Make Sure Your Employees Trust You–Or Else

Wanted to let you know about this recent article that was published in Forbes:

Make Sure Your Employees Trust You–Or Else
Ken Blanchard and Terry Waghorn 03.23.09, 5:48 PM ET

How do you keep people trusting you at a time like this? Trust is essential in our lives, and it has been since the beginning of our country. Our dollar bills say In God We Trust. Yet today trust is all but vanishing, especially trust in our business leaders, whose greed and short-term selfishness seem to have been a major cause of our economic crisis. With negativity running amok, it is no small wonder that trust within the organizational context is slipping.

Yet that need not be the case. “Managed properly, trust can actually grow in such adverse conditions,” says Shawna O’Grady, associate professor of management at Queens School of Business, in Kingston, Ontario. “Taking this point to the extreme, consider the bonds forged between comrades-in-arms in a theater of war.”

The key to building trust in both good and bad times is to realize that none of us is as smart as all of us. There are companies that have embraced this simple truth and used it to maintain trust before, during and, we’re sure, after this economic downturn. All these companies seem to have two characteristics in common.

First, they have a higher purpose than simply making money. Let me give you a couple of examples.

Southwest Airlines, from its beginning, has expressed the conviction that it is in the freedom business. The freedom of all Americans to be with friends and relatives during good times and bad times–thus, their low price structure. Herb Kelleher, who co-founded Southwest, not only wanted to give his customers the lowest possible price, he also wanted to give them the best possible service.

As a result, Southwest is set up to empower everyone, right down to its frontline employees–to make decisions, use their brains and be customer maniacs so they can create raving fan customers.

Chick-fil-A’s purpose is to glorify God by having a positive influence on everyone who comes in contact with its stores and foods. The stores aren’t open on Sundays, even though that is often the busiest day in the fast food industry. S. Truett Cathy, the founder of Chick-fil-A, first did this for religious reasons as a devout Southern Baptist and lifelong Sunday school teacher, because Sunday is the day of rest. But it has turned out to be a good business decision. Chick-fil-A attracts many of its employees, including managers, because they know they will be able to be with their families and friends every Sunday. Has it paid off? The chain has by far the lowest turnover of restaurant managers and frontline employees in the quick-service business.

Second, companies that engender trust democratize the decision-making process by soliciting input and sharing the decision-making itself with as many people as possible. In his primetime address to Congress in February, President Barack Obama acknowledged “difficult and trying times” but sought to rally the nation with an upbeat vow that by working together “we will rebuild, we will recover.” How do you do that in business organizations?

It isn’t complicated. When leaders treat their people as their business partners and involve them in making important decisions, those people feel respected, and respect leads to trust. If you respect your people and they trust you as a leader, they will give their all to get the best results they can for your organization.

Ichak Adizes, a longtime consultant and professor at UCLA, observes how respect and trust are conveyed by both nonverbal and verbal messages. If you respect someone, you face them when you speak to them, because you are interested and want to hear their opinions. If you don’t respect them, you turn your back, because you couldn’t care less what they think. If you trust people, on the other hand, you can turn your back on them, because you feel certain they mean you no harm. If you don’t trust them, you watch their every move.

How does that work at Chick-fil-A and Southwest Airlines? In both cases, they respect their people and therefore share information with them about the performance of the company in both good times and bad. In good times, they celebrate together; in bad times, they are problem-solving partners. Does that work? You’d better believe it.

Unlike many companies today, where the top managers are locked behind closed doors, cutting costs while holding everybody’s fate in their hands, these two great businesses open their books to everyone so they can know what’s happening and go right to work cutting costs and increasing revenue.

Many leaders are afraid to share negative information with their people, because they fear appearing vulnerable and therefore weak. We have found the contrary to be true. Everyone knows leaders are not perfect. When leaders admit problems and involve their people in problem solving, respect and trust rise.

Corporate leaders may also fear Wall Street’s reaction to their trusting moves, but that’s like playing tennis with your eye on the scoreboard and not on the ball. The ball in business is results and people. If the focus is only on results, you’ll never be able to maintain or build trust in a time like this.

What are you doing? Are you betting on the brainpower of your top managers, or on the brainpower of everyone in your organization?

What’s at stake? The future of your company, based much more than you may realize on trust and respect.

Ken Blanchard is co-author of many New York Times bestsellers, including The One Minute Manager and The One Minute Entrepreneur. He serves as chairman and chief spiritual officer of the Ken Blanchard Companies.

Terry Waghorn is an adviser to senior executives in companies ranging from small to Fortune 500. He is co-author of Mission Possible and author of The System.

One thought on “Make Sure Your Employees Trust You–Or Else

  1. I could not help but laugh when I read “Chick-fil-A’s purpose is to glorify God by having a positive influence on everyone who comes in contact with its stores and foods.”
    Anyone who knows about eating healthy will tell you the food is not glorifying the body God has given you.

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