Restore Trust with Employees? Forget About It
As companies look ahead to a recovering economy and expanding job opportunities, many leaders have asked me how they can “restore trust.” How can they dissipate the cloud of fear and resentment that hangs over many employees, still tender from years of layoffs, salary freezes, pay cuts, and furloughs. How can leaders recreate an atmosphere of trust in the organization?
My superficial answer: Forget about it — or at least, forget about restoring trust as you understood it previously.
Trust is not an abstract concept. It occurs in the context of specific relationships; one thing we trust equates with another. We may trust that 2 + 2 adds up to 4, or that an act of friendship will be reciprocated.
Trust in corporations was traditionally constructed in this way: The individual was loyal. The institution protected and cared for the individual. Employees professed to have no priorities outside their specific institution. And the corporation promised long-term opportunities and enhanced rewards for those who stayed.
Many human-resource practices are predicated on this equation, designed to reinforce it. Pension plans, vesting schedules, and vacation entitlements are obvious examples of practices that reward loyalty with greater care. So are promotions, which often factor in consideration of tenure. More and more companies have established programs to enhance employee retention, and individuals who openly discuss their future plans — their careers past this company — are still viewed as shockingly disloyal.
In truth, we have been chipping away at one side of this relationship for decades, certainly since the extensive layoffs of the early 1980s. Very few, if any, organizations offer the option or expectation of lifetime employment, so even perfect loyalty doesn’t necessarily result in protection and care anymore. It’s time to acknowledge that the old equation — the one in which we trusted — is gone. It won’t come back. It can’t be restored, and, frankly, that’s probably appropriate given the nature of work today.
But I was being a facetious in saying we can’t restore trust. We can — but only if we create a new equation, one that is a realistic reflection of today’s environment, one in which we all can trust.
Here’s the equation I believe will form the basis of trust between corporations and workers for the decades ahead: The organization will provide interesting and challenging work. The individual will invest discretionary effort in the task and produce relevant results. When one or both sides of this equation are no longer possible (for whatever reasons) the relationship will end. So if the organization no longer has interesting or challenging work for the individual to do, or if the individual is no longer willing or able to engage in the work — to invest the levels of discretionary effort required for excellent results — it is in everyone’s best interest to part ways.
This new equation has significant implications for our talent-management practices. To start:
- It reinforces the premium many organizations have wisely put on engagement.
- It calls for new approaches to performance management — ones that gauge the evolving needs of the task, as well as the individual’s skills and contributions.
- It requires tighter integration of learning and work.
- It raises the need for on-boarding processes that are quick and efficient and exiting approaches that are nonjudgmental and designed to encourage the individual to return if appropriate work opportunities arise.
As you work over the year ahead, ask yourself how much of what you do, how many of your daily processes and activities, are designed to prop up the old equation versus building a new one by strengthening engagement and the quality of the immediate opportunities within the organization.
Which practices do you think require the greatest change?
See the original post here, by Tammy Erickson @ Harvard Business Publishing