Last week, my good friend and business colleague, Gary Winter (see the post script to Harvard Business School article, “The Great Training Robbery”, which concerns the famous turn-round at Asda during the 1990s in which Gary was deeply immersed), told me about a programme he listened to on BBC Radio 4. In this, a prominent CEO spoke about doubting the necessity for their employees to remain working from home (WFH). The CEO felt they should be “keen and willing” to return to the workplace and their fears and concerns about Covid-19 were both mis-guided and misplaced (so singing from the same song sheet as President Trump uttering, “Do not be afraid,” upon his return to the White House from hospital). To us, it sounds as though this CEO does not trust their employees’ commitment.
Is this a widespread sentiment?
Leaders’ comments about WFH – an issue bilateral of trust
In this article in The Times, see https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/is-home-working-more-productive-bosses-arent-sure-p6shfhjtt, Jamie Dimon, CEO of J.P. Morgan laments about “… the lack of ‘creative combustion’” in his largely empty offices. Dimon also passed comment about productivity at the bank, which employs 257,000 people with 16,000 in the UK, being noticeably lower on Mondays and Fridays. As the article’s writer says, “… this comes close to implying that his colleagues are skiving either side of the weekend.”
In same article, Lord Wolfson of Aspley Guise, the Chief Executive of Next, spoke about “death by deck” being one drawback of home working, i.e. Zoom meetings involving being walked through a lengthy set of PowerPoint slides, along with “… the absence of those chance meetings and spontaneous conversations that can make a business sing. At its best, an office can be a cauldron for new ideas and enhanced collaboration.” (I do wonder if people are making adequate use of some of the meeting systems’ functionality that provide “drop-in” places and private rooms.)
On the other hand, Wolfson said his home-based colleagues were less stressed from the absence of a commute, less distracted and often more focused and more effective (I like effective as it means far fewer mistakes and associated cost of re-work). “At best, these new ways of working have engendered independence of action, creativity and stimulated innovation,” said his Lordship.
Elsewhere, at Barclays (my old employer), the bank’s CEO signalled he wanted employees working from home during the pandemic to return to the office over time. “It is important to get people back together in physical concentrations,” he told Bloomberg TV in July. As the second wave of Covid-19 looms large, those signals are now more muted.
At NatWest, signals appear to be more consistent with the bank saying staff can continue to work from home until next year. One might have thought NatWest would toe the government’s party line more explicitly in view of its largest shareholder being the government. Is Alison Rose, the bank’s CEO, showing a pleasing slice of independent thought and decision making?
Societe Generale said it was also “adapting its position in line with UK government guidance” about WFM. Lloyd’s of London said it had told its 800 directly employed staff to work from home but that this did not apply to the independent brokers who use its Lime Street headquarters. “Lloyd’s underwriting room is certified as a Covid-secure environment and will remain open for market participants,” the company said.
Of these various leaders, who is most likely to cultivate an organisational climate in which trust is as distinctive as the letters in a stick of rock? In posing that question, I saw this article, https://www.hrmagazine.co.uk/article-details/workers-trust-robots-more-than-their-managers-1/354083/?utm_content=Workers%20trust%20robots%20more%20than%20their%20managers&utm_campaign=HR07Oct20&utm_source=HR%20Magazine&utm_medium=adestra_email&utm_term=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.hrmagazine.co.uk%2Farticle-details%2Fworkers-trust-robots-more-than-their-managers-1%2F%24AMF_FIELD_mab_userid%24%2F, posted by HR Magazine saying workers trust robots more than their managers. Yikes!
Trust in organisations should be bilateral, that is managers trust their people to continue to work from home diligently, efficiently, and effectively. In turn, those employees trust their leaders to do all the right things to protect their health and well-being in those instances when they do return to their offices.
Is WFH a phenomenon that will only exist during the period of the pandemic? If what has been proven to work technologically is not undone by undue socio-political pressures, it is likely to become a preferred approach to work for many. Consider these two articles, one from University of Arkansas, https://researchfrontiers.uark.edu/pandemic-accelerated-remote-work-a-trend-likely-to-remain/, the other from Clare Foges writing in The Times, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/59f4c1ec-f080-11ea-9de6-a6e4d4016fb7.
I suggest WFH is here to stay perhaps not as extensively as now but, for many, it will form a significant component of a new hybrid way of working.
What is trust?
One definition of trust I found was, “A firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.” Additionally, that trust is the foundation on which all enduring relationships are built and thrive.
Consider this series of quotes from noted individuals which characterise that fragility. Like a fine piece of bone china sculpture that has taken ages to create, it can shatter if handled carelessly.
Anton Chekhov, “You must trust and believe in people or life becomes impossible.”
Arthur Ashe, “Trust has to be earned and should come only after the passage of time.”
Albert Einstein, “Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.”
Friedrich Nietzsche, “I’m not upset that you lied to me, I`m upset that from now on I can`t believe you.”
Lao Tzu, “(S)he who does not trust enough will not be trusted.”
Peter Drucker, “Leadership is an achievement of trust.” Drucker also made the following, powerful statement, “The leaders who work most effectively, it seems to me, never say ‘I’. And that is not because they have trained themselves not to say ‘I’. They don’t think ‘I’. They think ‘we’; they think ‘team’. They understand their job to be to make the team function. They accept responsibility and don’t sidestep it, but ‘we’ gets the credit… this is what creates trust, what enables you to get the task done.” (That merits reading at least three times to allow it to sink in!)
Matthew Syed, “… an invisible thread was created between people – a force field of trust that is the prerequisite for trade, investment and other boons to humanity.
Words often used in any discussion about trust are “integrity” and “honesty”, very often interchangeably. Yet, they are different as this quote from US physician, Spencer Johnson, spells out better than most, “Integrity is telling myself the truth. Honesty is telling the truth to other people.”
The topic of trust is richly covered in business management and psychology literature. One noted set of articles can be found in this Harvard Busines Review compilation, https://hbr.org/cover-story/2019/07/the-trust-crisis. Ten years ago in the dark umbra following the financial crash of 2008, historian and educationalist, Sir Anthony Seldon, wrote a book called “Trust – How we lost it and how to get it back”.
Trust and culture
Research and consultancy firm, Gallup, recently published this report, https://www.gallup.com/workplace/232682/culture-paper-2018.aspx. It affirms the idea of culture representing “how we do things here”. Considering the quotes cited earlier, what is done and how it is done are the kindling that lights the fire of trust. Whether or not there is trust will affect the health of an organisation’s climate, defined as “how it feels to work here”.
In its paper, Gallup states that less than half of U.S. employees — four in 10 — strongly agree that the mission or purpose of their company makes them feel their job is important; only 26% of U.S. workers believe their organization always delivers on the promises they make to customers. What do these bald statistics suggest about trust? If there is so little attachment or engagement with what their firm does, is it realistic to assume employees will willingly crowd back onto public transport to commute to work in view of trains and buses being environments in which there is far greater likelihood of being exposed to asymptomatic Covid-19 carriers?
The “how we do things here” culture of some organisations appears tainted by a growing lack of trust. A variety of articles indicate firms will increase the degree of surveillance undertaken of their employees working from home, see https://www.npr.org/2020/05/13/854014403/your-boss-is-watching-you-work-from-home-boom-leads-to-more-surveillance?t=1599491799756. If you back to Elton Mayo’s work at the Hawthorne plant of Western Electric in the 1920s and 30s, intense scrutiny may initially jolt productivity upwards but it does not prevail and as soon as the scrutiny reduces so too does performance. Another article I read spoke of bosses monitoring employees’ Strava feeds. Quite clearly, if you cycle, do not make your feed public! Will all this scrutiny engender or eradicate trust?
Many years ago, when this blog’s host, Trevor Sherman, worked with me at Barclays Bank’s contact centre in Liverpool, call recording was introduced. Naturally, being Liverpool, this was viewed with some scepticism! At the team’s behest, a positive recognition scheme was wrapped around the nascent technology, namely “call of the month”. Off their own back, agents submitted recordings of calls they considered exceeded their customers’ service expectations. What was initially considered as “big brother” came to be viewed as a means to be coached and developed. Standards were no longer lowest common denominators to avoid falling below, but higher aspirations to attain through marginal gains in performance growth.
The Trust Equation
What needs to be done to strengthen inclusivity and to build a sense of common purpose to cohere everyone together fully cognizant they are paddling the same boat? Consider the splendid quote from Simon Sinek above this paragraph.
Operating an organisation with the equivalent of Titanic’s class structure will eventually see it founder on the submerged, frozen berg of weak employee engagement. One lifeboat is provided by the Trust Equation, see https://trustedadvisor.com/why-trust-matters/understanding-trust/understanding-the-trust-equation#:~:text=The%20Trust%20Equation%20uses%20four,TQ%20stands%20for%20Trust%20Quotient.
This states that trustworthiness is measured by the sum of credibility plus reliability plus intimacy divided by self-orientation.
Credibility relates to actions, has to do with the words we speak. In a sentence we might say, “I can trust what she says about intellectual property; she’s very credible on the subject.”
Reliability has to do with actions. We might say, “If he says he’ll deliver the product tomorrow, I trust him, because he’s dependable.”
Intimacy refers to the safety or security that we feel when entrusting someone with something. We might say, “I can trust her with that information; she’s never violated my confidentiality before, and she would never embarrass me.”
Self-orientation refers to the person’s focus. In particular, whether the person’s focus is primarily on themselves, or on the other person. We might say, “I can’t trust her on this deal — I don’t think she cares enough about me, she’s focused on what she gets out of it.” Or more commonly, “I don’t trust him — I think he’s too concerned about how he’s appearing, so he’s not really paying attention.”
One way of avoiding hitting the icefloes and holing the vessel of your organisation below its waterline is provided by Shay McConnon’s system of measurement, “An Even Better Place to Work” (AEBP2W).
An Even Better Place to Work – a proxy measure of trust
Through a short yet pervasive 28-item questionnaire, AEBP2W, measures the health of an organisation. Seven behavioural factors are considered, all of which transmit trust around an enterprise be it for profit or not.
Feeling valued – people are made to feel special
Openness – people are receptive to new ideas and engage in candid, two-way communication
Feedback – people recognise the importance of regular constructive feedback to improving performance
Motivation – people have positive feelings about their job and possess an intrinsic drive to succeed at achieving their aims and objectives
Difference management – people ensure differences are not allowed to get in the way of work being done but are celebrated and seen as a source of strength
Ownership – people take ownership for getting their needs met rather than grumble and moan
Conflict Management – people nip disagreements in the bud which means ongoing, simmering, dysfunctional conflict is minimised, and time is not wasted dealing with it when tiffs mutate into disputes.
Measurement output is generated at the levels of individual, team, function, division, whole organisation. Above the individual employee, each level represents a proxy rating for the calibre of the various leaders’ behaviour, i.e. by proxy, how trustworthy they are.
Behaviour and trust
Leaders who fail to deliver these seven behavioural characteristics will not build mutually, reciprocating trust. Instead, they will witness three viral mutations of trust infect their firms.
A “command and control” leader will precipitate an untrusting pall smother their organisation. No one trusts anyone, everyone is looking over their shoulder wondering who is next going to knife them in the back (stabbing someone in the front may command a grain of begrudging trust because the person acts overtly rather than duplicitously).
A manager who is ambivalent and risk averse will distrust others’ ulterior motives while trusting their own cautionary nature as the best way for the organisation to avoid getting itself into hot water. The likelihood is a firm will simply tread water and be overtaken by others where people do trust each other’s initiative and commitment to innovation.
The genial, likeable leader trusts everyone and is often caught out by mistrusting those whose ulterior motives they fail to read. They are too easily manipulated.
Those leaders who are firm yet fair, who exude “tough love”, i.e. they demonstrate purpose and proactivity concurrent with being caring and compassionate. I call this being a BFB, see previous blogs at https://www.tsp-uk.co.uk/general-leadership/an-abc-of-leadership-and-management/ and https://www.tsp-uk.co.uk/general-leadership/role-of-a-leader/the-curse-of-the-accidental-manager/.
I believe BFBs behave far more humanely, i.e. they show a greater degree of humility without diluting their fierce resolve (see Jim Collins’s Level 5 leadership). Consequently, trust quickly starts to take deep root in these leaders’ organisations. Ask yourselves these two questions:
Who are the BFBs you have worked for… or FBs?
More importantly, as a leader are you a BFB or FB?
In my next article, I shall consider some basic vaccines that can be administered to prevent these trust pathogens causing irreversible harm to an organisation’s climate and its ability to compete and perform.