The last – and most important - of our seven principles is trust. Although it is the most important, it is last for a reason.
You can’t have trust without the other six principles in place. A friend of mine was often complaining about her manager, and one of the things she often said was ‘I just don’t trust him’. So one day I asked her why. She launched into a bit of a tirade, I was almost sorry I asked.
‘I knew that in whatever situation he wouldn’t put my interests first, always the organisation or himself. He wouldn’t have my back, even if I was following his instructions, it would be my head on the chopping block, and he wouldn’t even have blinked.
If demands were made for the team to work in a different way, he’d just agree to it without asking us if it caused any problems, even agreeing to things that went against our employment contract, things that jeopardised our safety, because his bosses wanted it. He’d just buckle under pressure, and never look out for us. When the problems were brought to his attention, he just became patronising, belittling the danger. He would never admit he’d made a mistake.
A new, junior member of staff once did something that breached client confidentiality – it was accidental, it wasn’t malicious. It was serious, and she needed to be called on it, but this manager bawled her out over it in front of everyone. He didn’t take the time to work out if she had missed out on training, he just tore off a strip, I’ll show my managers I’m coming down hard on you.
To meet our tough performance targets, we needed to work extra hours, and we’d often done this out of goodwill. But if he hadn’t got our backs, why should I have his? All goodwill went, our motivation was totally depleted. In another role, I often went over and above if the team needed it, I would do it because I knew they had my back.’
I asked my friend how she felt now about this experience. She said that even now, more than a couple of years later, she felt angry about it, and it took a lot more experience before she realised it wasn’t her fault. It still irritates her that she judges her work surroundings by it. She isn’t fully happy in her current role, but is relieved it’s not as shit as that.
I’m sad for my friend that she had to go through that. I’m sad that she uses that as a benchmark for how good her job is. I’m also sad for the organisation and the people it’s meant to serve.
Let’s dissect some of the things she said about her manager’s behaviour.
He wouldn’t have my back
He’d just agree to it without asking us if it caused any problems
He just became patronising, belittling the danger
He would never admit he’d made a mistake
This manager bawled her out over it in front of everyone
He didn’t take the time to work out if she had missed out on training
Goodwill - if he hadn’t got our backs, why should I have his?
In other words, he wouldn’t support members of his team
Again, showing the lack of support. Also taking away the team members’ autonomy
No appreciation for the team’s opinions, contribution, concerns.
Undermining any trust there might have been
Appalling communication skills
Bawling her out would have no impact on future learning and development. Well, not in a good way.
People who don’t feel valued and appreciated won’t go the extra mile when it’s need.
What effect did this lack of trust have?
Motivation was totally depleted. We lose sight of why we’re doing the job we’re doing if we don’t feel appreciated, supported, have no autonomy, suffering from poor communication amongst our team. Being engaged with our purpose makes us more effective and productive, but this engagement cannot thrive under these conditions.
The new member of staff publicly bawled out probably learned to keep her mouth shut, keep out of the way of the manager if possible. Ruling through fear and intimidation is not a good way to develop your team’s skills in becoming effective. Did she need more training in the rules of client confidentiality? Was this an error or omission on her part, or is it something that should be more effectively trained as part of the induction – are the current systems and processes as effective as they could be?
Another result is that my friend left – she looked for other employment, and found it. So that organisation lost someone with many years of experience in the field, someone who was committed to helping this client group, someone talented and with a lot of commitment to working with this client group, a difficult group to work with. They were left with the alternative of advertising, recruiting and training someone else. As I said last time, it can cost six to nine months salary, or £30,000 to replace a member of staff. Or not replacing her, so that they offered a lesser service, clients lost out, society lost out, the remaining staff were even more stretched and stressed.
And that’s just one team member. Multiply that – how many others did they lose? How much did they lose in sickness absence through stress? How much did they lose having a demotivated team, who were not willing to go the extra mile if necessary, because the manager didn’t have their back?
We’ll look next time at what can be done to develop and increase trust.