Compromising Trust: An Analysis
Losing the trust of a report is a very catastrophic situation for a leader. We need to be able to identify when this happens and then come up with a disposition on what to do in order to remedy it. We need to be able to decide whether we aim to try to live through the break in trust or repair it. I highly advise against living through the break in trust and hoping that it will fix itself. I suggest instead to seek to repair any break in trust between you, as a leader, and your report.
A Story Of Compromised Trust
A friend of mine and I were talking about a recent situation that occurred at her work. She had made an err in following company policy and when confronted about it she quickly owned up to her error. She admitted that it was a mistake and while she had learned from it and promised not to do it again, her manager, angry and seeking to prove a point in front of another manager, informed her that the situation was much more dire. Her supervisor then proceeded to tell her that she had crossed a line with the quality department. Her manager told her that they were not forgiving and that hundreds of thousands of dollars of recalls had happened as a result.
My friend in this case immediately had assumed that she would be severely reprimanded, or worse, walked out on the spot. This caused great emotional pain, as her income from this work was a substantial part of her family and she was proud of her job. After being sent back to the line with a verbal warning, she paid great attention to not re-commit a quality offense, however, paid attention to the damage she caused because she truly felt condemnation. She paid attention for some time and found that the level of quality infraction that her manager had exclaimed to her did not happen as explained.
An Analysis of Compromised Trust
What happened here was that an employee who was proud to be part of an organization committed an infraction that should have resulted in a verbal (or other) disciplinary action, and it did. If this were the case and it ended here, we would be at a positive place. We would arrive at a destination where corrective action was needed, taken, and the company and employee better for it. What happened instead was that the corrective action happened, however, in anger (or a show of power), and an employee who was really a part of the team has felt this. My friend confided in me that she has felt lied to by her superior out of aggression and that she no longer trusts her superior. She confided in me that while she is still proud to be a part of the organization, that she has separated herself from identifying as an associate who reports to this superior.
There is great danger anytime a report no longer trusts their superior. Specifically, when it comes to morale. There is nothing stronger than an associate or report that is happy to work for their supervisor. I think deeply into this and into the other aggravating factors surrounding this. The root cause for all this commotion is due to my friend committing an infraction. Can we really root cause it to this, or should we begin to delve into proper management principles that should have been demonstrated in order to satisfy the situation and preserve our position as a leader? I believe the latter is true. We should at every opportunity seek to preserve our position as a leader.
What Should Have Happened?
If an employee is committing a policy infraction, I believe that this should be addressed. It should be addressed quickly and directly. If it was a direct cause of departmental disciplinary circumstances, I believe they should be outlined. If it was an infraction that could have caused severe departmental accountability, then I believe that this should be outlined truthfully. I do not believe at any time we as leaders should lie to our team in order to trump up the seriousness of the situation. Doing this, although it may feel right, will not more effectively take care of the situation. I want to talk about this for a moment.
If we make the situation sound more escalated than it is, this can only lead to potential damage to the credibility of our leadership. If you have an employee that is proud to work for you, with high company morale, you only stand to lose if you falsely escalate a situation in order to increase the amount of accountability or guilt felt by the employee. It is likely a reprimand or warning will be adequate corrective action to reverse the behaviors that resulted in the infraction. Obviously if this is a recurring incident than escalated levels of accountability and responsibility should be considered, but taking the facts from the story, this isn’t a repeat situation and was a first-time policy infraction. Further, falsely escalating a situation, or lying to the employee will directly damage your ability to continue to lead.
Analyzing the Managers Decision
Sometimes as leaders we are called to act on situations that seem to spring into life out of nowhere. We can be thrown into a mix of personalities and attitudes that we did not know were coming at us. Sometimes we can be threatened, feel incompetent, and feel that our reports intend for this to happen to us. A whole host of things could have happened that caused this specific manager to react in such a way that she fluffed up the situation in order to make it sound more severe than it was, however, the end game has to be to address the problem and preserve being a leader. I believe the break in trust in this situation removed a follower from her, and it did not have to. I believe that as a leader we must have followers, and that the manager in this case may have addressed the issue for the company, but also damaged herself as a leader, and in the process lost a follower.
How then do we respond when a boss demands answers or actions to result from a policy infraction? We deliver them ethically and with integrity. We hold our employees accountable in a way that they can only respect us more. Do not allow yourself to feed into emotions when accountability and disciplinary action are the subject. Hold the employee accountable while still capturing that employees respect as a report to you. They will love you for it, it will boost their morale, and the organization will be all the better for it.