What are you doing to increase trust?

2008

The following story is true. The names and places have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty.

About a year ago Jordan's dream job finally fell into place. His company transferred him to one of their manufacturing plants in the south where he would serve as a process improvement specialist - a newly created position for his company. The job required analysis, projections, and recommendations to make production processes more efficient, all of which Jordan loved doing.

Unfortunately, it wasn't long before Jordan discovered that dream jobs can become nightmares.

The first thing he learned was that the senior staff had micro-management down to a Nobel-prize winning science. Secondly, he got no cooperation. Whenever he asked anyone for input on any project, all I got was an uncomfortable pause, followed by the same three words: "I don't know."

The reason for that became clear several weeks into his new job. At a staff meeting, the senior manager asked if anyone had thoughts on a particular capital improvement project. Jordan offered a suggestion for how to shave a few days off the installation - a move that would save the company a lot of money.

Surprisingly, the senior manager cut Jordan off and discounted the data he'd presented. When Jordan cautiously asked about his concerns with the data, the plant manager lowered the boom by raising his voice. "I'm telling you, I don't agree with it, and that's why we're not doing it!"

It was then that Jordan knew why nobody ever made suggestions.

Unfortunately, arrogant bullying was not limited to the senior manager. He had a partner in crime - the safety manager. The two were a tag-team of intimidation, and they created a culture of fear that permeated every aspect of the plant.

Jordan felt their wrath whenever he submitted a proposal. It didn't matter how accurate his numbers were or how much money the idea would save the company. These guys loved to argue and intimidate. In fact, if Jordan's reports weren't formatted to their exact specifications it somehow meant that all the facts and figures were instantly and automatically void of any value.

As if that wasn't bad enough, Jordan's rejected reports were handed back to him in a dramatic fashion along with a healthy measure of public criticism.

Six months later Jordan's self-esteem was sinking like a rock.

The real warning sign came on a Monday morning when he sat down to draft a proposal. Questions began racing through his mind:

  • Did you do that analysis completely?
  • Did you miss any details?
  • Did you consider every aspect of the problem?

Doubts and fears flooded over him so fast he couldn't think straight. In a few minutes he was so overwhelmed, he just got up and went home early, claiming he was sick - something he never did. Jordan had a reputation as a doer, not a quitter.

Later on Jordan realized he'd had an anxiety attack.

During the ensuing weeks Jordan struggled with the encroaching anxiety. He wanted to be a valued member of the team. He tried talking with other managers, but with the depth of mistrust in the plant those conversations didn't go far.

Thankfully, one manager finally opened up. "We're trapped," he said. "This is a small southern town and not many jobs are available that pay what we make here. We all have kids in school or parents close by, so moving isn't an option, either. Our families are important to us."

Jordan stated his work began to feel like a prison. He sought out the regional vice president, but after the meeting he was even more discouraged. The V.P. said he was unaware of any problems, and that the plant's production numbers were fine. He didn't see a reason to fix something that wasn't broken. He suggested maybe the problem was with Jordan.

With everything spinning out of control, Jordan finally quested a transfer. He didn't have kids in school or any family close by, so he wasn't trapped like his coworkers. He simply didn't want to spend the rest of his professional life watching his passion for excellence die a long painful death in an environment of fear.

Reflection: Intimidation creates fear and lack of trust. With the absence of trust comes the death of passion and any desire for excellence.

When employees stop contributing, valuable new ideas are never brought the table, and bad ideas are never challenged. An organization suffering from these conditions eventually becomes incapable of correcting its own mistakes, and mediocrity becomes the soup du jour.

So the question is this: What are you doing to increase trust in your workplace?

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About The Author

Dan Bobinski
Dan Bobinski

Dan Bobinski is a training specialist, author, and an accomplished keynote speaker. He's been providing management and leadership training to Fortune 500 companies as well as smaller, regional concerns for more than 20 years.

Older Comments

It is the night before my meeting with the CEO and my boss to discuss the issues in my company. I am ready to be canned on the spot, but I couldn't keep silent any longer.

Aschelles W Anytown, USA