A friend of mine was sharing with me the other day that he and his colleagues were feeling a bit challenged with his manager.  It seems that as time passes this boss is actually losing trust in his employees.  He was specifically talking about his bosses willingness to trust in the competence and capabilities of the people who reported to him.  As it turned out this person got more and more paranoid about relying on people accomplishing tasks and concluding projects effectively.  As such he figured that the best way to ensure that initiatives were successful was to insert himself and demand daily reports rather than allow people the space to accomplish work.  This was quite surprising to me as I had operated under the assumption that time always helps to build trust instead of destroy it.  Usually we find people developing a certain comfort level with professionals they work with and the rapport allows them to let go of that control.

It is possible that in my friend’s manager’s case there were specific experiences that showed him that the folks that work in the organization can not be trusted.  However, what I suspect to be the more likely scenario is that the issue is about control.  As the organization grew in size and scope of operation it became more difficult to maintain the line of sight on various operational activities.

It would be fair to argue that a change in behavior and attitude is needed to help this person and his organization deal in a proactive manner.  However, I believe that this is not enough to reframe the context of trust relationships in this type of situation. What is also needed is to build the framework that can enable this executive from maintaining the right amount of visibility of projects while providing assurances that there is a system in place that drives for success. Yes, culture and behavior are important, but just as important are the systems that foster trust and accountability.  Without them we risk reverting to the old mode of operations.

I want to offer this example to help highlight what I am talking about.  When we decide to take a commercial flight from one city to another we are taking a leap of faith in some sense.  This leap is based on trust in the competence and capability of an entire system.  We are forced to trust in the airplane manufacturer, airline pilot, airport tower personnel, and maintenance crew just to name a few.  I read somewhere that before a plane is certified for commercial flight it is required to log in about one thousand takeoffs and landings.  So while we may not know this directly, we chose to trust in the system that is designed for our safety.  We do so without knowing all the details of the process.

So our trust in commercial flying is not based on a blind leap of faith but a framework that requires the endorsement of experts.  In organizations like the one I highlighted at the beginning of the post I believe that what is missing is the actual system.  The trust keeps getting degraded because there is no system that can provide assurances that people are performing on the job and in a competent manner.