About Lack of Trust, Lack of Respect, and About Trust and Respect
Please keep reading this text after the introductory sentences, which will seem familiar. As long as we exist there will be changes, and changes will always bring problems. Problems will demand solutions. As we look for solutions we will get into conflicts of style and conflicts of interest, but these conflicts are unavoidable and they can be constructive if we resolve them in a climate of mutual trust and respect. And so on, phrase after phrase… But.
I would like to go back about ten years to the very end of the last century, to the first training session in sunny California, which looks even better through a hotel window. After a month of hard work and discussions about the great subjects and secrets of management the pieces of the puzzle fell into place for me. I was proud that I, like every true inhabitant of the mountainous Balkans, had uncovered another conspiracy. The basic message they wanted to give us in this training course about how to make successful companies was that the success of any organization, from marriage to a whole country, including businesses, depends on the level of mutual trust and respect amongst the members of the organization. I was confused, and then scared at the same time. I was fearful for my own survival. Boris, my man, you aren’t going to pay the bills with this when you go back home. Instead of giving you a solution, some magic pill, those “con-men” say that neither Change Management, nor Balanced Score Cards, nor Performance Appraisal, nor CRM, nor HRM nor an integrated information system are the key to establishing an organization that will be successful. They will soon be telling me that none of the things I’ve listed can be put into effect if there is not mutual trust and respect between the members of the management team. To put it more precisely, you can create it but it won’t work. And I had to go back after that to a part of the world where many meaningless words have been spoken and to talk about mutual respect and trust. Where management is about pulling the wool over someone’s eyes, democracy a deception to enslave proud nations, transition a way to make a quick buck, transparency fishing in troubled waters, and where NGOs are founded to get involved in politics, and non-profit organizations too. In such an environment we have to put forward the thesis that successful companies are made through the establishment of mutual trsut and respect.
Although I passed the exam and thereby demonstrated that I had understood and grasped the material well, I needed many more days and thousands and thousands of hours’ work with clients to begin defending with my heart what I had previously only defended with my head. The former is an organ that is located a little lower down, but which is essential for the understanding of organizations, at least as long they are made by people.
Let us take a look at the world of organization from a completely different angle. Do you know a company that was unsuccessful and went out of business? Do you know the reasons for its failure? The good staff left, anything worth taking was stolen, it was asset-stripped, the managers were all moonlighting, etc. They didn’t trust one another, and didn’t respect each other. And there you have it. The common denominator of all reasons for the failure of an organization is a lack of respect and lack of trust. So what is the key to success? Respect and trust. Thank you!
Let’s be completely clear about this. You can’t introduce respect and trust into an organization by talking to the employees about believing in one another, about enjoying their mutual differences blah, blah, blah. That’s about as effective as billboards that a government uses to try and change the behaviour of its citizens with slogans like “Fasten your seat belts – safety on the roads”, “Pay your taxes”, “Buy domestic products” (or in Bosnia “Hand over your weapons” – imagine a home owner who is strolling along to buy some cigarettes but as soon as he sees the billboard he dashes home and picks up a shovel to dig up his cache).
That is not a serious approach. Someone is either wasting their money or “laundering” it. What billboards are at the macro level so training courses in which managers chase around the woods and come to each others’ rescue are to business (or non-business) organizations. The problem is believing that people who don’t talk to each other, or talk but don’t listen to each other, or listen but can’t agree on anything or carry out what they have agreed, that such people will communicate better, respect and trust each other more, just because they have spent two or three days spraying each other with paint, or helping each other not to get lost in the woods. No, they themselves will have a surer hand, they will have rosy cheeks from the fresh air and will be good at not getting lost in the woods, but on Monday they won’t have any more respect and trust in each other. And so why look for a solution in this illusion? It’s easier and cheaper. It just costs more or less money.
Real change is expensive and can never be achieved one hundred per cent. But that is the only possible and realistic solution. It takes time. Especially for those who believe in overnight success, who want it all and want it now. True change requires work on what is called organizational transformation, or more precisely organizational therapy. It requires the establishment of a clear vision and a company mission, and requires a clear structure that will give a definition of duties and authority in order to get somewhere near what we call responsibility, and it requires working with the managers. And only then can we go off on a day out and play all sorts of games.
A few lines back I wrote that genuine change is expensive. I wasn’t referring only to money. I was thinking primarily of the time and energy which managers MUST invest to organize not only their own work but that of their colleagues; because that is what their job consists of, in addition to building a climate of trust and respect on those foundations which will lead to the resolution of conflicts of style and personal interest and increase the probability of making good decisions and implementing them, in order to solve the problems which arise as a result of change. Amen.