High on Trust

If you want productive employees, build “high trust” teams and networks

In 1913—in conjunction with his revolutionary five-dollar-a-day pay scheme—Henry Ford established a Sociological Department, staffed by fifty investigators who visited workers’ homes in search of signs of “right living”: thrift, cleanliness, sobriety, family values and good morals. If these conditions were met, Ford paid workers five dollars a day. If they were not (I’m lookin’ at you, deadbeat dads), workers earned $2.34 a day and had six months to clean up their act or leave the company.

His rationale? Morally fit men make more productive and loyal workers.

Fast forward ninety-nine years. Today, we don’t have to hire investigators to monitor employees’ lives; we deploy software. More than seventy-five percent of companies track their employees’ email and online activity. Many block access to websites like Facebook and Twitter. Some track their employees’ length of bathroom breaks. And now there’s technology that tracks and records employees’ mobile phone conversations.

The irony is that the things that make it easier to monitor our employees’ productivity are making them less productive.

Highly monitored employees get sick more often. They are more prone to stress, anxiety, depression and exhaustion. They feel less loyal to their employers.

Today, as more work is done by remote employees and distributed teams, the corporate urge will be to monitor more. After all, if you can’t see an employee, how will you know if she’s working? Our impulse to control what we can’t see is human, but not humane.

It’s counterintuitive, but as you deploy greater flex across your organization, you should focus less on monitoring and more on building “high-trust” teams and networks. The benefits are numerous:

  • High-trust teams are talent magnets. Superstar employees want the latitude to work autonomously when it’s appropriate, and work with other high performers regardless of their time zone.
  • High-trust workplaces are great places to work. The annual list of Fortune’s 100 Best Places to Work is heavily weighted toward trust; two-thirds of the assessment of candidates’ workplaces is based on the confidential and anonymous feedback of employees who complete a rigorous trust index employee survey. It also ranked as the second-most important factor, after life-work balance, by employees in Madison Magazine’s latest Best Places to Work survey.
  • High-trust companies are three times more profitable than their peers.

Yes, establishing trust requires time. And patience. And trustworthy managers and leaders, who will sometimes put others before themselves. But building a high-trust team or company is like taking care of your health: A lifetime of good habits creates an annuity that pays off over time.

Finally, trust-creating behaviors are the same whether your desk is next to mine or we work in different time zones, whether we are working with teammates, vendors or clients. My team and I have codified these behaviors into what we call the Six Disciplines. (Note: Fifty percent of our work time is spent apart from our coworkers and ninety-nine percent of our work is done away from our clients.)

The Six Disciplines
1.
Show up on time (this is especially important in America and other cultures that value punctuality).
2. Be present and prepared for meetings.
3. Do what you say you’ll do.
4. Finish what you start.
5. Say “please” and “thank you.”
6. Keep a light heart.

Henry Ford disbanded his Sociological Department in 1918, just five years after it was launched. By the time he wrote his 1922 memoir, he admitted that “paternalism has no place in industry. Welfare work that consists in prying into employees’ private concerns is out of date. But the broad workable plan of investment and participation will do more to solidify industry and strengthen organization than will any social work on the outside.”

In writing about “the broad workable plan of investment and participation,” Ford was talking about trust: When you trust your employees and ask them to participate, it will solidify and strengthen the entire organization.

Rebecca Ryan is founder of Next Generation Consulting. A version of this column previously appeared on LifeMeetsWork.com. Contact Rebecca Ryan at rr@nextgenerationconsulting.com.

Find more of her columns here

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