Distrust in Hierarchies: A Barrier to Trust in Networks

In the future of work, we are going to talk a lot about trust.

We will need to consider trust deeply because it is a critical underpinning to success in our new ways of working. We need to recognise the trust that we choose to grant is a design choice. We are likely to need a new precision in our understanding of trust.

Most of all we need to ensure that the distrust that pervades our hierarchies is not a barrier to building new trust in networks.

Our hierarchical organisations often hide an assumption of deep distrust. Organisational structure, role design, silos assume people must be separated to generate clear performance measures. Performance management and reward schemes assumes people will not perform without extrinsic motivations. Management, monitoring and compliance are often set to treat 100% of employees poorly against a tiny risk of failure. People are assumed incompetent unless proven otherwise. If your processes allow no variations, discretion or exception handling, then there is likely little trust in your organisation. If messages are consistently spun and the real news is on the grapevine, not the intranet, then there is no trust in communication.

Trust will emerge in effective networks. However, trust is reciprocal. If your hierarchy is telling people that they can’t be trusted, then it is getting in the way of the emergence of trust in the networks in and around the organisation.

Remember how you treat your people plays a large part in how they will treat each other and their networks, including your customers and communities.

Don’t expect your people to give and build trust over your distrust in them.

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