Trust is Essential for Honesty

July 29, 2011

I recently read and commented on Pawel Brodzinski’s post, Give Honesty a Try. It is commendable that Pawel doesn’t have problems with people being critical of him because he is looking at the upside of knowing the truth. I agree with him –honesty helps us to do the right thing from an organizational perspective and honesty enables us to change and grow personally.

I asked Pawel a question that in all fairness was a tough question (as Pawel pointed out): ”I’d be interested in your take on building an environment where people feel secure enough to talk candidly. Personally, I feel that management has a role in building trust that goes hand-in-hand with honesty…”

As a writer on leadership topics – it occurred to me that I attempt to answer the question myself.

Pawel is doing one thing that drives honesty, and that is to model the behavior that he is expecting. Leading by example is a great first step. If you’re going to listen to feedback, don’t fight it. Listen carefully and depersonalize the information, even if it is cast in a personalized manner.

As a manager, I’ve had people tell me in very direct, blunt terms what I’m doing right and wrong. While there are those who hold back their opinions because you are a manager, I’ve encountered others who are concerned about delivering straight, candid feedback because of your position. They assume that your position gives you thicker skin. I welcome the latter, and I worry when people hold back.

If people are holding back, they aren’t comfortable about being candid and honest for some reason. This can be an indicator that the work environment that you as a manager have created is hindering the open, honest feedback that you need to be effective. It can also be an indicator that at an individual level, people don’t feel comfortable with being honest, perhaps due to past experience and nothing to do with you.

As a leader, it’s important to set and maintain the standards of performance and behavior for the organization – and model it. People need to be held accountable for delivering results, so hold yourself accountable for your results first and foremost. Keep your promises and deliver on what you say that you will deliver on.

When it comes to others, hold them accountable as well, but not in a negatively-driven way. If things are going wrong, you want to find why, and uncovering the truth from people requires that you avoid playing the blame game.

Honesty is build upon the foundation of trust. This ties into Pawel’s response to my question. His answer to me was spot-on – that using information against people can make people feel insecure by default. People won’t feel that they can be honest with you if the result of that honesty is being passed over for promotion or a mistake shows up on a performance review.

Keep one-time mistakes out of any written feedback, especially the performance review! I have observed managers in the past writing things into reviews that never should be present in the first place, like noting that “I’ve observed that lately, so-and-so has been less than responsive to requests.”

And where did this “feedback” originate from? A lazy manager who didn’t take the time to make notes throughout the year, who invested the minimum amount of time possible to write an annual review – something that each employee takes to heart – and jotted down an “observation” from the last couple of weeks in the year. Most likely during Christmas when organizations are short-staffed because people are on vacation and those that are left are scrambling to cover the business, dealing with Christmas shopping and family events. That’s not even close to fair and it won’t build trust.

Trusting people also means trusting them to deliver. Micromanaging conveys a sense of distrust. A key motivator for knowledge workers is that they are knowledgeable people who can and should be trusted to deliver. This doesn’t mean that you have to be hands-off; by all means talk with people about the nature of the assignment and how they will approach the task at hand along with the deadlines. Be clear about the expectations.

If you want honesty, you need trust. People need to feel safe about being honest, and they need to see that this honesty pays off – without hurting them. You can’t ask for honesty and start receiving it automatically. It takes time to demonstrate and build the trust required for honesty to flourish.


John said...

"Honesty is build upon the foundation of trust." I have to agree with you in this quote. The main issue in a business is trust. You wouldn't know the true intention of your employees or clients unless you are honest with them.

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