Sunday, January 5, 2014

Trust me - This is important

I know -  the title of this post sounds a lot like spam mail. But if you are here to read this, it seems you trusted me. And this is what this post is all about - Trust.

2013 was my year of trust. I committed to running my own business as a coach, consultant, trainer, enthusiast for all things agile. And I jumped into this business without extensive analysis and business plans - I decided to trust in myself to pull it off. Luckily, others trusted me - my family for one trusted me that I could earn enough to put food on the table (sometimes I even cooked it), and the customers I found trusted me to help them with their agile efforts. And I worked in some partnerships where I had no doubt it would work out because I trusted the person or organisation to get the job done and treat the partnership fairly.

As a Management 3.0 trainer, I had to think of the four types of trust we teach as part of the team empowerment module:

Image by Jurgen Appelo

1 - I trust my partners to treat me fairly and help get the job at the customer done well
2 - My family trusts me to provide for them and my customers trust me to help them
4 - I trust myself to being good at what I do and to being able to run a business based on that
3 - didn't come up above.  I know in my family everyone trusts each other and I believe this is also true for the partners I worked with.  I am not so sure that was the case with all of my customers, though...

Why am I going on about trust and how it helped me? Because it can help everyone!  Because I think there is not enough of it going around. I have lost count on how often I have encouraged people in organisations to have more trust in each other. Most people interested in increasing agility in their organisation understand  that the old-style management of command and control must be done away with. As a leader, if you trust the people you lead to do what you ask them to do, you will feel less of a need to control them. And if you trust in their competence, you will command them less, because you let them decide more on their own.

If a team you lead trusts you, it will generally mean that they will be less afraid to make their own decisions, to experiment and also to fail, as long as you made it clear that this is acceptable (maybe even desirable - this is still one of the best ways to learn).

How can we learn to trust each other more? This is a question I like to ask participants in my Management 3.0 classes. Check out some of the results:


Transparency and Openness are consistently on the list. And I am a firm believer that this is the single biggest contributor to trust. No hidden agenda. No 'For Your Eyes Only' stuff. No selective information distribution. If this is not possible than more often than not it points to a problem in your organization anyway. Yes, there are limits, especially when it goes into the personal area. But I can only emphasize that open communication and transparency are so valuable that it is worthwhile to consider going past your usual comfort limit in what you let others know about you and the business you run or are in charge of. Dare to bare! And if you think some things must stay secret then think about why this is. It just might be that you have to fix something, like unfair salaries.

Another favorite: Practice what you preach, in other words - do what you tell others to do. Don't tell people to trust each other and at the same time implement extra control mechanisms to check on them. If you suggest travel expenses should be lowered make sure that you pick the affordable options rather than the comfortable ones. (Seems obvious, but I have more than once seen the CEO travel first class after having told the organization that 'we all have to save money'. Remember the CEOs of the the major US car manufacturers flying in to the Senate bail out meetings by private jet. Who would trust them?)

Walk the talk means keep your promises, follow through with your announcements. Clearly this increases trust. If I can rely on someone to do what they say I will trust that person more than someone who does not follow through with  their promises. It's worth mentioning that this is true even if the promises/announcements are not along my own wishes and convictions.

And finally there is Lead by example. Some people think this is the same as Practice what you preach but the difference is - there is no sermon. As a leader you will influence people and organizations through your actions. To do this well,you need to trust yourself (see type 4 above), meaning you need to stick to your principles and values and live and act by them. Trusting people in your organisation without a large bag of preconditions attached will foster trustfulness in your organizations culture by all those who experience your trust. And if something goes wrong - don't panic, don't jump to control mechanisms but try to learn (also as an organization) from the failure. And trust that it will work better the next time.

Treat trust as an investment. Not only will you learn from a failed trust experiment which will generally make up for the cost of the failure. By leading with trust you will lay the foundations for a positive, trustful culture which will more than make up for the few instances where the trust is abused and was not justified.  

You may think me naive, but I have lived well on the assumption that most people are honest, fair and capable to do what they set out to do. The world is not full of con-artists and thieves nor is it full of people who do not know how to do their jobs. I'd rather give more trust to people and experience the occasional disappointment than lead a live full of suspicion and doubt about the people in my environment. It makes me happier, and I think it infects my environment with more trust and happiness. Try it! I think it will work for you, too. Trust me on that...


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