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Trust? Screw that.

February 10, 2010 4 comments

Most organizational experts list Trust as an important element of optimally performing teams.  Steven Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, suggests, “Trust is the highest form of human motivation. It brings out the very best in people.”   In Trust Rules: How to Tell the Good Guys from the Bad Guys in Work and Life, Linda Stroh acknowledges that “betrayal is bad for everyone” and “without organizational trust, the focus of every transaction revolves around issues of determining who has control and ensuring no one gets more than that to which they’re entitled.”  Pick your favorite leadership guru, “trust” is all over their work.  It’s important, I get it.  But I say it’s also idealistic. 

I told my wife last night that, “I would absolutely love my job if it weren’t for this one person.”  That one person happens to be some one who has betrayed and abused my trust one time too many.  But here’s the problem: 1) He/she has an important role in the organization so he/she isn’t going anywhere any time soon, 2) I’ve tried to address the trust issue head on with him/her to no avail, 3) It’s really hard to play the role of unbiased HR professional when the issues you’re addressing relate to a peer who shares a boss with you.  It’s that third issue that brings me to my first recommendation to HR leaders out there: Have an explicit agreement with your boss on who your HR representative is in the event you need one.  It may be another HR leader, it may be corporate counsel, it may even be an HR representative who reports to you.  Either way, it should be agreed in advance that by using said representative you deliberately separate yourself from your role as HR advisor and take on the role of employee.  With that understanding you should feel more comfortable getting the same kind of support on your issues that you are dedicated to providing the rest of the company.  Here’s my next recommendation: Screw Trust!  Trust is for people you love, for people who love you.  Trust is for people your livelihood depends upon.  Trust is for people who actually matter.  But trust in the workplace is fleeting.  Yes, you should strive to be trustworthy; but unless you are a firefighter, a soldier, or a trapeze artist it’s naive to count on others to be trustworthy.  Sorry, it just is.  Try to give the benefit of the doubt, stay optimistic, have faith, have respect, strive to understand, build strong working relationships.  But keep a healthy sense of skepticism about any one and every one.  Don’t become paralyzed by paranoia, but watch out for wolves in sheep’s clothing.  I’m here to tell you: workplaces are not designed for trustworthiness…trust me on this.