Featured Article: Why Don't You Trust Me Anymore?
By Richard Hadden and Bill Catlette
To the surprise of many perhaps, Sunday, October 16, is National Boss Day in the United States and Canada. At a time when many big cities are experiencing Occupy Wall Street type protests over things that bosses, brokers and bankers have purportedly done to mankind, the holiday seems a little out of sync. Indeed, the notion of a day to celebrate bosses probably has about as much traction right now as would a day to salute big banks, the U.S. Congress, or the local Department of Motor Vehicles. Yeah, here, salute this.
If it sounds like we're anti-boss, we're not. Anything but. Truth be told, the vast majority of "bosses" are people just like you and us. They are ordinary, hardworking people, toiling in the lower to middle strata of their respective organizations, squeezed between front line workers, and execs who are pushing down from above. These are the folks who daily attend to the myriad thankless tasks associated with getting the wash out, selecting, de-selecting, coaching and developing employees, filling out reams of reports, trying to keep a corporate bureaucracy off their worker's backs, and, oh yeah, making the numbers.
Until recently, this person was probably a worker bee on the front line. She performed better than most of her peers, and so, one Friday afternoon, she was told, "Congratulations! You've been promoted to manager. You'll get an extra dollar an hour (no overtime, mind you) and you've got all weekend to get ready."
Especially in the last 4 years, this new manager has been expected to learn the leadership ropes on a DIY basis without any, that's right, zero training. And because the stakes are higher than ever, she's been expected to produce unprecedented results, in less time, working all the while with no safety net. Screw up and we will eject you like a virus.
This same boss may have an underwater mortgage, multiple kids, student loans, a spouse who also works outside the home (if lucky enough to have a job), aging parents, a high-deductible healthcare policy, and a car whose warranty expired three days before a funny noise started coming from under the hood.
If, by chance, you're that boss, and your job depends on getting results (and who's doesn't, except, of course politicians?), we've got some ideas that might help you.
Last week I was on the phone with a client for whom we're conducting an employee engagement survey. "What are you hearing out there?" she asked, "from employees in other companies? What are they telling you are the problems they have with their managers?"
Easiest question I'd had all week. One word: trust. That's right. We take no pride in pointing this out, but if you're somebody's boss right now, there's a good chance your employees don't trust you.
"But," you say, "I've done nothing to betray their trust!" And you may be right. But the nefarious few have spoiled it for the trustworthy majority. As PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi put it, "The victims...may not differentiate between guilty and innocent parties. Everyone...could take a share of the blame, deserved or not."
In our latest book, Rebooting Leadership, we noted that trust makes things run much more smoothly, and its lack lends extra stress to a job (the leader's) that's too stressed already. Frito-Lay CEO Al Carey said, in 2009, "We've had an extraordinary year... And I can say that the single biggest contributor has been an increase in trust. We now move through enormously complex decisions at breakneck speed." Here are some trust remedies we think will help you:
- Start by making only agreements you fully intend to keep. This means taking a hard, realistic look at your priority list, and being willing to say "no" to more things than you sign up for. Better to disappoint temporarily now, than permanently later.
- Own your mistakes, and clean up your own messes. Don't pretend it didn't happen, and don't for a second think that others won't notice. They will, and Google, Twitter, and the iPhone will help them do it faster than ever. Step out quickly and say when you've blown it. Empathize, apologize, and make people whole as best you can. Ask for forgiveness, re-earn their trust, and move on. Netflix demonstrated this earlier this week, when they reversed their ill-conceived decision to separate DVD's from streaming videos, following the recent redefinition of their business. They were a little slow to hear the hue and cry from unhappy customers, but as customer vitriol morphed into customer defections, the wax cleared from their ears, and they got about the business of re-earning trust. Bank of America, are you paying attention?
- Be sensitive to appearances. Ask, "Do my employees trust me? Do I ever give them reason not to? What could this look like?" Be smart about it, but go out of your way to be transparent, truthful, and trustworthy.
- Be more visible. Get out of your office or cube and go on a daily listening tour. When you and other leaders are constantly sequestered in an office or conference room, your employees can only conclude that you're in there plotting something that doesn't bode well for them.
One last piece of advice. This year, when your employees don't remember that Sunday is National Boss Day (and they won't), resolve to treat Monday (or the day after you read this) as National Worker Day. Tell them, and mean it, how much you appreciate them, and start a well-practiced habit of asking how you can be of help.