What if you HAD to trust?

social fish
social fish

A key characteristic of a truly social business is trust. If you want to fully leverage the power of social media, then you need to trust people–your staff, your members, your stakeholders–because you can’t do social well while maintaining an iron fist of control. It just doesn’t work that way. But if you’re having any success in social media, you’ve probably already discovered the payoff of trust in the form of engagement, volunteer effort, word of mouth marketing, and a stronger brand. Trust is powerful. It enables speed. It facilitates action. Maddie and I have Trustworthy as one of our four human elements in Humanize. It’s thatcentral to what it means to be human.

So given its power, why is trusting such a difficult thing to do, particularly for “leaders?” People at the top seem to need a lot of convincing to trust people. Maybe they’ll start with a little test…a small area where they can dole out a teeny bit of trust to see if it works. Once they see that the other person or group isn’t going to screw up, then they’ll release a little more trust.

There’s a problem with this approach. While it is, generally, okay to be incremental in trust development (trust needn’t be an either/or, complete/none proposition), frequently these “trust tests” are bogus. The leaders are letting other people do things, but internally they are, in fact, fairly confident it won’t work. And when they are let down, they are quick to say “I told you so”. That’s known as a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you’re the leader and let me do something (but secretly expect me to fail), I typically feel that, and it makes it harder for me to succeed. Real trust is not only about taking a risk–it’s about taking it confidently. I think our leaders need to understand that more. It’s not just about appearing to trust. There’s internal work you need to do as well.

So it was with interest that I read a column by Vineet Nayar in this month’s Harvard Business Review. He is the CEO of HCL Technologies, a large company in India. He talks about trusting his younger employees, and really giving them responsibility. But here’s the rub: he doesn’t have a choice. Nearly half of India’s population is under the age of 25. That’s more than 500 million people. In the U.S. that figure is only 33%. Our median age is 37, and India’s is 26.5. According to Nayar, the average age of his 87,000 employees is only 28. In order to do right by his customers, he argues that it’s impossible to put the big decisions all in the hands of veteran employees. He needs those Millennials to take initiative, not just direction. This means they need to be deeply engaged. This requires the real trust I am talking about:

Real engagement in the work itself comes as a result of the trust you place in employees to take the right action using the resources at their disposal. When decisions are made by senior executives far from the front line, it is little wonder that Gen Y workers are unenthusiastic about implementing them! Give them the power to quickly initiate and implement innovative ideas, and engagement will follow.

So, what is the job of leaders and managers in this scenario? Get ready managers:

Managers should exist to support the energetic efforts of young workers, enabling and coaching rather than deciding and directing. They should provide greater access to knowledge and collaborative networks. They should make it easy for employees to build horizontal networks that span organizational boundaries and tap diverse areas of expertise. They should enable employees to temporarily step out of formal lines of management and join forces more fluidly to respond to market opportunities.

In short, they need to manage a more human organization. Decentralization, transparency, relationship building (with networks), ownership, inclusion, systems thinking. And what I like even more is that his managers are held accountable to this work, and every single employee had access to the 360 appraisals that were done on every single senior  manager.

The percentage of his workforce that is young has reached a point where he sees the value in doing it this way. That hasn’t happened in the U.S., but if the baby boomers do ever retire, it most certainly will. The Millennials are the largest generation in U.S. history, and most of them are still not yet in the workforce. If we want to tap into their collective (and immense) power, we’re going to have to teach ourselves a new way of running our organizations.

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