The Trust Equilbrium

Changing roles can be challenging enough, but can be even more difficult when changing from one type of corporate culture to another. Moving from a large financial to a small startup certainly fits into the ‘challenging’ model.

It wasn’t until long after I had left my previous employer to realise how little trust there really was been the ‘company’ (if you think of it as an ambiguous blob of people and process) and the employee. I recently revisited my old office in Sydney and talked to people who are simply crushed by the amount of bureaucracy which made their day to day work lives so difficult¬†and arduous. It was bad enough when I was there, and two years later was even worse. In their case there is some valid reason for process given the regulatory environment upon which they operate, however what is really achieved is a culture of mistrust, and more dangerously a subculture of people who endeavour to work around the rules (mostly) to get the job done.

My current employer takes a different stance on this; there are definitely checks & balances, but overall the position is “we trust you; don’t betray that.” It was a harder adjustment for me, being told by my two bosses here at various times “why are you asking for permission? Just go and do it – I trust you”. Removing the “mother, may I?” mechanism is mostly a positive one for company and employee both, with intervention for the most part being “oh, no you shouldn’t have done that but you didn’t know, so it’s cool”, and malicious intent being very rare.

The defining difference is that employees here are treated like adults: we don’t have the liquor cabinet locked (figuratively and literally) because we know you won’t abuse it. We know we don’t have to keep putting stronger locks and surveillance measures in place to protect you from yourself. And ultimately if you break the rules maliciously or repeatedly, you’ll be treated like an adult and reprimanded as such.¬†In my observation and hearing anecdotical evidence, we have very little in the way of abuse of trust either with perks or working to the best interests of the company. Trust is critical to any relationship, and I wished that more companies thought of the trust they put in staff as a tool rather than a millstone.

2 thoughts on “The Trust Equilbrium

  1. Hi Steve, nice post.

    How very true! While I can sympathise with the rules at your former employer (and I worked there too), as they are heavily regulated and handle other people’s money, I think throwing out the trust just to enforce the rules is misguided.

    Almost everyone I have worked with over the years has been professional in their attitude and trustworthy in nature. Surely you can start from a position of trust and build on that, instead of an assumption that people will do the wrong thing more often than not? You can often weed out ‘cowboys and cowgirls’ in the recruitment process using simple tools, so why not trust your people once they are on board?


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