Sunday, June 04, 2006

A Matter of Trust

Sometimes we do things just because we’ve always done them the same way and because it’s just too difficult to change. But if we take a moment and examine those things from a different vantage point, the folly glares back at us and, suddenly, it’s not so undesirable to change after all.

For example, there are countless hours spent in countless organizations across the globe developing elaborately worded policies just to make sure people dress properly for work. I’ve seen some of those policies. They spell out every detail from skirt height to whether jeans can have holes in them. These policies attempt to define the difference between “blue” jeans and jean-like materials and even the size and shape of pockets. And those are the ones written for professional people with one or more college degrees.

Now, I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I have learned a few things about people in my years as a manager. Like how 90% of employees really do want to do a good job and would just like us to define what a good job is, then stay out of their way and let them get it done. The other 10% don’t belong in our organizations anyway and we should be trying to ease them out – quickly! The fallacy in what managers end up doing is spending 90% of their time chasing after the ten percenters and virtually no time with the 90% who will work with little or no supervision at all.

A couple of times in my human resources management career, I was lucky enough to work for companies that were havens for progressive thinkers. They applauded outside the box thinking and trusted me enough to try new approaches to managing people.

It was great when one of those companies nodded when I ditched our eight page dress code policy and replaced it with the following two sentences: “We trust our employees to dress appropriately for the type of work they do considering their contact with customers, employees and investors. We reserve the right to question attire we feel is inappropriate and address concerns with those individuals on a case by case basis.” That was it, except of course for my signature.

It worked so well I used the same memo with the same language at two other places I managed, one of which had spent around thirty hours of time over several months wrestling with dress code language. In all that time over three organizations, we only had one person whose attire we had to question. She agreed, went home, changed and that was that. Amazing things can happen when you trust your employees.

My point is, managers should try to adjust their thinking and shift their energies toward the ninety percent of employees who want to get the job done. Spend time with them, develop their skill levels, coach them, expect good things from them, write policies geared toward them, trust them, recognize and reward them. The other ten percent? Maybe you should try sending them to your competitors.