Samantha Cooper, Community Partner, Impact Hub Islington discusses how transformational leaders can show a willingness to distribute authority and collaborate in place of competition
Date: 02/01/19 | Duration: 00:21:09
In today’s business landscape, as new scandals occur with increasing regularity, the concepts of trust and reputation are growing ever greater in importance. Organisations are finding that they must be more transparent and accountable to engage and retain their customers and to attract the best talent. Building trust both outside and within an organisation is now essential to business success.
In this first episode of 2019 we explore trust and human connection in today’s workplaces. What benefits can pursuing them bring to a company and what challenges do they present? What role do people professionals play in developing this culture and embedding it throughout their own organisations? And how can they model these behaviours in their own day-to-day work?
View the full podcast transcript
Philippa Lamb: Hello and welcome back to the CIPD podcast. Last year was another year of corporate scandals: Google, Facebook, Volkswagen, now with failures like those fresh in all our minds we’re going to start 2019 by talking about trust. What does trust bring to an organisation? How does human connection fit in and where in that landscape does HR sit?
We chose four experts to interrogate those questions, our first lectures at Oxford University's Saïd Business School and she's the author of a great work called 'Who Can We Trust?' here's Rachel Botsman.
Rachel Botsman: Often I go into organisations and they're talking a lot about trust and one of the first things I ask them is well what is it? And it's really interesting because, this is a generalisation but when you're talking to marketing communications, even HR they tend to describe it as an attribute. So the number of organisations that have trust as a value is astonishing to me. So they'll have like curiosity and innovation and trust, which is really strange because I don't know what to do with trust as a value. And then if you talk to other parts of the organisation often leadership teams, compliance, legal, they will talk about trust as an asset – something that they actually want measured and valued. And it's not that I don't think trust isn't either one of those things it's that you can't achieve trust in an organisation if you think of trust in that way. So the way you have to think of trust is it's a human feeling and it’s a continuous process and it's something that is given to you, it's something that you have to earn.
PL: With tech reaching into all areas of our home and work lives organisations want our trust but they want to win it easily and they want to win it fast and that says Rachel just doesn't work.
RB: Yeah the way I think of it efficiency's the enemy of trust. So think of your own life trust actually needs time. It needs continuing investment and effort and it needs friction. Trust is actually built in those moments where you're not sure of that other person, you navigate through and one of the watch-outs in organisations is this idea that we can automate trust, that we can use technology to speed people through that process and you see it a lot with apps. And the mistake is that you have their trust where you don't, you just have convenience. So this is a challenge in terms of deciding where for example bots can play a role and what we can automate and then fundamentally what really needs to stay human because I believe the businesses that will win in the future will be the ones that use technology to become the most human and they are the ones that we will trust.
PL: But if speed and tech don't build real trust what does?
RB: It's small interactions and actions over time that build trust. For example Brené Brown talks about the Marble Jar; you know where do you fill up the marble jar. I like this term the trust battery that Tobi the CEO of Shopify really codified in this idea that actions and interactions and conversations and whether we do what we say we're going to do and whether we show up on time, they're recharging or decharging the battery.
PL: So the consequence of this diminishing trust battery what does it mean for organisations?
RB: Low trust teams and cultures tend to be; I'd go so far as, very unhealthy places to work. It's pretty easy now to walk in and actually spot a low trust team and very few organisations are low trust across the board. You'll often find pockets where the battery is really, really charged, but the signs are they are very uncomfortable with risk taking. They are really uncomfortable with not knowing the outcomes of things, so they tend to be very prescriptive and quite linear, so they have to know where everything is leading. They tend to have a lot of people in meetings, high email culture, very extensive briefs and presentations. And so it becomes paralysing.
PL: If Rachel's description of low trust organisations sounds a bit familiar it's worth remembering that trust isn’t just nice to have it's vital.
RB: There is a really tight link between low trust cultures and cultures that struggle to innovate. You can walk into a high trust team and one of the most common characteristics is the leader of that team doesn’t know where it's going to end. They have faith in the process, they have faith in their people, they give them a lot of autonomy around risk taking. I think vulnerability is another sign of a high trust team. So leaders often say, particularly male leaders, like I really want my team to trust me more ((laughs)).
PL: Make it happen.
RB: Yeah make it happen. And it's often not a competence question it's because they are very uncomfortable with showing vulnerability.
PL: Of course smart leaders know that inspiring trust really matters and we've all seen leaders conveniently produce some little piece of information about themselves that neatly demonstrates how vulnerable they are. Little do they know just how good most of us are at spotting that sort of manoeuvre.
RB: We're unbelievably good at picking up signals. We're unbelievably good at picking up trust signals we've tried to fabricate. So there's nothing worse when the CEO tries to do the really authentic, vulnerable speech, where you just know it's not really them. So authenticity I think is a really tricky word for many people, like show up and be your authentic self. But I find when you talk to people, when you talk about integrity and you talk about benevolence so how do you show up and genuinely care about people. How do you show up and show empathy. How do you show up and continually demonstrate that you’re interest and motives towards me are aligned with my interest and motives? That's easier for people to do than this pressure of being our authentic selves at work and so I think there's something really powerful in the language of trustworthiness that actually leads to healthier teams.
PL: The trust relationship with a new employer has its origins long before your first day on the job it starts with the employer brand and how they recruit, but how often do their values and the actual experience of working there match what they said on their website? That mismatch interests our next expert, psychologist John Amaechi. His expertise is all about performance and his interest began in his early years as a professional athlete in the US where he became the first Brit to play in America's NBA League.
John Amaechi: My name is John Amaechi; I'm an organisational psychologist, also recently a Chartered Fellow of CIPD.
PL: This phrase aligning personal or business values, we hear it a lot, what do you actually mean by it?
JA: I think businesses should have values that speak to both the excellence that they plan to practise externally and with stakeholders and internally with their own people and necessarily those values will attract people who should be aligned, not just to the commercial possibilities of that organisation but the experience that they are bound by those values to deliver. Part of what I think is important for workplaces is to create an environment that is so psychologically safe that you can challenge people to the ultimate level knowing that the environment is actually safe for them to experiment, deliver, fail and then succeed finally with the support that you offer them.
PL: You say knowing, I mean that's where the issue lies doesn't it, that is a trust contract because you don't know do you, when you go and work for an organisation, you look at the website, you meet some people, you do some interviews, all organisations present an appropriate face to the world of potential recruits now, you don't know what the experience of working there will be like and it's often quite a mismatch.
JA: So I mean I think firstly what we should do is probably reframe that. What we're saying is that organisations lie. That's actually what we're saying – organisations lie in order to create a brand. It's like people who airbrush photographs to make people who are already thin and beautiful into unobtainably thin and beautiful. And in some cases people who aren't beautiful into people who are beautiful...
JA: ...in this corporate analogy.
JA: So they lie and then people come and become instantly disenfranchised and leave and then we call the people who leave 'snowflakes' we call them, 'entitled', we call them all the things that we call millennials and Gen Zs.
PL: Yeah I suppose organisations might say well the deal is we pay so that's our side of the contract.
JA: In that case if that was the contract tell the truth and pay but they don't do that because they know in order to attract the talent they need they'd have to pay ten times more if they told the truth. And that is a terrible indictment!
PL: So in terms of productivity and sustainability and all the things we know about that lie, in your terms, is a foolish lie because it doesn’t even work commercially let alone on other bases. Who should then be within these organisations the guardian of better behaviour? Is it HR? Is it the board? They have conflicting requirements, where does it live?
JA: Well I think HR has a unique role in that now they are, more often than not, called the 'people' function; they are the 'people' people. But it's not just their responsibility there should be a cascade effect in an organisation so yes you have to have congruent behaviours and the right rhetoric at the top level. And then underneath you need to find people and there are tons of people who want to be custodians of that culture. They want to be the people who are charged, in a nonofficial capacity, right, so this is not about giving them elevated roles or elevated salaries, giving them this responsibility, you're keen on this? Yes. Be a vanguard in this organisation. You work on our front desk in reception, you clean our floors, you're a first time manager, you’re just a colleague who's really interested. Yes, you disseminate this. Yes, you remind people these are the values and the behaviours that go along with them. That's not a difficult thing. It's exactly the kind of purpose the Gen Zs and millennials we are working with are asking for.
PL: You say it's not a difficult thing but organisations find it difficult to do don't they? I can think of a number, particularly in the tech and social media space organisations who literally launch their brand off those values and that way of working and who are now, it's being revealed, excusing behaviour on the part of senior and valued individuals that is not at all aligned to those values. So the theory's great, the practical reality is tough for organisations to do isn't it, they're not excusing it but they’re not doing it. Why aren’t they doing it?
JA: Because it's easier not to and we don't call them on it enough. If there are no consequences for bad behaviour why would you spend the energy to be behaved well?
PL: I mean obviously there are consequences if it's illegal behaviour.
JA: But there's not. Amazon has got workers who live in their car in the car park at their warehouse. It's not conjecture but we still get Amazon packages. There's no consequence.
PL: So to build a genuine and sustainable trust contract in those relationships what needs to happen on all sides? Because you say we don't call organisations out on it, we as employees, we as consumers...
JA: What we can do is we can values based hire people so we know that these values are something that's important to them. Yes, but that they are empowered to enforce.
PL: Shami Chakrabarti is a household name. She's Shadow Attorney General and a member of the House of Lords. She's a barrister and for over a decade she headed Liberty, the advocacy group which promotes civil liberties and human rights. She talked to me about social media and data tracking and how invasive employers should be.
Shami Chakrabarti: I think this whole question of employee data and digital presence is a very sensitive one and I think the answer needs to evolve. As so often with technology it moves apace and the ethics, the politics, the law, all that stuff of human relationships lags behind. And I think there are some really, really difficult questions about what the reasonable expectation is. For example, everyone is a broadcaster now. Everyone who tweets or otherwise uses social media is interacting, not just with their friends, colleagues and relatives but with the world. Now what does that mean for the balance between the reputation of the employer organisation and the social needs and expectations of the employee? There isn’t a bright line here. There isn't a straightforward answer. It's obviously going to vary according to the organisation, according to the role, according to perhaps the seniority of the person in that role. It's so common these days to see, for example, senior BBC journalists tweeting with that famous caveat that these are their own views and not those of the organisation. But does that work in practice? And how would it work if a senior diplomat or civil servant or, dare I say it, judge, was tweeting or otherwise using a very public social media platform in their personal capacity? Is there such a thing as a personal capacity, as opposed to a public face? And what does that mean for employee and employer?
PL: It's a vital debate isn't it because it’s about trust isn't it, in employers, in employees, in organisations, in the people who run organisations, government, in every area of our interaction now trust is becoming a thing. It's a commodity for organisations and it all rests on this doesn't it?
SC: I think that data is a commodity, trust is priceless. The problem is whose trust? And sometimes you're protecting and trying to earn the trust of one constituency at the expense of another. So for example when you’re recruiting you might think that it's just common, reasonable practice in the 21st century to have a look at the digital footprint of applicants for a job.
PL: And it's commonly done.
SC: Commonly done, not illegal, not unethical, people are putting this stuff in the public domain, but, but, but, how does your workforce feel if they think you might be putting them under overly intrusive scrutiny?
SC: Snooping on them. Can you snoop on someone even in a public place? Well of course you can. You can snoop on someone by following them around the street and you can do the same even with their digital footprint. So there's got to be some negotiated balance if you’re not to make your workforce feel mistrusted and therefore not trusting in you.
PL: So you've articulated the problem what needs to happen?
SC: I think more conversation and I think that means conversations within society and the democratic space but also in particular organisations because I think to some extent these accommodations will be and ought to be bespoke, depending on the nature of the work.
PL: This trust contract between employers and their people is being discussed everywhere, which expectations and behaviours are ethical and acceptable and which aren’t. Dan Schawbel is a New York Times best-selling author and research director at Future Workplace. He believes that re-establishing that trust isn’t just a matter for organisations; it's an issue for entire nations.
Dan Shawbel: France has the right disconnect so you can't email a worker in off hours. Daimler, the car company in Germany, has mail on holiday, so if you email a worker when they're on vacation your email is automatically deleted. The same with Volkswagen and Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global they’ve followed suit on that. And what I think even countries are doing is trying to provide a little bit more protection for workers, especially countries with strong labour unions like in Germany they're fighting for a 28 hour work week, in Japan you get Monday mornings off because workers who are overworked end up burning out and that becomes counterproductive and leads to higher turnover.
PL: Do you think it also sends a trust message to the employees on the receiving end of the emails that don't arrive now that it is about we do care about you?
DS: Yeah I think that people want to be treated as people first, workers second. We spend over a third of our lives working and especially in America where I'm based the average worker works 47 hours a week, here it's over 50 hours a week. Not having your phones is the new vacation and because we're constantly being connected and respond to emails outside of office hours and on vacations we need some give rather than just take.
PL: It sounds like change is coming doesn’t it? There's more on trust on the website and if you’d like to share your own thoughts about it please do. The hashtag is #cipdpodcasts. We'll be back on the first Tuesday of every month this year. Subscribe to the whole series on Apple, Google or any other podcast app. Thanks for listening.