People choose to grant or withhold trust in other people based on how they perceive their intent or motive. That is, whether they believe that those people are in the relationship to ‘give’ or to ‘get’ from them. Further to this, people trust those they believe care for them, who trust them and are fair in their dealings with them.
What this means for those in managerial roles in organisations is five things:
Managers need to understand and accept that it is their people, not themselves, who decide whether to trust them or not. Managers, in other words, have authority (vested in the position they hold) but they only have power by permission. Managers must acknowledge that they only lead to the degree to which they have mobilised the consent of their people to them doing so. They need to realise that they don’t have the right to demand delivery of others because of their ‘rank’ or because they pay them to deliver – they must earn the right to do so.
In every situation their people’s trust will be gained or lost depending on whether managers pass or fail the intent test. They pass the intent test every time they choose to suspend their agenda for their people’s agenda, they put their people’s interest before their own, or they do the right thing rather than the expedient thing. Sometimes the choice that managers make is of such import that their people will forever thereafter walk through fire for them; or conversely, the trust will be irretrievably lost. But these defining moments are rare. Rather, trust is gained or lost in increments in daily interactions between managers and their people. Trust is gained whenever managers really listen to and attend to their employees’ concerns, when they accord credit to their teams for success while taking the blame for failure. Trust increases whenever managers put their careers on the line to bat for their teams, or when they take a risk by appointing someone with potential rather than giving the job to ‘a safe pair of hands’. Equally, trust is lost whenever managers ‘take the shine’, when they block a move for selfish gains or turn a blind eye to bad behaviour because of skills they don’t want to lose. The choices managers make are under constant scrutiny – they are what people use as the basis for trusting or withholding trust in those in charge.
For managers to be trusted their people need to be convinced that their managers truly care for them. This will never be the case if people are not paid decently, work under unsafe conditions, or work without basic facilities. But care is not about pay and benefits, it is about what one human being does for another. That human being is the employee’s immediate manager, not someone in the People Function. Direct reports will only believe that management cares about them when their immediate manager does the following: she gets to know her people as human beings not human resources and she builds personal connections with them. Further to this, she spends sufficient time with her people, demonstrating that they are more important to her than other matters that she could give attention to. Most importantly, managers must show genuine and appropriate concern for personal circumstances. In every instance, managers must show they really care by putting the wellbeing of their people before the results.
The most common answer to the question ‘why do you trust your manager?’ is ‘because my manager trusts me’. Fourthly, therefore, managers earn trust and gain power by giving up control. Each incremental suspension of control suggests a degree of trust and entrustment by management. It implies a preparedness by management to assume their people are trustworthy. Then and only then are there people in a position to demonstrate their trustworthiness. The more managers trust their people, the more management is trusted and gains power. Allied to the handover of decision-making authority by management is a preparedness by management to disclose or share information with their people. When managers take their people into their confidence, when they share information they could elect not to share, they are trusting that the information will not be used against them. The same virtuous circle plays out.
Finally, what people want from their managers is not for them to be ‘nice’ to them, but for them to be fair in all their dealings with them. Firstly, that means that managers do not display prejudice or favouritism. It also means that when performance or behaviour is below standard, they take the time to find out why this is so and respond appropriately. It also means that they discipline and reward people fairly. Managers know that they are being fair when people don’t rail against disciplinary action, when the average person believes that his rewards reflect contribution made, and that both promotions and exits are seen to be just and fair.
Managers will only be trusted, and thus have employees who are prepared to go above and beyond for them, when they put their people before the results, put their people’s interest before their own, care for them, trust them, and are fair.