“Culture is what people do when no one is looking,” said Herb Kelleher, CEO Southwest Airlines.
T is for Trust in the A to Z of OD.
Moving to new ways of working – leveraging new tech and embracing flexible hours and locations – is the single most important shift in organisational life in generations. From an OD perspective, you simply cannot afford to have managers who say, “I can’t trust my team are getting on with their work when I can’t see them in the office.”
Now, you may have some sympathy with this manager’s position: our attention spans are falling and we have access to distractions on portable and wearable tech that is growing exponentially. However this “new” tech gives us choice and freedom to access information and entertainment when it suits us, when it fits around our other commitments, whether they relate to work or leisure time, family life, exercise or hobbies. It enables us to be more productive, to research any topic in moments, to broaden our knowledge base and connect with people across the globe instantly.
I suggest any manager who can’t trust their team either has the wrong people or is locked into a 20th century management mindset that belongs in the past. Either way, it is a failure that is down to weak and insecure managers.
Recent research by Virgin Media Business found 1.6m UK workers already regularly work from home and 66% of employees say collaborative relationships make them feel more focused and productive.
It’s time to reappraise these archaic management assumptions
What happens if we assume people respond positively to being trusted and are more productive if they are encouraged to collaborate? The evidence suggests we can step back from those unfounded worries of the weak and insecure manager. You hired your people to do a job. Presumably, you have discussed and agreed objectives with them and are measuring the outcomes they produce? Presumably there are consequences for them delivering or not delivering those objectives? And presumably there are standards for their behaviour at work and support for them to develop their skills and be the best they can be? If not, you have work to do on your culture. That said, you can’t afford to let managers off the hook. When these things are in place, good management allows people to thrive, embeds the culture you seek and improves organisational effectiveness.
As OD practitioners, we believe in people. We believe individuals and teams can be trusted to choose how they work. Get the enabling infrastructure right (tech, office space and management practices) and educate your managers how to trust and be trusted by their people. “I empower and trust my people to get on with their work and choose how best to get the job done together. I’m here to help them get unstuck if they run into problems.” Now that’s more like it!
“When the culture is strong, you can trust everyone to do the right thing.” Brian Chesky, CEO Airbnb.
OD thought leader: Peter Thomson (b. 1946)
Peter has spent the majority of his professional life observing changes in working patterns. Working in industry well before the age of the Internet, he could see that the rigid work practices of the 20th Century were outdated and mobile technology was about to revolutionise the way work would be performed.
He set up the Future Work Forum at Henley Business School where he continued to study emerging patterns of work. Whilst there was a massive potential for change, driven by a new generation of worker and aided by technology, change was happening slowly and many organisations were sticking to their outdated management cultures.
His action research built up a unique insight into the business impacts of flexible working practices. He studied the management of virtual teams and the leadership qualities needed in the new world of work. He recognised that traditional ‘command and control’ cultures were stopping progress and that a new ‘trust and empower’ management style was needed to bring major benefits to employers and employees.
Peter has written, contributed to and edited several books on the subject of the future of work. He regularly presents challenging ideas to business leaders and conference audiences, stimulating debate about the changing role of work in society, the expectations of employees, effective organisation cultures and motivational management. His thinking has inspired audiences to prepare for a future of work that is radically different from conventional employment.
Recommended reading: Maitland, A and Thomson, P (2014) Future Work, Palgrave McMillan, London.
You might also be interested in Peter’s upcoming workshop on creating a plan for a more productive workforce, to be held in London on 4th September 2019.
Next time in the A to Z of OD: U is for the Unifying theory of OD (there isn’t one!)