'What's in it for me?' The question posed fairly and squarely. Barbwire moments passed, and I remember wondering what had happened to make him feel this way. It was years ago, but I still recall the disappointment etched on his face and the harshness of his voice.
It seems clear that a lack of trust lay at the heart of the matter. The essential contract of trust between the individual and the organisation had utterly broken down. Whose fault was this? Who knows but the result was there to see: unhappiness, the withdrawal of goodwill and a miserly attitude to exerting effort to help others.
It is a sign of a healthy business is when people no longer feel the need to ask 'what's in it for me?' Rather there is a commitment and real connection. The question becomes 'how can I help?' and there is a keen sense that 'we're in this together.'
So what are the essential attributes of a trusted and trusting organisation? In my view these manifest in the following way:
1. Purpose of the organisation is clear and explainable
People need a purpose. It is one of the most basic human instincts. Leaders who are skilled at communicating the mission of the organisation will engage people and makes them proud to be a part of the effort. It is vital to help people see where they fit into this mission and how their work matters.
2. Individual contribution is recognised and valued at every level
People are made to feel valued and their work valuable, whatever their role. Leaders can amplify this when they are consistent and courteous in their behaviour, open in their communication and give timely acknowledgement of a job well done. Amazing things can happen when people feel valued. Most want to repeat the experience and will try harder, do more and go further to achieve this. Good leaders understand the white-hot power of genuine, respectful appreciation and how it can motivate people to strive beyond mere competency.
3. Listening is considered an essential skill
People are encouraged to speak up with their ideas or concerns without fear of being judged or made to feel foolish. The leadership sets the tone here by allowing people the space to do this. Great leaders seek out views at every level and don't listen to the loudest voice. They will typically ask people the following questions and listen hard to the answers:
- What should you spend more time doing?
- What should you stop doing?
- What can you do about these?
- If your work was award-winning, what would be your focus?
4. Critical feedback is timely, honest and delivered with kindness
Feedback offered without due consideration to the impact can destroy rapport. Alternatively, thoughtful communication can strengthen relationships and develop real understanding. Good leaders take the time to consider the effect of feedback - especially if it is critical - and reflect on the clarity of the communication before jumping in. Kindness is not weakness. It isn't the same as fudging a hard message. Quite the reverse. Nothing damages trust more than sensing a person is holding back the truth. Likewise taking issues to the source is far better than complaining behind someone’s back which is the simplest way to undermine any relationship.
5. Personal responsibility and accountability are encouraged
Great leaders know that coaching culture can create a mindset that focused on finding solutions. Things go wrong. Life's like that. The leadership of a healthy organisation discourages a blame culture. People are seldom the sole cause of problems. Frequently it is poor process coupled with inadequate communication and insufficient training or too little of the right resource. Sometimes people are incorrectly incentivised.
Problems are to be solved. Rather than wasting time admiring the mess, good leaders will deal draw people to them and learn from the situation then work collaboratively to put things right. In the process, they will hold people to account and accept personal responsibility and expect their performance to receive the same treatment.
Trust starts with self-awareness of the effect you have on others and being mindful of the result. As trust flourishes so will collaboration which in turn fosters creativity and innovation. People shine and find deep satisfaction in doing excellent work when they have trusting relationships.