What's happened to trust ?

Jun 04 2008 by Bob Selden Print This Article

It emerged last week in Germany that Deutsche Telekom spied on thousands of its own employee's (and director's) phone messages in an attempt to identify the source of leaks to the media.

Is this another example (think Hewlett-Packard) where trust with an organization has broken down? Are these isolated instances, or is there a deeper, ingrained "honesty" problem within some organisations that may eventually lead to mistrust?

Where have all the honest managers gone? According to one study, they seem to be disappearing at quite a rate.

The Leadership Quarterly reports that a study last year found many bosses today are seen as dishonest. The study specifically pointed out the widespread perceptions that underpin this belief.

  • 39 per cent of those surveyed said their supervisors had failed to keep promises.
  • 37 per cent said their supervisors had failed to give credit when due.
  • 31 per cent said their supervisors had given them the "silent treatment" in the past year.
  • 27 per cent said their supervisors had made negative comments about them to other employees or managers.
  • 24 per cent said their supervisors had invaded their privacy.
  • 23 per cent said their supervisors had blamed others to cover up mistakes or to minimise embarrassment.

Florida State University, the authors of the report, suggest that such dishonesty not only affects the organisation's integrity, it also creates problems such as poor morale, lower production and higher turnover.

So ultimately, not being honest with one another also affects the overall performance of the organisation.

What does not come as a surprise is that in addition to the "honesty" factor, the Florida State study also confirmed many earlier studies about the relationship between pay and turnover. It found that a good working environment is more important than pay and that "employees were more likely to leave if involved in an abusive relationship than if dissatisfied with pay".

The study did not suggest reasons for the high levels of dishonesty, merely the results. But could it be that honesty, particularly in western society, is in decline generally due to the emphasis on individualism not community? Have we become a "me too" society, where material and personal gain are valued above the good of the community?

It seems that more and more, we read stories like Deutsche Telekom or hear of some new "revelation" about a cover up, lack of integrity, or just plain dishonesty that has led to yet another major commercial or international disaster.

Organisations, particularly since the late 80's, have spent an inordinate amount of time and resources on boosting the job "satisfiers" (as Frederick Herzberg called them) Ė pay and conditions - at the expense of the true "motivators" Ė achievement, recognition, responsibility, meaningful and interesting work, and growth and advancement.

The result? When material gain becomes the all-consuming and overt goal pursued by organisations (such as maximum shareholder returns and exorbitant senior manager benefits) over intrinsic basic human motivators, managers will do almost anything to "cover their butt" so that their extrinsic rewards are maintained.

So, where does that leave today's managers? And, most importantly, what does it suggest for organisations who want to boost morale, increase productivity decrease staff turnover and be seen as more credible and trustworthy?

Firstly, the organisation needs to develop a culture of honesty. "It's OK to make mistakes and admit them." This philosophy must start from the board and the CEO. Organisational culture might seem like a "soft" measure, yet it really is the glue that keeps the healthiest organisations performing well over the long term.

Secondly, regular reinforcement of shared values should occur through local workshops of all employees. These workshops should aim to discuss the key questions "What does our ideal organisation look like?" and "How do we (at our level) help the organisation move towards that ideal?"

Thirdly, the organisation needs to track progress towards its "ideal" through both formal surveys and informal local workshops. Culture is something that needs to be continually reinforced and discussed.

Above all, managers need to be honest with what they say and do. A true manager's mantra should be "Do as I do", not "Do as I say".

People will accept mistakes if we are open about them. They will not accept cover-ups. The foundation for effective leadership and management is honesty. These are qualities that everyone values.

One final irony. Deutsche Telekom is the same company that last year pulled the plug on its sponsorship of the T-Mobile professional cycling team because of the sport's high-profile drug scandals.

"We arrived at this decision to separate our brand from further exposure from doping in sport and cycling specifically" said Deutsche Telekom Board member and CEO of T-Mobile International, Hamid Akhavan at the time.

"We have an obligation to our employees, customers and shareholders to focus our attention and resources on our core businesses."

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About The Author

Bob Selden
Bob Selden

Bob Selden, is an author, management consultant and coach based in New Zealand and working internationally. Much of his time currently is spent working with family businesses. He's the author of the best-selling What To Do When You Become The Boss. His new book, What To Do When Leadership Is Needed, was released in July 2022.