Leadership and trust go hand-in-hand in business world

March 15, 2010
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When employees no longer trust the leadership, no amount of training, employee surveys, strong communication programs and all the other "tools" suggested by the human resource department will work. It takes meaningful deeds: The proof is in the pudding. In the meantime, the other tools only allow people to go through the motions, tell leadership what it wants to hear and make token efforts of support.

Leadership must look for and understand employees' real feelings and thoughts. Will they stay with you over the long haul or begin to vote with their feet? Turnover numbers are critical, especially among high performers, high potential staff and critical skill people. If you think you can replace them with all those on the market, think again. It takes time developing a new cultural change.

Operating styles and the environment

Employees learn under fire, and when they "screw up" too badly, someone may suggest a development training course or seminar. Many of these have good short-term success and show results until the organization leadership moves in another direction. The focus shifts, and employees and leadership often forget the training.

However, the one development program that seems to stick is the one that helps employees discover and use their "operating style." The nomenclature may vary, but such a program usually classifies people as one of four primary style types — Driver, Analyst, Amiable or Expressive — which can then be broken down into sub- or combination descriptions. The end result is to learn which type you are and how to read others, then what works best when you interact with them to achieve the desired results. It works well but it often takes time. Next is determining the "back-up style." This is how we operate when we get stressed, don't want to take the time to work with the other operating styles, or the primary style doesn't get us where we want to go.

Development of employees is a critical aspect for being successful in the ever-evolving business culture. It is a rare situation when an employee is hired and has the knowledge and skills necessary to be successful over an extended career. They may come with a college degree and/or a special certification that makes them qualified for the first or maybe even the second job. But after that, it becomes on-the-job training and integration into the company's culture.

Just like people, organizations have operating styles, but we call it "culture." It is how we expect the organization to operate and is utilized to support the core values. This style or culture is set by the leaders of the organization and is transmitted to the rest of the employees in a variety of ways. The troops do their best to follow the lead and make the perceived culture a reality.

Unfortunately, organization culture gets messed up when leaders try to shift too fast to a new way of operating because they are under pressure to make something happen and the existing culture gets in the way. The current economic situation is forcing organizations and people into a new style of operating and can become the equivalent of the employee back-up style. The leaders don't see how to keep things afloat with the existing culture. They want immediate change. It takes too long to evolve the culture. They don't want to collaborate or work with employees, they just expect everyone to fall in line. Some actually prefer the back-up or autocratic style. They know generally it is less socially acceptable, but under today's pressures choose to utilize it, because they can.

Is there a problem with an immediate style/culture shift? Yes, it creates numerous problems, both short and long-term. Leadership rarely says we are now going to revamp our culture. They just take off running and expect people to follow their lead. It takes time for the revamping message to trickle down. The systems that were put in place to support the existing culture aren't dismantled over-night, so there are conflicts.

Employees agreed to work for the organization because they liked the culture and values. They may not want to change because they are comfortable with their own operating styles, or perhaps trying to fit their style into the new organization causes a great deal of stress. It can cost knowledge of service to customers and products.

Can leadership afford to use the organizational back-up style? Perhaps a better strategy is to plan, collaborate and evolve the organization culture and integrate the employee operating styles to support organization goals.

Leadership may do a good job of communicating about how the organization needs to change to one level of employees but the message is revised as it travels through the organization. It takes time to get everyone on the same page. The most important element in the cultural shift is the degree to which leadership trust is reshaped, twisted or broken. Trust is the single most important tool that management has and must guard.

Ardon Schambers is a principal with P3HR Consulting & Services LLC.

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