Every Day Work Creates Every Day Trust.



Effective collaboration in your organisation depends on trust. The best way to build trust in your organisation is through collaborative work.

Trust is a consistent theme of this blog because it is fundamental to effective performance in organisations and social relationships. However, we mostly take it for granted and organisations often go out of their way to remind employees that they are not trusted and should not place their trust in the organisation.

Trust in the Work

One commenter on my recent post on collaboration and every day work suggested I was missing the need for trust to support collaboration. My response was that trust comes through actions and interactions.  Organisations often talk about trust as an abstract and something that can be worked on itself.

The reality of most trust building activities is that they create no trust unless they are connected to the fundamental interactions of the organisation. Trust is a manifestation of the expectations of interactions in the organisation, i.e. culture. Trust is human. All the fancy trust building exercises will fail if people believe the real interactions that support the work will occur differently.

Founding trust in and around the work to be done is important. Collaboration can deliver this new foundation for trust.  Transparency helps employees better understand what is going on in the organisation.  Networks leverage that transparency to deliver new accountability to help people have confidence in the work of others. Collaboration networks better enable employees to judge the intentions and capability of others based on the past performance in public interactions with others. Each of these interactions fosters a better level of understanding of the potential for trust.

Most importantly of all, collaboration networks can increase the interactions and the experience of generosity between employees. We all find it hard to trust strangers. Sharing a social network enables people to develop a deeper understanding of all of their peers not just those in their own teams.

Organisations that want to increase the level of trust between employees can benefit from focus on encouraging employees to work out loud and seeking opportunities for collaboration in their everyday work.

Get Out of the Way

Organisations also need to take care that they send signals that reinforce the value of collaboration and trust in every day work. Treat collaboration as inherently risky and you will discourage your employees from participating, trusting their colleagues and trusting the organisation.

When collaboration technology enables new interactions in an organisation, it can be easy to identify all the new risks that can be created. The traditional corporate approach to risk is risk elimination. Why not turn off the solution or the feature that creates the risk so that there’s no exposure to one poor decision by an employee. However, to avoid a rare event, this approach either excludes collaboration opportunities from the organisation or signals to employees that they cannot be trusted.

A better management of those risks is to place accountability on employees to manage the risks, both for themselves and others. That is a signal of trust in your employees and your willingness to make them responsible for a better workplace. That’s usually how you manage those risks outside collaboration technology where you have less control over what employees say and do anyway. Treating collaboration technology as specially unsafe is a bad signal for trust and ignores the opportunity to teach employees to the benefit of all the work.

This last point is significant. Trust, collaboration, agency and agility that you grow in your collaboration platform doesn’t stay there. Each of these capabilities are based in our human characteristics and follow wherever your employees go. They spread through the whole organisation. Manage trust well in the collaboration of every day work and the whole organisation will benefit.

Work Changes Culture

Sharing Out Loud

Work changes culture, not words. The future of work needs action to create new ways of working together. Creating new value requires people to do more than communicate. They must work in new ways.

With management of enterprise collaboration often falling in the Employee Communications function in organisations it can be tempting to see the challenges as primarily challenges of communication. How do we get people to use a new communication tool? What information do we want people to share in our new communication tool? Which communication tool should we use when?

The bigger and more valuable opportunity is to change the very nature of work. Changing work behaviours runs directly into the challenges of changing the culture of the organisation.  After all, culture is the expectation of future behaviours in any organisation. What ways of working are expected, what work is valued and how others will support your work is all wrapped up in a rich tapestry of cultural expectations born of past behaviours, some going back as far as the origins of the organisation.

As we have seen from communication campaigns around values in organisations, message can temporarily influence expectations. However, what confirms a change in expectations is when people see new behaviours being practiced consistently, rewarded and ultimately expected by others.

Sharing information in enterprise social networks is a start but the real value of working out loud is created when people begin to change the very nature of their work process to respond to expectations that they be more agile, more transparent, more collaborative, more trusting and more open to the expertise of others.  When this occurs they get the benefits of the input of others in greater speed, productivity and effectiveness. The changing nature of work and the changing culture of the organisation will develop hand in hand in this case and be supported by increasing personal and organisation value to justify the ongoing change.

Organisations that want to realise the true value of enterprise collaboration need to create an expectation that work will change to be more open. The best way to start that change is not with talk but by fostering the action that role models it to all in the organisation.

Do You Really Need That New Intranet?

Intranet projects are still popular these days. There is great new technology platforms & many new features available. Internet designs have moved on a lot so your old intranet is starting to look a little tired. Now your employees have new devices so your intranet needs to be mobile first and responsive. Think of the opportunities for new branding, a new name, better search and a refresh of all the content. Finally the intranet could be at the heart of the knowledge management and collaboration in the organisation. Delivering a new intranet is a signature career achievement.

Stop. Are you sure you need that new intranet?

New intranets don’t come cheap. Even after the technology solutions is acquired, the expenditure has only just begun. All that wonderful new design is going to cost money. You will need personas, card sorts and then branding advice. Getting the information architecture right can make all the difference so you will need a lot of time spent on the taxonomy of content, hierarchies of information, businesses and users. Glossaries and other reference materials will need to be reviewed and updated. Search will need to be tuned to make sure that it delivers the right options. All your existing content will need to be reviewed to fit into the new design. Throw in a policy and product information refresh and the costs and time skyrocket. Then there is the maintenance costs of all that content. Add in personalisation, collaboration and social features and the work never ends.

What is the Intranet really for?

To senior managers, an employee communications or HR team, an intranet is a showcase of the organisation, its business strategy and its knowledge. It is the one source of truth. It is the hub of collaboration and a critical place to share messages with all employees. This perception can create a whole lot of politics that disrupts the effectiveness of your new intranet. People become focused about the need to control the design and the content. User focus is swapped for the desire to meet the needs of the hierarchy. That control has real consequences when it disengages users. Worse still it can force one template on everyone and make everyone into ‘content providers’. The costs of this control are in content that gets out of date and grey market sites that spring up to break the shackles.  Soon the efforts to get around the intranet are drawing investment, effort and attention away from the platform. Confusion escalates and the intranet site is on its way back to being a stale reservoir of knowledge.

To an employee an intranet is where all the links in corporate distribution emails go. Usually the intranet is the last place they go to look when they and their colleagues don’t have the answer to hand and local searches have turned up no relevant ideas. Often the intranet is the place where knowledge is tied up in clunky processes & policy that don’t reflect their day job. Everything is anonymous. The context and authority that comes from human connection is lost. An employee does not care about single sources of truth or showcases of corporate messages. They care about findability and usefulness. Nobody browses an intranet willingly.

I know many organisations who have built elegant product sites on their intranet to explain all the features, process and policy relating to their products. Too often they discover that their teams use the customer facing website for product information. The structure of customer facing product information is usually better suited to employee’s roles in explaining that information to customers. It is indexed for Google search. Legal requirements ensure that product teams keep the external information that matters up to date. Also the employee can send the customer a link if they need to explain lots of detail. The pretty intranet is a showcase but the internet is the workhorse. How much of your intranet site could you do away with by directing employees to external sites?

Are the behaviours going to change?

In our work, we create value through our actions. If the behaviours aren’t going to change, then don’t change the intranet.  Changing only the technology alone, will foster only cost and confusion.

If you do want to get better at collaboration, communication and knowledge management, start with a clear understanding of the value to the organisation and the value to the user. Look for ways to achieve your goals that involved changed behaviours and community, not technology. When you are clear on the value of changed behaviours, you will be clearer on what your technology needs to look like to support that work. Now you won’t be forcing an intranet as a solution and you will be able to look at the breadth of options from social collaboration, to working out loud more, to using external internet sites and other tools of helping employees to find what matters most to help them do their job.

You will also have built a case for the whole organisation to align to working in new and better ways.

Slow Motion Disasters

In a competitive global economy, organisations want to improve their execution. With manufacturing paradigms, organisations often choose to focus on improving the teams doing the work of delivery. Management literature is full of processes and approaches to improve project and other forms of delivery.  However, organisations often fail to diagnose that the causes of poor execution can also lie around the teams and processes of the work.

Story: A Slow Motion Disaster

Yesterday I decided casually to make some sourdough bread because I thought I needed to use my starter again. My starter wasn’t quite ready but I thought it was close enough and I would push on. I was distracted when starting because I had a bit going on in the kitchen and I accidentally added a little too much water. I tried to fix that upfront with more flour and I thought I had it under control. The excess water made the dough loose and sticky and hard to knead.  I convinced myself it would work. When I finally had some shape to the dough, I left it to prove. As the dough proved, I found that it became too sloppy again and I took some steps to fix it but mostly failed.  

Now deep in the process, I tried to push on shaping a loaf into a basket and leaving it to prove overnight. When I turned that loaf out of the basket I no longer had a loaf. I loaded a collapsing mound of sticky dough into the oven hoping against hope it might rise a little in the oven. What came out of the oven was a flat mess. The entire process was a slow motion disaster from the beginning.

The output – half flat and half rounded. Tastes fine.

There are many points in that process where my execution of the sourdough bread failed. However, the bigger challenges were not my techniques of delivery but in the environment and mindsets surrounding the work:

  • I didn’t have a clear reason to start
  • I didn’t get ready to execute properly
  • I didn’t focus exclusively on getting the job done well
  • I was distracted by other goals
  • I kept convincing myself it would work out OK if I kept going
  • I tried to make late changes to fix earlier errors
  • I didn’t have any help, other viewpoints or external checkpoints to make me review my decisions
  • I fell into the sunk cost fallacy trying to finish when I should have seen the failure and started again
  • I felt the need to get the job done, rather than the pressure to do the job well.

Avoiding Slow Motion Disasters

Having been involved in many corporate projects, I have seen organisations experience many of the issues of delivery that I experienced above. These issues shape the ability of the team doing the delivery to manage the project and to succeed.

Talents are variable. Circumstances change. Mistakes will happen. Obstacles will get in the way. The challenge of effective delivery is how to design work so that the job gets done despite the skills, mistakes and the obstacles. That takes organisations to think through the goals, the support and the environment of the project to help those doing the delivery to best adapt to what happens. Process and talent won’t get you there alone.

Effectively delivery demands an environment where:

  • Clear outcomes are set and the outcomes matter most to the team and the stakeholders of the work
  • Work is put into preparation and clearing the path for the team doing the delivery to focus on their work
  • Hard conversations are had and clear choices are made to start, stop or continue based on progress towards the outcomes
  • Accountabilities are clear and teams are supported with autonomy, trust and support to achieve their outcomes around and through challenges
  • Issues are addressed properly as they arise
  • The environment, support and collaboration enables the project to work through issues, to make the needed changes and to pursue the agreed outcomes that define success. 

Poor execution is not a mystery and it is not always the fault of the team’s at work on delivery. Often organisations need to take a hard look at the contributions of leadership, debate, decision making and collaboration in achieving effective execution. Execution is as much an artefact of the culture of an organisation as any other activity.

The Normative Billiards called Culture

Roll one billiard ball at another across a smooth carpet and they will collide. The outcome will be determined by Newtonian laws of motion. As a result, billiards is a game of control.

Ask a person to walk towards another across a carpet and no matter how narrow the passage they will make efforts to pass each other, wordlessly navigating the changes in course to prevent collision through glances and body language. Human interaction is a game of influence, not control.

The difference in those two scenarios is that billiard balls operate in the grip of immutable physical laws. Human being operate in line with dynamic social norms. One simple norm is that you don’t collide with another if you can avoid it. 

Whenever someone offers you recommendations based on immutable human behaviour make the social norms explicit and consider how they might interplay. When you need to change behaviour remember that changing the carefully regimented process might be less important than changing the social norms. Any organisation will be composed of the interplay of many social norms, some explicit but many deeply implicit. 

Awareness of norms will help your effectiveness in change. We are human. We are not billiard balls. 

The Exception Ends in Transparency

The power of culture is it changes our behaviours without us always noticing. Take care your culture is not creating exceptions from social norms. If so, transparency will hurt you one day.

Yesterday, I posted on the exception we have in business for the use of arbitrary power that would be unacceptable anywhere else in society. We allow this exception because we see the use of arbitrary power as part of the expected behaviours at work, part of the culture of work. One reader commented that the use of arbitrary power in business seemed ridiculous when you think about it. That’s the problem with culture. Most of the time we don’t examine our expectations. We just align our behaviours.

Over and over again organisations don’t see the issue in their culture until the light of transparency is shined on their behaviours. Suddenly their actions are judged not by their own internal norms and expectations but by the public social norms of the community. Too many organisations are shocked to see their own behaviour in that light.

Before you get caught by surprise by your own culture, open it up to discussion and reflection. Work out loud to engage customers and community outside the organisation. Keep the boundaries of your organisation porous. Listen carefully to the rebels and change agents bringing you news of issues. Most of all do purposeful human work in the real world. That’s the best way to keep yourself honest.

The Emperor’s New Clothes


“By breaking the rules of the game, he has disrupted the game as such. He has exposed it as a mere game. He has shattered the world of appearances, the fundamental pillar of the system. He has upset the power structure by tearing apart what holds it together. He has demonstrated that living a lie is living a lie. He has broken through the exalted facade of the system and exposed the real, base foundations of power. He has said that the emperor is naked. And because the emperor is in fact naked, something extremely dangerous has happened: by his action, the greengrocer has addressed the world. He has enabled everyone to peer behind the curtain. He has shown everyone that it is possible to live within the truth. Living within the lie can constitute the system only if it is universal. The principle must embrace and permeate everything. There are no terms whatsoever on which it can co- exist with living within the truth, and therefore everyone who steps out of line denies it in principle and threatens it in its entirety.” – Vaclav Havel, The Power of the Powerless

What exactly is the power in your company’s hierarchy?

A Culture of Consent

Debates over structure, governance and power dominate management. We want to get the right balance between command and autonomy as if this is a formula that can be designed externally and imposed. The realities of power in organisations are simpler than we perceive.  

An organisation is not a state. Despite their orders, minions, wealth and luxurious surrounds, senior managers are not rulers. There is no army, no police force and no jail. Shareholders are not voters to provide legitimacy to coercion. Security guards have limits on their ability to apply force and is rarely constructive. Coercive power is in organisations is rather like the Emperor’s New Clothes. Senior managers know this well because daily they experience the limits of their ability to order.

Organisations have one form of power – exclusion through exile or ostracism. Senior management have security guards to escort you from the building.  Management can encourage others to turn on you. They can deprive you of this source of income and relationships in a community of peers, but have no other power. Look closely, they probably can’t even deprive you of resources, as these are usually under the day-to-day management of your peers. You already work around that issue daily as you make your organisation’s budgeting work.

All the power of the hierarchical leaders of organisations is given to them by the culture within the organisation. It is social influence, not power backed by force. Like the greengrocer in Vaclav Havel’s example above, you either live within that culture (and sustain its power) or you don’t (and become a dissident or rebel).

If the Emperor of Management has no clothes..

  • Change is closer than you think. Start to create new influence or question the sources and approaches of power and you are already leading change, potentially far more quickly than you realise.
  • Management are not a blocker outside the system preventing change. They are a part of the same system and equally aware of its issues. Encourage them to adapt management practice through conversations about influence, culture and the practices of power.
  • Network with like minded peers discuss and debate what needs to change. How should influence be structured in your organisation?
  • Culture is not a project just for the HR team. The consequences of the real cultural norms are far wider and far more important than a poster of values. Culture will shape what the organisation perceives and how it is able to respond.
  • Living in reality and being more human is harder than you think. First, you must separate reality from the views that you have chosen to believe. Second, you must continue to engage with the reality of the situation without the warm support of culture.
  • The future models of power in your organisation are a discussion for the community. Adopting elaborate models of autonomy and decision making without this discussion is swapping one naked emperor for another. If you adopting a new model, what is it about this model that makes it closer to the reality of influence in your organisation?
  • The ability to survive and restart reduces the threat of management power. That means a sense of personal purpose, savings of six to twelve months of living expenses, marketable capabilities and good external networks. Removing the danger from exile and strengthening purpose against ostracism frees the rebel to lead change.

“For the real question is whether the brighter future is really always so distant. What if it has been here for a long time already and only our own blindness and weakness and has prevented us from seeing it around and within us and prevented us from developing it?” – Vaclav Havel

The Normative Value of Failure Comes from Your Next Act

Embrace failure. Fail fast. Fail small and early. Everyone has failures. Few failures are fatal. 

Despite all the good advice about failure, people find it very hard to sit comfortably with failure. When outcomes matter and achievements are celebrated failure is often a disappointment regardless of the amount of official imprimatur. Failure attracts a whole lot of personal and cultural baggage. This is a significant issue when willingness to risk failure is a large part of an organisations ability to adapt.

Reading The Pirate Organization by Durand and Vergne gave me a somewhat different perspective on failure. Noting that many pirate organisations were short-lived and easily defeated by the forces of the state, Durand and Vergne still noted that pirate organisations helped establish new norms for international trade and even the way organisations worked. Pirates showed where states were weak, where trade was broken and where traditional organisations needed to become more agile and adapt. Their thesis is these fragile and often failing pirate organisations are a critical part of the process by which sovereign states and capitalist organisations adjust to new territories of economic endeavour.

Failures Create Norms Too

Projects that end in failure can play a critical role in defining norms in an organisation in a similar way. They also set norms that shape future activity as well. Failure draws human attention and with that attention there is a chance to influence the way that people perceive culture – the how we work around here expectation. Critically culture is an expectation of how we will interact. It is shaped more by what you do about failure than what you say.

Failure has a big influence because the activity that follows failures sends signals that shape people’s perspective on a few key elements of organisational activity:

  • People worth supporting: How do you treat those whose projects fail. Give them the plum choice of the next project. Support them to learn what they need to learn to make their next efforts more successful. Whatever you do, don’t pretend the failure didn’t happen. They know it did. Hiding it loses the lessons and the uncertainty of silent treatment can be worse for people involved than blame. 
  • Purposes worth achieving:  The surest way to signal that a purpose is important, is shared and is worth achieving is that people persist after a failed attempt and start developing new ways to achieve the goal based on the lessons from the failure.
  • Problems needing fixes: Failures often highlight problems in supporting areas, systems or processes that need attention. This is how lessons are revealed by a chaos monkey. Whether or not people are prepared to learn and adapt to remedy these problems following failure is a major signal of the culture of an organisation. Do nothing and you can’t expect anyone else to care for those issues.
  • Ways worth working: Failures often take down more than just a specific objective or a specific project. Small specific failures in organisations can be used as a weapon to sabotage wider transformations, particularly ones that change the way an organisation works. We’ve all heard some version of the refrain of the cynics “How can they succeed in the whole organisation if they can’t get their first pilot to work?” Whether an organisation persists, adapts or abandons a new way of working following a related failure sends a critical signal.

Norms Come From Actions. Not Posters.

You are going to struggle to convince people that you love and desire failure. The achievement orientation in your organisation culture will work against you all the way. Hiring a few change agents will help show tolerance and foster some adaptation but it won’t necessarily make failure acceptable.

Take down the posters encouraging people to risk failure. Show them instead how you act after failures happen. That moment is when you get to signal what matters to your organisation in terms of purposes, people and processes.

Start Yesterday

The only thing as a manager that you can’t fix is the discovery that you should have started yesterday. Working to create an effective culture is not a realm for the fast follower. Start!

All the Fast Followers

A fast follower mindset dominates much strategic thinking in business. It may not always be explicit, but successful practices are widely followed.

Nobody wants to bear the pain, the effort and the risk of the bleeding edge. Too many of the inventors failed to win the execution challenge. Once a successful approach has been identified it can be rapidly copied. Fast followers compete on execution. Fast following is seen as a safe play with only the danger that you give your competitor a small advantage for the period of time it takes to copy the approach.

You Can’t Fast Follow Culture

Your culture today is different to your competitor’s culture or your role model organisation’s culture. There is a reason you still haven’t caught up to the impact of those GE practices that you are trying to follow (A reminder: Jack Welch retired 14 years ago). 

What will be effective in your organisation differs from what works in another company. Experimentation is required to find the ideal set of behaviours for the purpose, people and strategy of your organisation.

Even if a practice could be guaranteed to work, implementation of cultural change takes time. There is no purchase to make, no switch to flick or no announcement that will let you catch up on an advantageous culture as a fast follower. 

Culture is an expectation of how interactions happen in the networks of your organisation. Networks are one area where fast follower strategies often fail. People can be reluctant to shift once they have adopted a set of beliefs and built skills in interactions in a network.

You need to do the work to change the expectations of behaviours in your company. That will not happen overnight.

Your Future Competitor has Started.

Somewhere a present or future competitor has started experimenting with new ways of working. Disruption is as much about new ways of working and new models of management as it is about new customer propositions.

The extensive discussion of the future of work means that different organisations are starting to explore better ways of working. People are experimenting with new modes of organisation, practices of management, the leadership of communities, and different ways to learn, collaborate, innovate or solve problems. 

These organisations are exploring more effective cultures and modes of achieving higher performance in their team. They know that it will be a long while before you find out what works for them. When you do even knowing what works for them, you will still have to make sense of the change for yourself.  There’s a lot of learning to do.

You can’t catch up without learning what works for you & your network, learning how to implement changes and making the new behaviours expected practice in your organisation.

If you are wondering if it is time to start experimenting with new ways of working, then take a closer look at the practices and experiments of the competitors around you. You can’t start yesterday, but you can run an experiment today.

The Cultural Renaissance

The way people behave matters. We are experiencing a renaissance in focus on culture in our organizations. After emphasising process and systems, we are recognising the value of culture for collaboration, innovation, agility and the ability to realise the potential of an organisation. However culture is a challenging realm for managers more used to tangible systems to change.

Culture is Behaviour

‘Culture is how people behave’ – Mary Barra

Many organisations don’t understand culture. They treat it as an abstraction or a communication issue. The mindset believes that posters, communications and effective change management workshops can drive culture change. If everyone is clear on our values then the culture will change.

Nobody changed a corporate culture with a values statement. Values are subject to conflicts, interpretation and there is a gap to implementation in action.

What Behaviour do you Expect?

‘Culture is what happens when managers are not in the room’

Culture is about behaviours. A culture appears in action, not ideas. That’s why it has a positive or negative impact in a business.

Watching the actions of others is how we determine what actions are required and what is allowed. When a group of people form an expectation that some behaviours will happen and others are prohibited, those expectations shape their actions.

We know words mislead. The surest test of a culture is what behaviours happen when nobody is watching. We know a single action might be a fluke. We want consistency before we change our expectations of how people behave. Leaders need to take particular care to not announce new behaviours that they can’t live consistently.

Changing Culture Takes Actions

‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’ -Peter Drucker

If your culture change program remains in the realm of ideas and ideals then the culture of the organisation will defeat it. Make sure you consider the following questions:

– what are your actions today before the change?
-are the actions you expect clear practical and realistic for people?
– who will lead the way in consistently & visibly demonstrating the new behaviours?
– which actions will you discourage?
– how will you ensure the changes in action are noticed and shared widely to reinforce the need for change?

Action is the heart of culture. Change the actions to change the behavioural expectation that is culture.