Sunday, December 18, 2011

How Transparency Builds Trust

It took me a long time to figure this out, and I find that transparency goes hand in hand with trust.
I’ve learned that in order to earn trust and loyalty we must be transparent.  There should be very few secrets.  There are really only a handful of things that everyone can’t know.  For instance, we can’t talk with everyone about other team member’s personal problems, or anything we are working with them to correct, like  behavioral problems.  There may be some financial information that we might decide not to share with everyone.

There are also conversations with an assistant or my leader that are about me, or other team members that should be private... so make them just that... private.  Have those conversations away from the workplace so your team doesn’t see you having ‘secret’ conversations or ‘closed door’ talks.  Occasionally this is fine, and too much of it starts to tear away at the trust we are trying to build.  Everyone else’s mind is just as crazy as yours, and it doesn’t take long before people start mistrusting us.

Beyond that, I have found very few instances where it did not benefit me (and team morale) to be very open and communicative about what was going on.  That includes, at least for me, rules that have to be followed.  

A good example of this (where I work) is how much a team member can/should get for an annual raise.  There are company as well as regional guidelines to have to be followed.  For the first few years in my leadership role I did not share how and why a team member’s raise was determined.  I did of course talk extensively to them about where they stood in their development, where I thought their growth opportunities were, and from there we came up with a plan for achieving their goals.

After a couple of years I started to get feedback from the team about how they felt about their raises.  From there it was an easy step to begin describing the process I had to follow, and how their raise was determined.  

There were two ways I could have approached this with my team.  One would be to describe the system as something that was ‘put upon’ us, and that even though ‘we’ didn’t like it, it was the system we were stuck with.  In this way I could put myself on the side of the team member, and make the whole thing an ‘us vs them’.... with me siding with the team.  This approach can create loyalty to the ‘leader’, however this kind of loyalty looks more like friendship.  It also makes it very difficult to set standards and, when needed, hold people accountable to their actions since the team members see you as a team member and not their leader. The problem with this approach is that we end up taking the low road... in that we are not standing up for ourselves and supporting our leaders and company.  It’s divisive and fear based.

I feel that a goal of leadership should be to unify, not divide.  So... the other approach is to try to bring each team member onto the company team.  We’ve all agreed to work here, and in agreeing to accept our paycheck we implicitly agree to follow the rules.  If there are rules we don’t agree with or think are unfair or arbitrary we can work to change them.  Until then, we work within them (or make the decision to leave).  I describe the process to the team members so that they fully understand it..

Since pretty much every team member I hire is able to do any of the ‘tasks’ of my job (with some training), it seems to me that part of my job is to help them develop the mindset of a leader.  I hire them with the expectation that they will be moving into a leadership role sooner or later.  Explaining that we are part of a larger team, and why we make the decisions we make helps to unify us as a whole.  I feel taking the time to explain how things work goes a long way in building not only trust among my team members, but also helps to allow them to picture themselves in the role of leader.  Everyone understands both where they stand, and at least the next steps in getting them to where they want to be.

Starting this process with newly hired team members is, I find, much more productive than waiting until they show an interest in picking up more responsibility (if only to make more money).  I believe that having this level of transparency on my team has played a big part in how many people started as team members and are now in store and team leadership in the area.  In the last 4 years no fewer than 10 people I have hired off the street as my team members are now in leadership roles at the store and team level.  I don’t know anyone else at Whole Foods (at least locally) who can make that claim.  It’s not me... it’s doing my best to create an environment where great people can flourish.  It’s trying to be a leader...

Oh… and if you like the blog please like my facebook page.  I dare you!

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