Belief No. 2 for a High Performance Organisation

"There is one thing that is common to every individual, relationship, team, family, organization,   nation, economy, and civilization throughout the world—one thing which, if removed, will destroy    the most powerful government, the most successful business, the most thriving economy, the   most influential leadership, the greatest friendship, the strongest character, the deepest love.

On the other hand, if developed and leveraged, that one thing has the potential to create    unparalleled success and prosperity in every dimension of life. Yet, it is the least understood,    most neglected, and most underestimated possibility of our time.

That one thing is trust."

Stephen M R Covey, The Speed of Trust

In the previous post in this series I was talking about how people want to do the best job they possibly can, and today I move on to trusting them to do it - in effect, letting go of control and trusting that the other person will deliver.

Returning again to my days running the foundry, there was one particular guy there, a crane driver named Brian Hill, who I related to for several years as someone who was a major problem.

I don't mean he was actually doing anything wrong. He did his job very well and he didn't overtly cause any trouble. It was just that, as far as I was concerned, he was a problem.

The particular behaviour of Brian's that I had an issue with was that he acted (as I would describe it at the time) as a self-appointed safety representative.

Whenever anything was not perfect from a safety point of view, Brian would come and tell me about it - and then hassle me until I fixed it.

Now it is important to be aware that iron foundries are really dangerous places. I don't just mean a bit dangerous, like running across a three lane German autobahn with no speed limit. I mean really, seriously dangerous.

For a start there are large quantities (a tonne or more at a time) of molten metal at around 1400° C moving about the place, and even when it's no longer molten and looks quite cold, a new casting can be way too hot to touch for a long  time - depending on it's size and weight it might be 12 hours or more, and in some cases, even several days. On top of that, there is a lot of dust, high noise levels and some extremely dangerous equipment and chemicals.

And of course, people do tend to become a bit blasé about the dangers when they're working in that environment every day.

Add on the fact that all that heat, and highly abrasive and penetrating sand means that virtually all the equipment is, effectively, self destructive and needs a great deal of maintenance, and you have a place with an awful lot of safety issues arising on a daily basis.

And Brian was very active in making sure all those issues were brought to my attention. So, as far as I was concerned, most of the time he was a major pain - it's not that I didn't want a safe workplace, but damn it, I had a business to run!

In a way, what made it even more difficult was that I really liked Brian and got on very well with him, but I just wished he'd lighten up and leave me alone sometimes.

Then one day, and 25 years on I really don't remember where the idea came from, I had what turned out to be a brainwave.

I finally realised that Brian was really committed to ours being a safer workplace, and that I could trust him to be both responsible and accountable for safety.

So I asked him if he would like to become the OFFICIAL safety manager. He willingly accepted and overnight my problem became one of my most powerful allies.

He no longer came to me with issues that he expected me to correct. Now he would report things to me, and at the same time propose solutions, on which he would follow through and carry out the necessary actions.

One particularly significant example was that for years we'd had huge difficulty getting people to consistently use their safety gear. (Take a look at the photo above for an illustration of the bravado that foundrymen tend to exhibit around safety - remember that metal could burn through skin and bone in seconds!)

Within days Brian had it sorted. He was ruthless in ensuring people made full and proper use of the correct equipment and that they looked after it properly.

He took over the role of accompanying Inspectors from the Health & Safety Executive  on their visits, and would argue passionately with them if he felt their suggestions were unnecessarily onerous.

He became one of my right hand people - and he didn't even want any extra pay for it. He was brilliant!

I trusted him and he repaid that trust a thousand-fold. My only regret is that I didn't do it sooner.

I promise you trust works. I have trusted people to do a good job over and over again, and the disappointments have been massively outstripped by the successes.

And if you're not sure if a particular person can be trusted, then try this advice from Ernest Hemingway:

“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody, is to trust them.”


This is the third part in a 4 part series:

3 Key Beliefs for High Performance Organisations

People want to do the Best Job they Possibly Can

People can be Trusted

Working Together is Best


3 Responses to People Can Be Trusted

  1. Tim Douglas says:

    Another enlightening story, Doug.
    As well as leaders and business owners trusting their employees, it’s critical that the employees trust the leaders and owners. This trust is frequently eroded by lack of communication downwards, or opportunity for communication upwards. And by poor decisions that reflect self-interest rather than the legitimate interests of the workforce as a whole, or poor treatment of individual employees.
    I’m looking forward to the final installment.

  2. Doug Mather says:

    Absolutely spot on, Tim.
    Thanks for your contribution. 🙂

  3. Another great post Doug. I especially like your ending, “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody, is to trust them.” In my mind, if everyone accepts responsibility for an area of the operation (such as safety), then there’s less need to manage. Great job, as always, Frank

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