Experiments with trust
It was a long flight and my co-passenger, noticing some of the stuff I was typing into my laptop, asked me if I was a trainer, and that’s how it started. He engaged me in a discussion about leadership and people challenges and as we spoke, I began to share, and thereby, remember
some of the things I had done in the course of my leadership journey.
His primary challenge was delegation, and we got to discussing the role of trust, in effective delegation.
My primary influence in this area came from Ricardo Semler (Maverick!), I finished the book in almost a single read, remember coming to the end somewhere around 3 am and I was so buzzed, I made a list of things I would do with my team. I used to run a computer training center, those days, with a team of about 35 people.
The first thing I did was I called a meeting with my team, told them about some of the things I had learned and asked them how they felt about trying some of these things. They were in hearty agreement. I tore up the attendance register (yup, we still used those back then!), told them I trusted them to be on time for work and work the required number of days in order to get the job done.
This done, I observed for a few weeks, and I found that no one abused the system! People continued to come to work on time. No one took undue advantage of the system.
Next up, we changed the way we hired new employees. It was decided that the team they would work with, would meet the prospects. If the team approved of someone and I disapproved, we went with the team’s choice. Team had veto powers over my choices. It worked.
When these 2 experiments succeeded, we all had the belief and desire to try more, and try a greater risk. A key team leader, who managed a team of 12 was leaving. Usually, I would have appointed a successor. This time, I threw it to the team. We decided to be democratic. Everyone got to cast a vote for who the next team leader should be, including the current team leader, who was exiting. You could also vote for yourself. We were absolutely amazed to find that the vote was almost unanimously in favour of one individual!
The euphoria we felt, and the reinforcement in trust, was a thrill, and we were all having a ball. Besides these larger ones, there were several smaller experiments with trust going on and they were all working.
The last one was probably the best and most powerful. It was time for annual increments. I decided to share the financials with every member of the team. And asked each one of them to decide their own increment for the year. With the exception of 1 person, every one of them chose an increment almost exactly in line with what I would have given.
It was also during this period, that we won every award that the company had to give. That we had record levels of performance and customer satisfaction.
Even today, I look back on that period of my life with awe. While it is easy to describe the successes as end-points, there were challenges on that journey that could have led us either way.
My key learnings from those experiments:
1. Trust is always repayed with trust
2. Almost all people are responsible and want to do a good fair job. People are innately good.
3. There is little or no malintent in people
4. If you give people broad guidelines and allow themselves to self-govern, they will do a better job than if you micro-managed them
5. When you trust people and let go, you unleash energy, creativity and employee entrepreneurship
Do you have similar stories? OR A different point of view? Please leave a comment!