Without people’s trust in one another and particularly in management and their strategic direction, change efforts can’t succeed. This point is driven home in a book entitled The Psychological Contract of Trust by Robert W. Rogers. He begins by talking about his father, who worked for the same company for 42 years. “When he retired, he received a gold watch, his pension, and full medical coverage for life. He never considered working anywhere else, knowing that if he performed well in his job, there would be periodic increases in responsibility and pay as well as a job he could count on to support his family. Even today, more than two decades after his retirement, my father still speaks frequently about ‘his’ company and its successes and failures over the years. A very clear bond of trust existed between my father and the company that employed him. Consequently the organization received maximum effort and commitment from a talented, dedicated employee.”
We all know the post-World War II era is gone, and global competition has caused dramatic changes. To demonstrate, Rogers quotes Perry Pascarella, editor-in-chief of Industry Week. He writes, “The corporate message to tomorrow’s managers might well be cast in bronze: We can’t promise you how long we will be in business. We can’t promise we won’t be bought by another company. We can’t promise there will be room for promotion. We can’t promise you your job will exist until you reach retirement age. We can’t promise the money will be available for your pension when you retire. We can’t expect your undying loyalty, and we’re not even sure we want it.”
Well, we better want loyalty. Rebuilding trust between employees and leaders needs to be every organization’s first strategic objective. It needs to be where top managers spend their time. It’s how Caterpillar executive Jim Despain led Track-Type Tractors Division to profitability and acclaim as a successful business and a great place to work. When trust-based leadership replaced power-based leadership, the company and its people thrived.
In his book, And Dignity for All, to be published by Financial Times Prentice Hall in February 2003, Despain talks about the difficulties and rewards of becoming a values-based leader: “The road to change for me began with the value of Trust. My epiphany was the realization that for my entire life I had trusted no one. I had been taught not to—not purposely, but in subtle ways. Over many years I was encouraged to ‘write things down’ for the purpose of ‘proving’ my innocence later if conflict or failure should occur. I had learned to not discuss certain things with certain people, to ‘spin’ information to make things seem better, and to never fully admit being responsible for mistakes or failure. And I was a very good student. After struggling most of one night with what I should do, I decided to trust everyone—everyone. If I were going to get hurt from this, then hurt I would get. This decision at this moment liberated me! From then on, I saw people differently. I began to care for them and was willing to listen without judgment. Later I would see how feelings of trust would permeate our organization and would witness the power of it.”
So what is this amazing thing called trust? Rogers defines trust as confidence and describes specific behaviors to support it. Trust is confidence that…
- Others’ actions are consistent with their words.
- Those people with whom you work are concerned about your welfare and interests apart from what you can do for them.
- Skills you have developed are respected and valued by your co-workers and the larger organization.
- Who you are and what you believe truly matter in the workplace.
Track-Type Tractors Division defines it as “believing everyone embracing the values of the division will do what is best for the customer, each other, and the enterprise.” It then lists specific behaviors that express it. Trust is…
- Sharing information freely in all directions, both good news and bad news.
- Respecting matters of confidentiality.
- Eliminating fear of breaking away from familiar ways of thinking and acting.
- Demonstrating openness and honesty in business relationships.
- Expecting people to perform their mission and be accountable.
Bob Gordon, a senior manager who worked with Despain to develop a trust-based workplace, part of the Our Common Values initiative, said, “One has to take deep satisfaction in taking part in a process that makes a difference in the lives of your associates at work—with that difference culminating in outstanding results. It was fun and a joy to be part of this transformation.” IBI