Trust But Verify

Trust But Verify

Transparency, accountability, responsibility, and honesty are all synonyms of each other

Trust, along with a good dose of communication, cements a vision and a team together for organisational success. Leaders that desire to carry forward a vision of excellence need to create an environment where trust between themselves and the employees becomes a basis for mutual expectation. Make certain your employees know what you want and expect from them. Check on them in a positive way but ask what they do, how it’s going and how you help them succeed in their work. Their success will be your success.

Leaders rely on recommendations from others to make decisions. Often a team spirit exists between team members and their leader. Yet the comradery and sense of unity can vanish in a moment when a recommendation goes awry and angry board members, shareholders or stakeholders focus on a recommendation or action which fails.

The leader becomes accountable and suddenly, the leader stands all alone. The sense of team spirit and belongingness can disappear as everyone fights for survival in the corporate jungle.

We should trust the people we work with but, on critical items, verify. Even the best employee can forget a detail while mediocre employees simply may not follow through. When they do not, then you must deal with the problem.

Trust but verify.

This became a famous phrase when Ronald Reagan was President of the United States. The Russians and the United States had an agreement to destroy numerous nuclear weapons. Inspectors from neutral countries were recruited and sent to both the United States and Russia to inspect the destruction of the nuclear weapons to ensure both countries did as they promised.

Reagan said he trusted the Russians but had a neutral third party present when the weapons were destroyed. This provided outside verification that both sides had complied with the agreement. “Trust but verify,” he said.

Trust becomes earned over time. Long-term relationships with elements of trust come from understanding the other person, understanding how they communicate and then some type of reciprocity from the other person to you.

If you tell someone something and it changes because of circumstances which are not under your control, go back and tell the person the changes. They should not be blind-sided. After all, you told them! You need to be and continue to be credible. Keep your word – and – expect them to keep their word as well.

When a supervisor tells an employee how they would like them to perform a task, they have every right to go back and review the performance of the task to make certain it conforms to the standard they expect. The supervisor has the right to know the end product of their area.

The Four C’s Trust

Trust has four traits which we label here with words that begin with a “C.” These definitions help to quantify why we trust some people and why we should not trust others.

  • Competence
  • Consistency
  • Communication
  • Candour

These four traits of trust build long-term relationships which can be based on experience. Always keep in mind though, that even with a long-term relationship of trust, one or two negative interactions can destroy the trust earned over years. Trust needs to be continually maintained!

Competence – The First Element of Trust

The definition of competence from Dictionary.com:
“The possession of required skill; the quality of being competent; adequacy; knowledge, qualification, or capacity.”

When you tell someone information that they need to have, make certain it is accurate. If you don’t know the answer – don’t make it up. Either tell them you will get back to them or admit you do not know the answer.

I knew a fellow administrator who, during a public board meeting, was asked a question by a board member. The board member had actually read all of the materials for the board meeting and had technical questions on a report. The board member asked the administrator who was in charge of finance, “Clarence, can you tell me about the amount on page 117 of the report and why it differs from page 134? I’m concerned as to how the two numbers don’t seem or coincide.”

Clarence sat there for a few seconds.

“I’ll check that out and get back to you on that. If there’s a problem, I can always bring this back next month,” Clarence said. This was important because moving forward on a contract depended on the vote of the board that night. If Clarence pulled the report or the board voted the item down – which is their right – business would be delayed. The board member responded with, “I think it will be fine but check it out and if we need to, we can bring it back next month.” The board member then proceeded to make a motion on the item to approve it.

Clarence did not have a clue as to the discrepancy the board member had found at that moment. But the board member was not worried because he knew that Clarence would check on it, as Clarence had on other items previously. Clarence would check on it and, either way, he would call the board member the next day. If the numbers jeopardised the outcome, the board member knew it would be revised and brought back the following month. Clarence was competent.

To trust someone, you need to know that when they tell you something it is not a fabrication, a lie, they “think” they have the answer, they “almost” have it right.

You cannot make a decision on a foundation of knowledge made from shifting sands.

The people you trust, whether you actually have thought about this or not, are those people who when they tell you something you can depend on what they have told you. What they tell you is accurate and reliable. That person exhibits “competence.”

Consistency – The Second Element of Trust

The definition of consistency from Dictionary.com:
“Steadfast adherence to the same principles, course, form, etc.; a degree of density, firmness, viscosity, etc.; agreement, harmony, or compatibility or uniformity among the arts of a complex thing.”

People like to know who you will be from day-to-day. You need to be the one who controls your own emotions. If you have an employee who makes you angry, exactly who is now in charge of your emotions? You or the employee? No one should be able to make you angry because then they own your emotions.

People need you to be the same person day after day. If you have fun and be crazy – just have fun and be crazy every day. If you are direct and forthright – just be direct and forthright every day. If you are nice and conversant every day – just do it every day.

In employee surveys of complaints about their supervisors, a common phrase comes up when you read the details. People want consistency in their supervisors. Sometimes, a supervisor might tell the employee one thing one day and do something else the next day. Circumstances in the workplace do change and sometimes a clear need to change becomes apparent. When that happens, the best practice for a leader will be to go back and clearly communicate the change along with the need for the change. Not communicating the change or why the change is needed makes the leader look inconsistent.

Leaders should not flip-flop. Fish out of water flip-flop. And the fish has a reason!

Consistent people will be the same person they are on Tuesday as they were the day before on Monday. Many people wear different faces on different days of the week. There are also many people who wear different faces for people at different levels of power. Leaders should wear one face.

Communication – The Third Element of Trust

The definition of communication from Dictionary.com:
“The imparting or the exchange of thoughts, opinions, or information by speech, writing, or signs; the act or process of communicating; fact of being communicated; a document or message imparting news, views, information, etc.”

Tell people what coming attractions will be in the near future in the workplace. Communicate. If changes will happen, tell them.

Good communication provides support for employees. They will have confidence that they know what happens around them. They can share with others their world and not have to recant what they said one day with a different story the next day. When that happens, it becomes difficult to be proud of your workplace where chaos rules the day. Let people know any changes they can expect. Let them be prepared. Let them participate in the dialogue of a change – it will help you as well.

Be guilty of over-communicating rather than under communicating!

Too often employees will not know what to expect. A new desk arrives in their area and speculation may grow rampant. Rumours may be that someone new will join the department. The rumours may grow into a corporate story that the whole area will be replaced. None of this may be true, yet without information, stories grow. Communication on the details provides the employees with the information which will affect their daily lives.

Candour – The Fourth Element of Trust

The definition of candour from Dictionary.com:
“The state of quality of being frank, open, sincere in speech or expression; candidness; freedom from bias; fairness; impartiality; the state of quality of being frank, open, and sincere in speech or expression; candidness: to consider an issue with candor.”

Say what you mean and mean what you say. I have simply never been very good at lying so I stopped years ago. There are people who master the art of the lie and I think it is a skill that has a certain vulgarity about it. I prefer honest, frank discussions, and I think most people do.

I was meeting with a group of faculty members from around the state of California over dinner. We discussed the issue of candour. One faculty member said it well when she said, “I’d rather hear someone tell me “no” than beat around the bush and give no answer at all.”

I responded with, “Just so I understand you, if your dean told you “no” on a topic, would you try to go around her?” Her respond was a bit shocking, “Well, now I go around her on a regular basis because I never receive any straight answers about anything. If I had a clear “no” on a topic, even if I disagreed, I’d support it. I just wish it was so!” Score another point for workplace candour!

Lay the expectations out. Make certain clear communication exists. Assume some responsibility yourself to ensure all goes well. Candour makes the world a safer place, one on which we can depend on each other!

Trust needs to be a part of every workplace

Employees will enjoy the same interaction with you as a supervisor if you stop, listen and care about them and the work they do for the organisation. Give direction. Go back and check that your direction has been followed. If not, find out why or make yourself clear.

Maybe if you listen, you will hear a better and more practical way to do things and have a true defining moment. Steer your area the way you deem so on the best pathway. When you want to make a change, provide plenty of communication so there will be no surprises for the employees or for you! Trust must be a two-way street and it starts at the top!

Trust but verify applies to countries, politicians, and employees.


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