Management In Real Life

The Profitability of Trust
by: Kevin Herring

Doubt can be a real show-stopper. When people doubt, they lack confidence, lose motivation, and often stop trying altogether. It shows up when managers give up on employees, employees doubt their managers and stop pushing themselves, and nothing remarkable gets done.

Kevin doesn't have that problem. Kevin (no, not me) is the owner of a solar company. For the past 15 years, Kevin has been building a solar power business from the ground up and brags that he has the best employees anywhere. When I asked him what makes them great, he told me they have the same passion for the company’s mission that he has, but that's just part of the story. Kevin says he's never had a manager in his company. He doesn't believe he needs one. That's because Kevin teaches people what they need to do and trusts them to do it. He says he's rarely disappointed. He didn't set out to specifically design the business to be without managers, or to be self-directed—he just believes in people and trusts that if they believe in the mission, they'll do what has to be done. The way he figures it, he doesn't need anyone to check up on employees and tell them what to do next, so why hire managers.

No experience=no preconceptions

When I asked Kevin about his management experience, he told me he didn't really have any and that his lack of training was "both a blessing and a curse." Without knowing how to manage a workforce, he has had to learn in the school of hard knocks. Despite that, he figures it’s been a blessing because most managers are taught to distrust employees—that they have to watch employees to make sure they keep working. And so, they manage that way. Kevin never learned traditional command and control management in the first place, so he didn’t have to re-learn how to manage. His naivety allowed him to avoid traditional notions about supervision and trust. He takes it for granted that employees will do what needs to be done, and he has managed with that expectation from the beginning.

Trust adds value

Trust is one of the best management attributes Kevin has going for him. Because of that trust, he has employees who know they're trusted and who work hard every day to prove they deserve it. They know what needs to be done, it’s important to them, and so they do it. In Kevin’s world, that’s what it’s all about. If he hires someone who can’t be trusted, that person is in the wrong place, and Kevin has to fix that. But he says that’s very rare.

Kevin is quick to praise his employees. Thanks to them he’s been able to keep his business thriving through the difficult ups and downs of the solar industry. Not only that, his team has made his firm the top solar energy company in the area. Not doubting what his employees can do, Kevin’s trust in them has paid off on the bottom line year after year. 

Rate how much you trust each of your employees to step up for the business without being prompted to do so. Use a 10-point scale with 0 representing that you don't trust them to take initiative and 10 representing that you fully trust them to step up without your prodding. No doubt, you will find your score varies by individual. If you rate most of your employees in the bottom half of the scale, you might consider what it will take to create a more trusted workforce. Ask yourself the following: Do you treat employees like you trust them? Is there any information about the business you hold back from them? Could you involve employees more in solving problems and otherwise taking responsibility for helping the team overcome challenges so they achieve better results? If you rate your employees in the top half of the scale, consider what it would take to rate them all tens.

Send an email and let me know what you learn from your experiences. I would love to hear from you!

Kevin Herring

Kevin Herring is co-author of 'Practical Guide for Internal Consultants', and President of Ascent Management Consulting, Ltd., a firm specializing in performance turnarounds of work groups and business units.
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