Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Building Trust between Board and Staff

Trust is the fundamental quality of successful, productive and sustainable relationships. Without trust between the board and staff, an association’s ability to serve its members suffers. This leads to the logical question, how can the executive approach, in a systematic manner, the challenge of building trust to achieve performance?

Here are some facts to consider:
  • Ninety-one percent of employees rated “being trusted to get the job done” as the most important thing to them in their work setting (2001 Randstad North American Employee Review)
  • A Watson Wyatt Worldwide survey found only half of employees trusted senior management.
  • Watson Wyatt also found that in terms of performance, companies where employees trusted top executives posted shareholder returns 42% higher than companies where distrust was the rule.
While I know of no research that documents relationship between trust and performance in associations, I have no doubt there is a close correlation. The following shows the differences between two organizations, one with high degrees of fear and distrust versus one where the culture is built on a foundation of trust.

Culture of Distrust and Fear
Culture Built on Trust
Minimal collaboration
High levels of collaboration
Turf Battles
Open Sharing of Information
Low Morale
High Morale
Negative Gossip
Positive Gossip
Low levels of innovation
High Levels of Innovation
Sabotage/Behind the Back Gossip
Disciplined Communications

As I look over the left-hand column there is an air of familiarity about it. Sad to say, many of the behaviors in left hand column are all too common in the realm of board-staff relationships.

Awhile ago, I had the opportunity to work with Bob Foxworthy, a consultant who has developed an approach he calls Trust-Based Leadership™.  His work with companies such as Tropicana, CSX and Hewlett-Packard has won awards such as the George Land Leadership 2000, World-Class Innovation Award and Rail Business Magazine’s Railroad-Shipper Win-Win Award for customer-supplier collaboration.

My experience working with him on a leadership training program for a police department in Virginia opened my eyes to techniques and approaches that can be used by associations.  Here are three ideas I would like to throw out for your consideration.

Idea #1: Develop and invoke a set of ground rules to build trust

Ground rules are a way to clarify and codify the answer to four questions:
  • How do you want to be treated?
  • How do you think you should treat others?
  • How do others think you want to be treated?
  • How will we resolve conflicts?
Unfortunately, most associations have no ground rules to guide the relationship between board and staff.  And those with ground rules seem to pay them lip service. If people in an organization cannot answer the four questions above, they will seriously constrained in the ability to achieve improved levels of performance.

Idea #2: Develop a Set of Measurements

There is a maxim that whatever you measure, you get more of. So, if you want board and staff to be clearer about their roles, do a better job of communicating,  be more active in sharing information and work together for a  common goal – then it makes sense to have a way to measure those things. Here are some indicators you might use to measure trust in your association:
  • Clarity of roles: Are the roles of board members and staff clearly defined?
  • Communication: Are the lines of communication and process for communication between board and staff clearly understood by all?
  • Open sharing of information: How well do board and staff share information vital to making sound decisions?
  • Shared Purpose: To what extent do board and staff feel they are working towards to the same set of goals?
It is worth emphasizing the importance of measurements. You can and should measure the factors that shape trust in your association. Doing so allows you monitor what is happening, pinpoint “trust fractures” and take corrective action.

Idea #3: Have an annual game plan

Trust is a perpetual process that must be continually renewed among people and within organizations. Many times I have heard an executive say something like this: “When I was first hired five years ago the board knew and trusted me. But now, due the turnover, I feel they no longer trust me.”
With this mind, an executive director should have a game plan each year designed to build and maintain trust between the board and staff.  Asking the following questions will help you develop the game plan:
  • Are we invoking the ground rules for board-staff relationships? Do new board members (and new staff) have the opportunity to explore and discover why the ground rules are important?
  • Are we measuring and monitoring key indicators of trust? Am I using those measurements to facilitate better communication and collaboration?
  • Am I paying attention to my personal leadership and communication styles. Are there aspects I need to change or new skills I need to learn to become more proficient at creating an environment of trust?
Finally, I would like to share, courtesy of Bob Foxworthy, seven characteristics of Trust-Based Leaders:
  1. They work to build trust with others in all they do.
  2. They demonstrate humility and authenticity when interacting with others.
  3. They tell the truth to their peers and their followers, even when it is personally painful to do so.
  4. They are open, honest and direct in their communications.
  5. The demonstrate respect to others.
  6. They consistently act in an ethical manner.
  7. They are courageous visionaries committed to becoming the best that they can be and /or leading their organization to greatness (measurably defined).

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