Paul Holmes

Article Summary:

Practical steps help build trust and motivate employees to take responsibility.

Practical Steps To Increasing Employee Trust And Responsibility

Professional people always take great pride in their work, and this often translates to pride in the organizations they work for. Paradoxically, they equally often lack a sense of belonging to the organization. They may well like and admire their direct supervisors, but lack confidence in the leadership, forward planning and sense of direction provided by the top management.

Clearly, professionals in organizations have aspirations that are not always met.

Management guru Chris Argyris looked at this problem in a broader context. He said there are two rules in operation that govern the interaction between management and employees.

The first rule says that employees must tell the whole truth about their work, the norms and practices of their groups, and the strengths and weaknesses of their supervisors. Other aspects of their working lives, such as their personal goals, their feelings, their failings and their conflicting motives, are taken for granted. No one asks about them.

The second rule says that top managers are entirely responsible for the well-being of employees and the success of the organization. They must act to modify or correct their own behaviour or the organization's directions, in response to the expressed needs of the employees.

In other words, the role of the employees is to educate, and the role of the management is to act. The result is that whatever solutions the management proposes, the workers do not share ownership, they do not 'buy-in,' and their motivation remains external.

It appears that the managers work for the benefit of the staff rather than the staff working for the benefit of the organization.

Modern corporate communication techniques such as attitude surveys can make the situation worse. They can block crucial organizational learning even as they point to solutions to some of the problems.

Surveys help to gather simple information about what is going on. They also promote defensive reasoning, by encouraging staff to believe that it is their proper role to criticize management, while it is the proper role of management to take action and fix whatever is wrong.

This attitude discourages the process of asking questions about the reasons and motives behind the facts. It stops people examining their own behaviour, taking personal responsibility for their own action and inaction. It hides any potentially threatening or embarrassing information that could produce real change.

If an organization is to make progress, it needs to do two things. The first is to recognize the scope for improvement in its own health. It is never a superficial matter of improving communications. Complaints of poor communication about the organization's strategy and direction are just a symptom of underlying needs.

The second thing the organization needs to do is to accept that building success is everyone's job. It isn't something that can be done by management directive, especially not by the kind of directive or statement that merely indicates to everyone how far out of touch the management is.

Managers are responsible for results, not satisfaction, and contentment cannot be used as an indicator of success. The staff needs to understand and respond to realities, which may include reorganization, reposting and an uncomfortable rate of change, no matter how painful they find them.

An organization needs people who think constantly and creatively about the organization's needs: people who have, as Argyris says, as much intrinsic motivation and as deep a sense of personal stewardship as any top manager. You can help yourself to find and develop such people if you look for and recognize beneficial change wherever it is happening, then nurture and build on it.

Here are some practical steps for managers to take:

  • Make sure you believe in the organization's values, mission and strategy yourself. If you're not clear about what they are and your commitment to them, how can you expect anyone else to be?

  • Build trust, by being consistent, reliable, present and empathetic. Be loyal, especially to those who are not in earshot. Be truthful and open with information, and generous in giving credit where it is due. Be collaborative, using win-win techniques to resolve conflict. Be parsimonious, most of all with that most precious resource of all, time. Be courteous at all times. Earn trust by trusting others.

  • Practice visible leadership. Go looking for things to praise, and when you find them, talk about how they fit into the organization's strategy and how important they are in helping to fulfil its mission. Make someone's day.

  • Choose a positive attitude. Talk up the organization, its mission, its strategy and its achievements at every opportunity. Keep a smile on your face. Make all your language positive.

  • Encourage creativity. Allow the staff to play a little. Join in, when you can. Whenever there's a new solution to an old problem, try it out, as quickly as you can. If it works, keep it. If not, move on, quickly.

  • Encourage a questioning attitude, but make sure the employees know that they're expected to answer them themselves. Ask, 'How can we make this work?' rather than saying, 'This won't work because...' Expect your staff to do the same.

  • Encourage staff to take responsibility. Start by encouraging open and blame-free discussion in your team. Get everyone to contribute their ideas, hopes and fears for the future. Make sure everyone understands and shares the same set of values for your work. Make sure everyone understands what their job is. Publish accountability. Then let them get on with it. Treat mistakes as opportunities for learning, never occasions for blame. Make rewards for success proportionate and immediate. Give praise publicly.

  • Don't waste your own time. According to David Taylor, the biggest time-wasters in a manager's life, in ascending order, are:
    • Budgeting
    • Accessing the right information at the right time
    • Playing e-mail tag, or the cc game
    • Finding out who owns what
    • Attendance at internal meetings

If you've got a clear idea where you are going, if you focus on what you need to know to drive your business forward, make sure all your communication is positive and appropriate, and set clear defined expectations for who does what and what outcomes you expect from meetings, you will minimize the time wasting. Then you'll have more time to spend with the staff, encouraging them to take responsibility!

Dr Paul Holmes is an international speaker, author, trainer and business adviser, who specializes in helping technical experts to reach peak performance in leadership and communications. To find helpful free hints and tips, visit and click the link to 'Resources".

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