As we come out of the recession and companies prepare forhiring and growth, the level of trust in a company’s culture will have a lot to say about whether that organization will be successful or not. Without trust, employees become what Judy Bardwick, in her article titled "The High Cost of Mistrust," calls actively disengaged. She writes:
The absence of trust is not simply passive—that something is missing. Instead, in the vacuum of trust, mistrust rushes in and fills the void. Mistrust is dangerous and expensive. It means people expect the worst and behave in line with that. Rules to control behavior proliferate, but they are inevitably ineffective because only shared values and trust can really govern behavior. In the face of mistrust, cooperation and teamwork are merely slogans shouted out by executives in the face of increasing narcissism and territoriality. Mistrust means everyone watches their back and not anyone else’s.
And once trust is lost, it is very difficult to earn back. There are exceptions. Burlingham, editor-at-large for Inc. Magazine, writes about a company that had a culture of “trust and track”, lost it, and is now getting it back. Nick’s Pizza & Pub, with two locations in the Chicago suburbs, has an employee turnover rate of just 20% in an industry where 200% is typical and has a net operating profit of between 14% and 18%. But the owner, Nick Sarillo, became sidetracked for a period of time while he was trying to expand into Chicago, and let his systems break down. In the void, his managers created a command-and-control environment that led to costs increasing beyond an acceptable level. Burlingham writes:
The system is an important mechanism for creating a trust-and-track culture and for breaking the habits of command and control. "Managers trained in command and control think it's their responsibility to tell people what to do," Sarillo says. "They like having that power. It gives them their sense of self-worth. But when you manage that way, people see it, and they start waiting for you to tell them what to do. You wind up with too much on your plate, and things fall through the cracks. It's not efficient or effective. We want all the team members to feel responsible for the company's success."
Sarillo discovered through his own experience that trust doesn’t mean the absence of accountability. In fact, employees don’t want blind trust. They want to be trusted with responsibility and given the opportunity to succeed, but they need to know how well they are doing and what they need to do to improve. If companies want to avoid “active disengagement” as they emerge from the recession they need to intentionally create and monitor a culture of trust.