Tag

office politics

Career Advice

2 ways to completely destroy trust with your manager

It’s always nice to talk about all the things you can do right in your career and in the office, but sometimes it’s worth focusing on what you should not do because it’s so hard to recover.

There are two ways I have seen people break trust in the office that are almost always fatal. They are not the only two, of course, but when they happen it’s always a surprise to me because these mistakes are always visible – whether you think they are or not.

1. Make, and stick to, a bold faced lie

This mistake is often about the use of information. You, the manager, share a piece of information with Angela. Maybe Angela sits in a meeting where she hears it, and you stress in the meeting how confidential it is, or maybe you need to share the information with Angela so she can do her job. But, for whatever reason, Angela just cannot keep the information to herself. She shares it with John. Maybe she shares it because it’s just too juicy not to, or because it gives her sense of power to show John that she has the information, but once she does it’s out.

John is shocked by the information and asks his manager, Bill, is it true? Bill asks him how he heard and John tells him, and shows Bill the text Angela sent him. Bill calls you to discuss the leak. So you, the manager, know the source. You confront Angela, and she lies, and sticks to the lie. She doesn’t know you have evidence so she won’t back down.

This is a real scenario I experienced, and it’s not unusual. In a recent seminar on cyber security an FBI instructor told us that in the case of a security breach the average time to leak is 2 hours because employees cannot sit on the information, but they deny it because they are afraid. Decisions like layoffs and reorgs which affect people’s lives spread fast, as do knowledge of in-office sexual relationships.

But as the manager, once you have an experience like this with an employee, will you ever trust them again? If you know they will lie like that? Probably not.

2. Break a serious promise

Strong teams are formed on human relationships. Trust, relying on one another, knowing that you have each other’s back. And so, at times, employees make commitments to one another. A commitment to stick with a project until it’s done, not matter how hard it gets. A commitment to stay on the team through thick or thin until the mountain is taken. A commitment not to lie to one another. A commitment to take on the customer travel for the team because they need to focus on the project within HQ. A promise to protect someone’s job when they go on maternity leave.

Jeff is leading a small team taking on a significant challenge for the company. He knows it’s going to be hard, and he’s worried about it before, but he commits to his manager and his team that he’s going to see it through. He won’t quit on them and they’ll win together. A month later he gets a better offer and quits. He’s an important player but do you try to turn him around?

When someone breaks an explicit commitment/promise to you, or to their team, would you ever work with them again, or give them a reference? Probably not.

Everyone is human, and everyone slips up sometimes. And it’s not only early on that people that make these mistakes, but experience has taught me that age has nothing to do with breaking trust in the office. And so what do you do if you make one of these mistakes?

My advice is as soon as you realize you have made one of these mistakes you come clean. Go to the person you have betrayed, tell them everything, and sincerely apologize from your heart. Don’t try to explain it away, or explain why you think there were extenuating circumstances, or why your actions were really OK but you got caught. Just take the blame squarely on the chin and, if you believe can, make the commitment to never make that mistake again because you understand the cost to their trust in you.

Trust is fragile. It takes time to build and, once broken, can be very hard to rebuild. Admitting your mistake is a good first step to rebuilding trust.

Career Advice

5 Ways Trust Impacts Your Productivity In The Office

Published in Inc January 8, 2015

So you want to create something fabulous and new. You want to innovate and
create a breakthrough no one has thought of before. Well, you probably
have a list of ingredients you need: a few computers, some smart people,
project funding… but there is one critical ingredient you need which
can’t be measured but will have a huge impact on your success. That
ingredient is Trust.

Trust allows your team to
move fast, fail fast and create. It’s a simple but true fact so often
neglected inside companies. Two simple issues that can be an advantage
in a culture of trust and a huge liability in a culture of politics and
mistrust: 1) how long it takes to make a decision 2) the quality and
stickiness of the decision.

1. In Development.
Think about agile development for example. One of the 12 key principles
to be mindful of is, “Build projects around motivated individuals. Give
them the environment and support they need and trust them to get the job
done”. If managers don’t trust the technical team to get it right they
will slow down the development process and inject themselves into
decisions that need to be made by the engineers, often resulting is
lower quality decisions, or decisions that get made and then unmade.
Begin by hiring great people and most importantly trust them.

2. In Planning.
How often do executives posture in the annual financial planning
process and ask for more resources than they need, on the premise it’s a
political negotiation? Blustering, ego-driven demands! If, instead, you
have a team who truly trust each other then the dynamic will be quite
different. Team members will have the freedom to advocate for projects
and priorities, regardless of who gets the resources to get the project
done. Too many times I’ve seen people equate headcount and budget with
success–but in a trust based environment the focus is on the team’s end
result, regardless of where each person sits in the organization.

3. In Hiring.
As your team beings to grow, the talent you hire will have the single
greatest impact on your potential for success. The hiring decision needs
to be open, transparent and filled with honest assessment -setting up
an initial hiring process that counts on trust. An example of this
process can include: a hiring manager assigns an interviewing team,
everyone meets the candidate and then the team assembles for a “round
table.” At the round table everyone is required to express their
opinions is an open, constructive way, but maintaining the premise that
all input is OK, both good and bad. The process moves more efficiently
towards productive results due to trust from the hiring manager truly
wanting the team’s input, and that the team working towards getting the
manager to the best decision. Without trust, you see posturing, cronyism
and manipulation of the process. Unfortunately, I’ve worked in
companies where senior executives bring in friends with no interviewing
process whatsoever. Now that’s a recipe for others to trust–not!

4. In Time.
While running a young, growing company or a highly innovative team you
will most likely be making hundreds of decisions a day. Risky decisions
with limited input. And truthfully you know you won’t get them all right
(although you do have to get the majority right). If you are working
with a team who you trust, and who trust you, you can move that decision
process quicker. You can be transparent, share your thought process and
quickly poll for advice. When you make a mistake, your team has your
back. In a political environment where information is power, decisions
take much longer because it’s not shared so openly. In a nutshell, trust
allows a team to identify problems quickly and without fear–no
baggage, no personal positioning. It’s incredibly efficient.
Trust takes time to build, which is why people who work well together often stay together from company to company.

5. In Fun.
Unless you are a master manipulator and play office politics for sport,
teams that trust one another are just more fun to work in. Having that
professional comfort allows for more laughter, more shared wins and more
support when the going is tough. Given how much time you are going to
spend working with one another, why not invest the time and effort to
build trust so that work is fun?

Career Advice

Why Personal Positioning is Toxic in the Office

Which matters more – how you are personally positioned, or what you get done?

Sometimes popular wisdom would tell you personal positioning truly matters. Who you know, what they think about you, how much “face time” you get, are you networked… but while this strategy may be effective in some large or political companies, it’s death in a fast moving, apolitical one.

I define politics in the office as any person, or behavior, that puts their personal interest in front of the company’s interest. When you’re growing fast, and making a thousand decisions every day, there simply is not room for people’s self interest if it’s not aligned with the company’s. But the learned behaviors, from larger political organizations, still hang around with new employees until we stop them.

Behaviors like obfuscation of the details – let me make broad statements as if I know what I’m talking about to shut you down, but I don’t actually have the details to solve the problem. Or CYA – let me tell you why the problem I am bringing to your attention is a result of something that happened before I had the job to solve it. Or the “Well everything’s all effed up so I’m the hero for trying to fix it”. Or the eye roll when describing someone else’s problem. All behaviors designed to position the source as superior and not responsible for whatever problem you are tackling.

But in a rapidly moving company, I want my staff to be responsible. Even if it is effed up, and the fire was burning before you arrived. Personal positioning is just a waste of my time.

A customer is unhappy. Bring me specifics. This happened. I think the issue is A or B. I’ve formed a small team to get to the bottom of it. We’ll tell you if/when you need to speak with the customer.

A release is late. Tell me what and why. This piece of code took longer than we expected to deliver, or that piece is unstable and we need two more weeks to test it. We’ll come to you if we need more time or resource to solve it.

To the point, specific, centered on action and resolution.

And blame is simply not helpful. Things go wrong some times and individuals are to blame. But the time for blame (if there is ever a time) is after the problem has been solved and then in a post mortem. Bring the team that failed in a situation together and debug what went wrong – with no blame. That allows you to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

I have a friend who, early on in his career, proudly called himself the vice president of personal positioning. He had it down to an art form. He was smart, articulate, good looking and senior management loved him. This served him well for a while. Then he came to work for me and I called him on his BS, repeatedly, until he figured out he was capped until he solved real problems. Because he’s smart he stopped it, and is now an SVP at a large enterprise software company.

People who are repeatedly successful, across multiple companies, figure this out. They focus on action. On creating solutions, solving problems, helping others. Despite the number of blogs written that say you should manage your brand, and how you are perceived, the truth is power accumulates to the people who know what to do and how to get it done (See my post about Pfeffer’s books on Power if you are not familiar with this concept). Not people with friends. Not people who know how to network. It accumulates to people who know what to do and how to get it done. Period.

So if you find yourself worrying about your personal positioning, yes, you’re human, but put it aside and set about solving the problem you’re faced with.