With our September meeting Trust Repair fast approaching, I’ve inevitably found myself tuning into articles on the topic. For example, here’s an interesting one by Matt May, Banishing Fear in the Workplace, an interview with Gallup’s Tom Rieger. First thing to note, there isn’t a single mention of the word ‘trust’ in the entire piece. As the title says, it’s about fear.

So why share it here?

Well, Peter Scholtes was the first person I recall who pointed out that ‘trust’ is the converse of ‘fear.’ In his excellent Leader’s Handbook he recounts a great story about the managers of the Falk Corporation who in their efforts to get to grips with the eighth of Dr. Deming’s famous 14 points – Drive out fear – concluded that if there were no fear, there would instead be trust.

In the case of the Falk managers, this led them to draw up characteristics of trustworthy and untrustworthy employees and then to estimate, back in the workplace, just how many there were of each. Their conclusion: 95 percent of their employees were trustworthy, maybe 5 percent were not. Yet when they considered the panoply of policies, practices, and procedures inflicted on their workforce, they realised they were written for the latter, the 5 percent of employees. To their great credit, Scholtes recounts, they set to addressing this systemic injustice through a ‘yearlong process of policy revision, education and training.’ The counterintuitive outcome of the Bereavement Leave example given in the book is a delight. (Okay, I’ll tell you. The total number of days used for bereavement leave under the new ‘trusting’ policy they implemented was less than one-half that taken under the old policy. Imagine that.)

There are echoes of the learning from this story throughout Matt May’s interview with Tom Rieger. Not least, Rieger’s observation that, ‘often the biggest threat to a company’s success isn’t necessarily its competition. A lot of times, it’s the fear that lives within its own walls.’  Too true.

Of course, as Rieger also says, ‘fear will always be there.’ It’s one of the things we humans do. But knowing this, and learning to recognise the kinds of symptoms described in the interview, it’s possible to lead and manage in ways that keep it in its place. Seek to minimise fear, maximise trust, and reap the benefits for everyone.

If you can make it to our meeting later this month, this will be the kind of territory we’ll be exploring. Whether you can make it or not, you might also like to check out the other material we have on trust in our online library.

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