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The Trust Crisis

The Trust Tax

When I had the opportunity to read Stephen MR Covey’s brilliant book, The Speed of Trust, a couple of years ago one particular quote really stood out to me-

Every organization earns a trust dividend or pays a trust tax

I thought the book in total, discussing the basis and levels of trust and the elements involved should be required reading in every business school and leadership program internationally, but that statement really stood out for me.

As an executive and management consultant for over 35 years I have been trying to instill that message in organizations where I was part of the management infrastructure and to my clients.

An article I had a chance to read from the Harvard Business Review shared some information that I found abhorrently fascinating- The Edelman Trust Barometer which has surveyed tens of thousands of people in over 28 countries reported that for the first time in its 17- year history the average trust level in all four of the institutions measured (Government Officials, Business/CEO’s, NGO’s and Media) was below 50%.

Government came in last, closely followed by media, but 48% of respondents did not trust business leaders to do the right thing.

A great quote from a book I read earlier this year, Barbarians to Bureaucrats, had a pretty compelling reason why this is such an issue.

-the decline in corporate culture precedes – and is the primary causal factor in the decline of a business, and that decline is the result of the behavior and spirit of its leaders.

In this day and age of consumerism and social media the accountability to earn and sustain trust rests with management at all levels and platitudes and generic mission and value statements isn’t going to get it done.

The advantages of employee and customer engagement are clear and compelling and two key points-

•             You will never have sustained customer engagement without employee engagement.

•             The foundation of engagement is trust. You have to do the work.

Angela Duckworth in her book Grit, talks about how cultures form-

Culture has the power to shape our identity. Over time and under the right circumstances, the norms and values of the group to which we belong become our own. We internalize them. We carry them with us. The way we do things around here and why become the way I do things and why!

Some of my favorite leadership authors including Patrick Lencioni, Simon Sinek, and others all talk about creating a healthy culture and its criticality to sustained organizational success. They also share that the foundation for every healthy culture is trust!

Research from Josh Bersin concluded that in descending order the most important things to Millennials are culture and values, career opportunities, and confidence in leadership!

Why is that important? Because Millennials are now the largest demographic in the workforce and that is only going to get larger over the next five to seven years!

The Edelman Trust Barometer just concluded we got an F in three out of four categories!

I haven’t talked to a lot of organizations lately that have declared victory in terms of organizational performance and employee engagement.

Well, you can’t build a tower with a faulty foundation and when employees don’t trust leadership that is faulty!

Jamie Dimon, CEO of Morgan Chase shared some tips on how he selects senior leaders for his organization-

The first are attributes, Capability, character, and how they treat people. The next are two simple, but compelling questions:

•             Would I let them run the business without me?

•             Would I let my children work for them?

How many of us ask those questions as part of our hiring process?

How many of us are building the concept that earning and sustaining identity based trust is a journey and an expectation for leadership candidates in our own organization?

 Trust isn’t an entitlement!

Leadership in this area is going to need to come from the business sector. Government came in dead last in the trust race and based on the last election and actions since then I wouldn’t count on our elected leaders for guidance or improvement.

How long can we pay this kind of tax?

 

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Where Have All The Flowers Gone....

I am probably dating myself a bit by borrowing that line from the classic Peter Seeger tune, but I find myself asking that question over and over again, and what I read almost daily from top executives about their search for talent the metaphor seems appropriate.


The they I am referring to are the leaders and managers who still don’t seem to get it. As most anyone who has read any of my stuff knows I have committed my career to building and reinforcing new models of how organizations and people work together.


You can call it an employment relationship, a social contract, or whatever you choose; but what I am referring to is the relationship between employers and employed.
Employee engagement, the level of alignment between individual employee efforts and goals and organizational goals and objectives remains without question one of the most powerful and significant opportunities to improve organizational performance across every key performance indicator.
I am not speaking speculatively; the correlation between those things has been well established by the Society for Human Resources Management, the Gallup organization, and numerous other academic research organizations and professional consulting firms. We still do it as a society fairly poorly, with the number of employees describing themselves as highly engaged ranging around thirty percent in the U.S.
Organizations in large part took a hiatus from focusing on improving employee engagement during the recentrecession because with relatively high unemployment they didn’t feel they needed to attend to it to attract or keep the talent they sought. Now that the economy is starting to pick up you hear employers whining again about the difficulty of finding and keeping the talent they seek.


Here is a tip – highly engaged organizations don’t have that issue. That is one of the myriad of reasons they outperform their competition.
I had a chance to re-read Joel Peterson’s blog posts with two installments on building a high trust culture and it still really resonated with me. Step two for Joel is investing in respect.
Joel is the Board Chair of JetBlue Airlines, a graduate of Harvard B school and a guest instructor at the Stanford B School so he has some street cred…
As he describes it - Respect is, in some sense, the currency of trust – the way it’s exchanged and circulated among people.


That idea particularly resonates with me.
A number of years ago I created my own model of creating and sustaining employee engagement; I call it moving from compliance to Commitment, or little c to Big C.


My model has five elements: Respect, Responsibility, Information, Rewards, and Loyalty
 
Somewhat self servingly you can see why Joel’s pillars speak to me. Respect is the most foundational of the elements to me. Without respect all of the others fail.


Every person that we interact with has an absolute entitlement for our respect for their personhood. It doesn’t mean we have to accept at face value their talents, abilities, or authority; but we owe them respect for their personhood.
I often tell both employees and new managers that you need to respect each person and in hierarchical organizations you need to at least initially respect the position or office.
In this way this is similar to the first level of trust, deterrence, the trust that comes with formal authority.

The second level of trust or respect is knowledge based, this is the trust we receive (or more importantly earn) based on things like education, qualifications, perceived competency.
The third and in my opinion highest level of trust is identity based. This trust comes from intimacy, credibility, and mutual investment. This trust and respect is highly personal and can only be earned and given. It doesn’t come from credentials or position.
We don’t talk much about trust and respect in this kind of language. I have met many managers and leaders who inappropriately assume an entitlement to the highest level of trust based on the first two.


I differentiate leaders because again in my opinion an organization can appoint you a manager, but leadership comes from others who voluntarily accept your guidance and agree to follow your direction.
I also believe passionately in the concept of personal competence as it relates to respect. Personal competence means that we each own the responsibility to engage, to provide our best efforts, and to contribute fully to the best of our ability.
In return our employers and colleagues have a responsibility to set clear expectations, give constructive feedback, and a clear line of sight between our own objectives and goals and that of the organization.


With respect comes personal accountability and responsibility. If you are given the right tools, the right direction, and the right feedback it is incumbent upon you to do the work.
If someone can’t or won’t do the work and meet expectations I find it disrespectful to continue to leave them in a role they are not performing.
The reason I ask whether we will ever learn is that the majority of human resource professionals and their internal clients would tell you that the most important role they perform is compliance.


That sounds a lot like deterrence to me. It is about the rules. It is about systems and procedures and policies, not about relationships and character and credibility and trust.
As a former human resources executive I remain a proponent of the concept of employment at will, which at its most simplistic form is the legal standard that says that either party to the employment relationship can choose to end it without jumping through a number of hoops.
I temper that with a sense of fairness, that says it is important to me that we balance that transactional concept with the relational guidelines of respect, fairness, clear expectations, constructive feedback, and corrective action.


If you read almost anything about leadership or organizational relationships you are very likely to encounter discussion about loyalty. Employers especially like to talk about their expectation of loyalty from their employees. To me loyalty is relational and mutual, not transactional.
Rigidly embracing the concept of employment at will is not a relational employment model, it is purely transactional. Not a basis for engagement.


I am a much bigger fan of an employment relationship based on Congruency which looks for alignment between employees and organizations on these levels:
•    View of the activity
•    View of my ability to do the activity
•    The relationship between values and the activity
•    Commitment to do the “work”
•    Belief in the product or service
When you build things into your model you have a relationship, not a series of transactions.
I write this at this particular time because two very fine young people I know and care about both ended their relationship with their employers.


Those beginnings and endings happen, but both were handled so poorly that it was a reminder of how far we have to go.


So I leave you with this:
•    Listen to Joel- respect really is the currency of trust.
•    Goal for identity based trust. Yes it is more work, but 30+ years of experience assures me you will never have true engagement without it.
•    Commitment is always better than compliance, period.
•    Add congruency to your must haves when you hire, it is much easier to build it in than bolt it on.
•    Never ever forget that respect for a person’s identity is an absolute entitlement. You may have to terminate the performance; you don’t have to take their dignity.

Hope you enjoy the clip
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0LZ2R2zW2Yc

 

 

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When Technology Becomes A Barrier!

We love our technology. I will freely admit that my dependence on things like my smartphone, email, etc. only increase on a daily basis. They make capturing and disseminating information so much faster and more efficient. They inform, entertain and frankly sometimes just annoy me.

When does technology go wrong, when it gets in the way of having a meaningful interaction with people!

I am an HR dinosaur. Who am I bullshitting I am beyond that, when I started in the profession they called it Personnel. For those of you that don’t remember that meant we treated people even more impersonally than now when we call them human capital.

Then we evolved to employee relations, which was HR speak for union avoidance. In the eighties we began hearing about human resources, but I am not sure the attitude significantly changed; Frederick W Taylor’s theories about scientific management were alive and well.

 In fact the accountants got in the act in the eighties when it was discovered that activities like outsourcing and right sizing were discovered to be good for the corporate bottom line once you got past walking back all the promises about employment security and the concept of human capital was born.

In the nineties a few companies caught on that really good talent isn’t human capital and that identifying, attracting, and retaining top performers was really good for business. We just struggled and continue to struggle with how to identify these people and get them in the door and so applicant tracking systems came into being.

Applicant tracking systems are not without value, especially as there has evolved more and more regulation about how we hire, reward, and promote. There have been some downsides however:

·         The art and science of recruiting has been dumbed down. I happen to believe that highly effective recruiters whether they are on your staff or hired specialists have enormous value in helping you identify the attributes and skills of top performers in both current employees and applicants. The new systems in many cases believe, I have an app for that! We just load a formula into the computer and it does that pesky work of screening. Therefore the role of recruiting can be delegated to more junior people who manage the process.

 

·         Recruitment and selection has become much more impersonal. I have a client who is seriously considering walking away from an organization she feels could be a great fit and who has demonstrated an interest in her because a glitch in their system continues to demand she complete a supplemental questionnaire she has already completed…twice. You can’t pick up a publication without reading about an applicant’s experience with a hiring organization where they applied, were interviewed or both and never heard from the organization again. Current applicants are often potential future hires, customers, or know a great hire, but we turn them off.

 

Social media has added some interesting complexities to the employment relationship as well. Not the least of which is who is accountable for and controls your employment brand? I won’t go on one of my usual lengthy explanations about what your employment brand is and how you manage it, but I will make some key points:

·         Every organization has an employment brand. It is how employee/customers perceive you as a place to work and form a relationship with you.

 

·         Really smart employers are deliberate about their employment brand and manage it proactively. It is why some employers have lines out the door at job fairs or get swamped by applicants and your recruiters are treated like they have an infectious disease and your ads don’t yield qualified applicants. They have a great employment brand and yours sucks!

 

·         You can Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and blog your ass off and if you have a lousy employment brand it doesn’t matter, applicants will find out and avoid you. If you have never heard of Glassdoor or similar sites replace your HR department, now.

 

·         Your employment brand doesn’t live in HR or Marketing it is owned and distributed by your employees and customers. Can you manage it yes, but you have to do the work. Great share from David Zinger today on Linked In https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/employee-engagement-david-zinger?trk=hp-feed-article-title-share.  His point is you have to do the work not pretend to do the work.

 

Technology has also aided and supported the hopelessly outdated idea that our leadership are ok, they aren’t they still suck.

I read posts everyday about how to manage Millennials, how women are genetically better leaders than men and lately how men have conquered the market on incompetent leaders who have been promoted. I personally think they are mostly bullshit.

Our current leadership models are largely based on entitlement emerging from either deterrence (I have power and authority) or competency (knowledge based, I am certified, bona -fied, or whatever). Every profession is running about garnering certifications of what type or another.

Real leadership requires we evolve to identity based trust (shared experiences and shared ideas) and there is no certification or technology which creates that. You have to do the work

In HR what has become increasingly alarming is that the profession seems increasingly invested in compliance rather than engagement and scrambling to increase their credibility through certification programs that validate competency rather than identity.

I want to go all the way back to my original point and that is technology is not a bad thing. What is a bad thing is in our culture technology has usually been used or perceived to be used against people rather than with them. I don’t think I have ever been involved with a major technology initiative where the CFO didn’t lean over and ask “what efficiencies will we garner” which is code for how many positions can we reduce.

Technology offers us great opportunities to gather, analyze, and disseminate information to support our broader intentions and goals.  Let’s just take a page from Rosabeth Moss Kantor’s observation about change,   “Change is an opportunity when done with me, and a threat when done to me”, and look at how technology can facilitate trust….

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