority than our executive team or indeed, our favourite ‘lucky underwear’!

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