A colleague told recently me a story about a sales professional he knew who was struggling.
He was not making his draw and as a result was feeling tremendous pressure. His job seemed to be in jeopardy, save for one thing: his sales manager believed in his talent. The manager sat the young man down and told him to forget about not making the draw or repaying it. Focus on the customer. The young man did and, within weeks, his sales improved. Soon, he was the company’s top performer.
Stories such as these fuel the sales profession, but they have implications far beyond the sales transaction, including to those of us who have not sold anything except candy for a school fundraiser. The nut of the story demonstrates a key aspect of developing your people. Trust. We speak often of how managers need to earn the trust of those who report to them, but we don’t talk as much about how managers and employees need to trust one another. Here are some tips for fostering trust in the workplace.
Communicate openly. Just because you can speak doesn’t mean that you’re communicating. All of us are so pressed for time that we listen only when we are pushed against the proverbial wall. That’s too bad because when you take the time to listen — managers to employees, and employees to managers — you learn what’s really going on. Often you learn about problems before they occur; you may also learn ways to do things more simply and cost effectively.
Go with your gut. As with the story about the trusting sales manager, instinct plays a huge role in fostering trust. Managers who’ve been in the saddle for a couple of years soon learn to separate the strays from herd. They know who’s putting forth the effort and who’s just clocking time.
Tune your antennae. Watch for the warning signs – absenteeism, tardiness, and missed deadlines. But also watch for the positives – staying late, helping colleagues, and volunteering ideas and projects. Too often we focus on the negative (that’s our culture) to the detriment of looking for the good things people are doing.
Following these guidelines will help you foster mutual trust, but such pointers will not make up for the missed call. More than one manager – in fact most managers – have been burned by putting too much trust in an individual who did not deserve it. Your gut can deceive you, especially if you’re dealing with a crafty employee who knows how to pull one over on you. They know how to play you like a con-man coming in for a score. They specialize in emotional blackmail, getting the boss to feel bad for the employee’s inability to do the job.
As a result of these types, managers take a jaundiced eye at any employee, failing to provide them with the support they may need to succeed. It’s important to remember that the overwhelming majority of employees want to do a good job – chiefly because it’s in their best interest to do so – but also because their desire to succeed is grounded in their perception of self.
My advice to managers is simple: don’t let one or two connivers cause you to downplay the intentions and contributions of the people who really do work hard.
First posted on HBR.org 9/26/2008