Building trust with your people

‘What he was saying was: “I trust you completely to run this business in accordance with the budget we’ve agreed upon. I don’t need to look over your shoulder”. There was no way I could let him down.
Issue date : 12 September 2008

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It was my first budget meeting AND I needed to make a good impression with my new boss, the owner of the business, who was a successful and respected city-based entrepreneur with many diverse business interests. I didn’t know him well and I was nervous. As we worked our way through the documents we were able to answer all his questions. He suggested a few changes in the rates of exchange and some cutbacks in capital expenditure.

We incorporated these, and presented the final document. He quickly looked through it and said, “Great work, thanks guys. If we deliver these results, we’ll be fine.” He then tore his copy of the budget into pieces and threw them into the wastepaper bin. I was horrified. “What’s the problem?” I exclaimed “And don’t you want a copy?” “Why do I need one?” he asked “It’s over to you now. I know that if there are difficulties you’ll get back to me. That’s all I need.” In effect, what he was saying to me was: “Pete, I trust you completely to run this farm in accordance with the budget we’ve agreed upon. I don’t need to look over your shoulder.

 If you need my help, I know you’ll shout and I’ll be standing by.” His attitude then and later had a huge motivational impact on me. There was no way I could let him down, and I know he treated all his managers like this. It was risky and he did have one or two bad experiences, but he gained far more than he lost. It was the secret to his success in business. I did my best to give the same level of trust to the farm staff, but I don’t think I was ever quite able to have the same impact on them as he’d had on me, and I often pondered why. Here are some of my conclusions:

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  • He was a highly effective listener. You can’t establish trust if you can’t listen. A conversation is a relationship. Both speaker and listener influence each other, with the listener shaping the conversation almost as much as the speaker.

  • He was an optimist who genuinely believed in the goodness of mankind. He believed that people accept and seek responsibility; that they can be self-directed and creative and committed to the company’s objectives.
  • He had faith in the fairness of life and the boomerang effect – what you throw out to others will eventually come back to you.
  • He communicated openly. He shared not only his dreams and fears about the business, but also about his personal matters. He wore his heart on his sleeve.
  • He always spoke about “we”, never “I” and was horrified when I once referred to working “for” him, not “with” him. I never heard him take credit for the success of the business – he always gave it to me and my team.
  • He never made a promise he didn’t fulfil.
  • He was never miserly, mean or petty. He had a generosity of spirit which sometimes created precedents which caused me difficulty in managing the business. However the boomerang effect always worked in the end. Organisations with high levels of trust perform well. What are you going to do to build up the level of trust in yours? – Peter Hughes ([email protected] or call (013) 745 7303). |fw