This post is from the CollabNet VersionOne blog and has not been updated since the original publish date.
The Currency of Trust
Maybe it is one of the trade-offs you make in working for Big Corporate, but I find the (continuing) erosion of trust and empowerment in the corporate workplace troubling.
From being told how to do their jobs via rigid/crippling processes that leave no room for thought or common sense or “IT” organizations that will not let employees download Firefox because it is not an “approved” application; more and more employees today are being stifled for no reason other than companies trying to achieve a utopian level of uniformity (Side note to “IT Guy”: Can you cite the last time a website puked because the user had Firefox instead of IE? Me either, now let your people use Firefox!).
The frightening part of this trust erosion is the hidden cost to organizations. According to the Houston Chronicle the price tag to hire a new/replacement employee is astronomical. Some estimates peg the costs for hiring a $60,000 IT worker at $150,000! Managers? That cost averages 150% of the starting salary.
Why are these costs so high? Well…we all know the hiring slog up the hill to an offer: Pre-screen by HR> Phone interview with the manager> Face-to-face with the manager>Technical interview>team interview and on and on. Your suit will be the only one happier to finally see an offer letter than you.
If you are on the hiring side, you know that drill too. Your goal is to find the smartest, most productive, reliable, etc. person. You put candidates through their paces, examine their prior work products, smile or frown at their chosen institute of higher learning, and use their tweets as some indicator of “fit” within the organization. Candidates are exposed to bogus scenarios, goofy questions, and asked how they feel when… <insert ridiculous situation here>.
If we specifically look at project managers and business analyst (the roles I am most familiar), popular questions are scenarios where you have to jump into a project where there is no process in place. I have witnessed good people disqualified because someone feels they do not have enough experience in these areas. Often managers miss the irony that once that person is hired these skills are ignored. They are asked to follow a rigid process and not ask questions or make waves.
Why spend the time figuring out if people have a skill, only to ignore it? Talk about raising someone’s expectations, only to pull the rug out from him or her. Whether you told the person they will need these skills or not, simply by asking them in the interview and placing importance on them sets expectation. Your candidate thinks they will be coming into a cool gig; only to find out it is a soul crushing existence.
Ultimately, how can we expect professionals to be innovative and productive when their thoughts and actions are constantly being dictated? Honestly, we can’t. Nor should anyone be surprised that Gallup found 70% of professional US workers are “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” in their work (shout out to @Brian_Irwin for directing me to this study).
How do we fix this? What is the best way to reengage these workers? Simple:
Trust and empowerment.
If companies are going to spend so much money finding smart people, then let them do smart people things. Encourage and leverage the collective brainpower of your organization, vs. stifling and constraining it. Harness their intelligence in a logical manner, but do not put arbitrary hurdles in their way. How do you do that, you ask? Simple, begin by taking a look at your current processes and start asking what value they provide. I am talking about TRUE value, not some step that is meant to make it easier for the help desk, or an admin or accounting by insulating them from people asking questions.
You want a process that provides real value, and does not hinder your employees.
Is streamlining your processes tough? YES!
Will some people in the organization be upset? YES!
Is it worthwhile? YES!
How worthwhile? Look at page 26 of that same Gallup poll I cited above. Workers who are engaged will give you 147% higher earnings per share. More engagement leads to higher profits, plain and simple.
To recap: higher trust and empowerment, leads to higher engagement, and that leads to higher earnings.
Speaking for myself, higher earnings with engaged employees sounds a heck of a lot better then disenfranchising my employees and then spending obscene amounts of money to replace them.