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High-performing, healthy culture starts with trust

Smart Business Northeast Ohio
by Jennifer Ake-Marriott

Early in my career, I came to realize that any organization I was a part of was going to have limited success if any members of the team required what amounted to a police presence to get their work done or to do it well.

We all know organizations like this. They have a cop on the block to keep the peace, because who knows what will happen if there isn’t someone monitoring everything, making sure no one screws anything up or dogs the job. What a waste of time.

I wanted to grow my organization and increase output. How could I do that if we could only move at the speed of one person’s ability to provide individual attention to an entire group? I couldn’t. If I was going to grow, I had to remove this obstacle.

My first step was to identify the core reason we had a “cop” in the first place. Turns out there were several seemingly legitimate reasons. In addition to ensuring people were staying on task, we also had to ensure quality and be there in case someone needed guidance. Unfortunately, the people working under this oversight saw it as a lack of trust. And if they believe you don’t trust them, how can they trust you?

This lack of trust between management and worker is an old paradigm, but it persists, especially in environments where all the revenue generation happens with people being paid by the hour. While there may be good reasons why this is the case in your own environment, the bottom line is that it’s inefficient and demoralizing.

Low-trust environments are slow, expensive and hard to scale. They are low-morale environments marred by high turnover and low accountability. These are not aspects of a high-performing, healthy culture.

To be clear, this isn’t about oversight. Oversight is part of a supportive, accountable culture, which is necessary for growth. But if you have a low-trust environment, that is your culture.

So how do you turn this around? There’s no shortcut to rebuilding a culture. It takes time and attention, but it also takes research. Cultures evolve, and the most dominant personalities in an organization will shape them.

The first step to cleaning this up is to find out why your culture devolved into one of mistrust that needs a cop to function. Talk to the staff being policed and the people doing the policing and hear what they have to say. It’s important to understand the facts but also any mythology that exists, because those are the accepted facts. Both need to be addressed to make any kind of change.

Once you know the “why,” you can begin to address the issues through training, new processes, measurable accountabilities and, quite possibly, staffing changes. Be transparent and overcommunicate what is happening. And always, always provide context for the new directions being taken.

If yours is a low-trust culture, it likely wasn’t a choice; it was a necessary solution. Understanding how you got there and why allows you to address those problems differently. But it also allows you to solve the right problem. Instead of addressing, “How do we keep you from doing the wrong thing?” you can solve, “What do you need to do excellent work?” 

You can read Jenn's article and check out Smart Business Magazine here: