Management Articles


Tip-toe the Tightrope of Trust
A manager’s guide to success

By: Jody Urquhart

Author of “All Work & No SAY," Jody Urquhart,, speaks at meetings and conventions on How to Build a Passionate & Commiteed Workplace. To book Jody to speak at your next meeting email her at

How much do you trust your staff and why does it matter? Trust affects the bottom line—the way you treat employees is the way they will treat customers. If it’s acceptable that a company or manager doesn’t have to keep promises, then you can almost guarantee employees won’t be keeping promises to customers either.

You’ve heard this before, “People do business with people they trust.” A customer’s trust in a company starts with a company’s trust in its employees. As Lance Secretan says in Reclaiming Higher Ground, “ Our society is suffering from truth decay.” He goes on to suggest that, especially in teams, telling the truth is essential.

“If the members of a symphony lie to each other, they will play awful music,” Secretan says. So it goes in any team environment. One of the most compelling advantages for telling the truth—it is efficient. Over a third of a company’s budget may be devoted to administrative functions like controls, reports and procedures. A lot of these controls exist because management doesn’t trust employees. What if we could do away with the controls and trust each other to do our best? It would be much less expensive and much more efficient.

Killing the Trust Factor
Is trust affecting your bottom line? Here are some things companies do that kill the trust factor:
  1. They don’t model what they say. As American aviation pioneer Wilbur Wright said, “ A parrot talks much but flies little.”

    Example: a company has a slogan, “Customer Service is our number one priority,” yet you walk into the store and nobody says hello, they won’t accept your checks and the staff are detached and uninterested.

    Example: a company says the most important asset is their people then they make changes that affect all employees without notice or input.

  2. they make promises they can’t keep.

    Example: a manager says she will give everyone a raise next month—she also said that last month.

  3. they guard and selectively disclose information.

    Example: There are corporate zones off limits for some employees. Information is guarded and only a select few are in the know. Meetings happen behind closed doors.

  4. they don’t allow employees to exercise their own judgment.

    Example: the company always goes by the book. There are so many rules designed so that people don’t have to think about what they should do.

  5. the company asks for input and suggestions, then ignores them.

    Example: a manager asks for suggestions on improving service. An employee offers two good ideas and no one says anything or brings it up again. Employees get the feeling that management is going through the motions but they really don’t want the input.

    Of course, you won’t use all ideas, but follow-up is essential. It shows you are listening;

  6. everything is monitored, from the number of sick days to productivity levels
Defining Trust in the Workplace

When I speak to organizations about creating trust in the workplace, these are the most common qualities participants say about trustworthy companies and individuals.
“They have never let me down before.”

“They do what they say they will do.”

“I know they have my best interests in mind.”

“He knows what he’s talking about and admits it when he doesn’t.”
Here are the qualities I think define a trusting workplace:
  1. open communications. Employees talk openly and informally, sharing between individuals and departments. Everyone’s opinion is valued equally. When changes occur employees are included and involved. Suggestions and input are encouraged and always followed up. Managers listen to employees;

  2. empowered employees. Employees are encouraged to use their own judgment to solve problems. Rules are a guideline, not a solution;

  3. everyone is accountable. From managers to every level of staff, people keep their promises. They don’t say something will happen until they have the system and resources in place to make sure it will happen. Involve the whole group and make everyone accountable. Invest in commitments;

  4. managers model decisions. Until managers can model change themselves they don’t expect other team members to. They are careful that what is said on paper is realistic. They know it’s not just something to aim for but also something they are committed to and will happen.
Have you ever walked into a store and had an employee welcome you with as much enthusiasm as a two-by-four? It happens a lot. I always think, why don’t you say it like you mean it? Simple—if they did, they would lose their job. An employee’s attitude about their job is often a good reflection of the company’s attitude about their employees. Companies who say “Service is our number one priority” and then cut staff hours and paychecks are making one big mistake: they are lying. Service can only be a priority when people become the priority.

© Copyright 2001 Jody Urquhart

Other Articles by Jody Urquhart

The author assumes full responsibility for the contents of this article and retains all of its property rights. ManagerWise publishes it here with the permission of the author. ManagerWise assumes no responsibility for the article's contents.


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