Trust: The Overlooked Ingredient to a Successful Culture

When I was 30 years old, I was given the task of chairing the negotiating committee for my organization.  I suspect this was mostly an honorary title, since my boss was also on the team and sent me into battle with the inspiring speech, “I’ll be right there to make sure you don’t burn the place down!”  We were charged with hammering out a three year salary and benefit agreement for the non-contracted employees.  This group had agreed they did not want to unionize, but they wanted the safety of working under a collective bargaining agreement.  I had been warned that the prior negotiations had been filled with contention and mistrust, and they were a very difficult group to deal with.  This would be my boss’ first experience with these negotiations as well, and he was the polar opposite of a man who sought out disagreement.   On the first day, in my opening remarks, I commented to the group that our goal was to seek a fair compensation plan that provided above average pay for them, but allowed the Organization to operate without having to significantly cut other budget programs.  The women across the table from me immediately let out a gasp of air and exclaimed, “Every year, the overpaid management talks to us about fair pay when they are the one’s who need to cut back their exorbitant salaries to share the wealth and not have program cuts!”  While I paused grasping for a response, my boss replied, “You think we are overpaid?  Maybe your right.” And he pulled out a sheet that listed the annual salaries of everyone in management, including him and I, and passed it across the table.  After studying it for five minutes, the woman passed it back to me and said, “I apologize.  I assumed for years management was paid significantly more.  Quite frankly, you are underpaid.”  From that point on, the rest of the negotiations sailed along.  Not because they felt sorry for us, because we immediately removed the perception that we can’t be trusted.  Every time there was a question by the group regarding programs, services or anything that management would, in the past, be reluctant to share, we openly provided the information.  Not only did the tone of the negotiations change, but the entire culture of the Organization changed.  The veil of secrecy was lifted in all areas.  Nothing was off limits and management established a true open door policy. No matter who you were or what you did, you were provided the right to an answer to your question.  For my twenty year career at this Organization, it was a magical ride, and a clear example of how trust is the main ingredient to building a successful culture.

I later asked my boss how he had that salary list so readily available.  He told me that he had heard this was always an issue for the group, but wanted to look incredibly prepared in my eyes!  The man had a flare for the dramatic.  Although he may not have been as clairvoyant as I imagined, he did master the complexities of building trust with some key ingredients.

Open Communication

In the 2016 Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement report from the Society for Human Resource Management, 55 percent of employees surveyed rated trust between employees and senior management as very important to their job satisfaction, but only 27 percent said that they were satisfied with this kind of trust at their organization.  At some point in the history of management, it was determined that the average worker cannot be trusted with information. The fear being that if management shares certain information, it will result in low morale and decreased productivity.  Ironically, or sadly, this is the result of not practicing the art of timely sharing.  Do you need to publish the salaries of top management?  Maybe not, but finding that happy medium is the key to a content employee.  Openly discuss strategic plans, share program costs along with their objectives and engage employees in as many decisions as you can without overwhelming them.  One year, we decided to spend a significant amount of money on landscaping for the  campus.  Before we started, we openly discussed the plan, the cost and the ROI we believed we would incur.  And then we went deeper by drawing a line to other programs and services in the budget.  By sharing that information, we assured everyone that this landscaping could stand on it’s own and we provided them proof that they would be able to see if we cut anything to support it.  There will always be opposition, but that opposition goes from obstinate “over my dead body” opposition, to “I wouldn’t do it, but I’ve said my peace” professional opposition.  There is a big difference, and it will eventually show in your company’s bottom line.

Listen and Respect

Open communication means nothing if you aren’t listening to your team.  One of my colleagues refers to this as the “I hear what your saying, and I agree, now let me go do this anyway” syndrome.  If you communicate openly, be prepared to accept the feedback and be willing to act and/or comply.  Do not go off in your own direction despite the input from your team.  More importantly, you’ve hired your team for a reason.  Employees want to feel empowered, and have some level of autonomy.  They want to know that you trust them to do their job, and that you respect their input and respect their talent.  Being in the event production business, it’s self serving for me to suggest a wide variety of team building or appreciation events.  But as your professional event planner, my very first suggestion to you would be to create a culture of empowerment.  Without it, all your attempts at appreciation events will fall flat because there will always be that lingering air of disrespect and mistrust.  Face painters, loud music and a giant slide cannot change a culture that does not have mutual respect.

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