#80 The Trust Cycle

Yesterday morning I went searching for a topic for this week's post and came across an article on Management-issues.com entitled, "Breakdown in Trust Heralds Retention Crisis". You can find the link here:


The first two paragraphs really caught my eye:

"According to the fourth annual Ethics & Workplace Survey from consultants Deloitte, 34 per cent of employed Americans plan to look for a new job as the economy picks up, with half of these (48 per cent) citing a loss of trust in their employer as the main reason for wanting to leave.

A similar proportion point to a lack of transparent communication from their company's leadership, while four out of 10 say that they have been treated unfairly or unethically."

Consider that. 34% of the civilian workforce plans to plans to search for new employment when the opportunity arises and 48% of those people cite a lack of trust with their present employer as the reason why. That is roughly 16% of the total workforce not trusting their boss, and another 16% who believe they have been treated unfairly or unethically. Wow!

While there are vast differences between corporate America and the military related to purpose, there are also a lot of similarities as well. In fact, I would contend that at the institutional level, corporations and the Army are actually pretty much the same. If you substitute mission accomplishment for profit margin, and switch General for CEO, and shareholder for taxpayer, in many cases, you can interchange all the rest and aptly describe any large company and any Army organization. The cultures of the two organizations may be different, but generically, the same issues faced by the civilian work place are present in the Army.

The Army is a microcosm of society. A junior corporate executive comes from the same society as the mid-grade officer and noncommissioned officer. They have both been conditioned in roughly the same manner by the world they grew up and presently live in. It stands to reason therefore that if 16% of the workforce doesn't trust the boss, that same 16% is probably present in the Army.

Some questions: Where did the trust go, and how was it lost? Was it ever really present at all, or was it the unbridled optimism of the young executive who believed it was there when it really wasn't? Did the company sell the organization as one who would take care of its' people and then cut and run when the economy turned sour? Did the two groups (company and employee) have fundamentally different interpretations of how trust is demonstrated? For corporate America these are important considerations. Constantly turning over 16% of the middle management workforce cannot help but have a detrimental effect on production and profit. At best, it means that the corporate machine can only work at 84% effectiveness.

For the Army, that 16% is also critical. Consider this: An infantry brigade has approximately 3,500 people divided into 6 battalions. And that's its' base structure. Once deployed, the number can easily reach 5,000 or more. 16% of 3,500 is 560 people. That equals one battalions worth of disenfranchised Soldiers at any one time. In essence, the leadership has within it's ranks one entire infantry battalion that has one eye on the fight in front of it, and one on the door leading to the next opportunity. 560 is a lot of unhappy folks.

How do we regain that trust? Again, corporate America can provide a possible solution. I found an article entitled "How Leaders Build Trust" by George Ambler at
(www.thepracticeofleadership.net). You can find the link to the article itself here:


The article starts out by stating that, "Trust is one of the most critical requirements for effective leadership." It then goes on to outline a trust model called 'Transaction Trust'.

Much like the OODA Loop, the Transaction Trust model has 3 main parts which work together in a never-ending cycle. The 3 parts are (1) Contractual Trust or 'trust of character', (2) Communication Trust or 'trust of disclosure', and (3) Competence Trust or 'trust of capability'.

Under Contractual Trust or trust of character, the model lists the following requirements:
1. Manage Expectations
2. Establish boundaries
3. Delegate appropriately
4. Encourage mutually serving intentions
5. Keep agreements
6. Be consistent

Under Communication Trust or trust of disclosure, the model lists the following:
1. Share information
2. Tell the truth
3. Admit mistakes
4. Give and receive constructive feedback
5. Maintain confidentiality
6. Speak with good purpose

Under Competence Trust or Trust of capability. the model list the following:
1. Acknowledge people's skills and abilities
2. Allow people to make decisions
3. Involve others and seek their input
4. Help people learn skills.

The lack of trust in workforce - and the Army - is likely due to the failure of multiple parts of all three. The danger of this model however is that people will believe that by doing all those things in order, they are in fact demonstrating trust. The leader believes that he/she is meeting the requirements of the trust model. The problem is that the subordinate may not see it that way at all. This points out that even in matters of personal interaction, the OODA Loop and an understanding of the Orientation of both the leader and the subordinate are critical. If I were to realign the 16 parts to regain trust in the Army, I would put them in the following order:

Army leaders must:
1. Tell the truth - Good, bad or ugly, the truth must be told. Transparency is the key to credibility both personally and organizationally.
2. Speak with good purpose - Always speak with an eye toward improvement
3. Be consistent - Don't get caught up in following the latest trend, or pandering to popular opinion.
4. Encourage mutually serving intentions - Tie the individual parts to a whole that is larger than them.
5. Acknowledge people's skills and abilities - People are the Army. Value and respect their unique individual talents.
6. Involve others and seek their input - Decentralized operations require this.
7. Share information - There is no value in not sharing. That world doesn't exist anymore.
8. Manage expectations - Clearly lay out the risks and the possibilities for everyone. After all, it's the kid in the truck or on the patrol who's betting his/her life on your credibility.
9. Delegate appropriately - You'll be surprised what a little responsibility can do for a person.
10. Give and receive constructive feedback - Remember, they think you're wrong at least half the time. Give them an opportunity to say so and explain yourself.
11. Allow people to make decisions - Why not trust them? Do you really have any other choice?
12. Establish boundaries - These can be personal, professional or experiential. Nobody has a monopoly on being right, but for the operation to be successful, it has to move. At some point, decisions get made, and it is leaders who make them.
13. Admit mistakes - Your humanity demonstrates more than you know.
14. Keep agreements - Their trust in you is as good as your word to them.
15. Maintain confidentiality - There are no secrets anymore, but you can do your best to protect those you serve from undue humiliation or embarrassment.
16. Help people learn new skills - If you do all of the above, they will hand you their heart, their soul and their intellect and ask you to help them keep growing. Number 16 will be your legacy to the organization and the individual. Understand that and respect it. It is an awesome gift.

My reasoning for aligning the different portions the way I did should be pretty self evident. People trust people. Any discussion of the gaining or losing of trust ultimately boils down to the simple question of how I feel about the people around me. The institution is made up of thousands of people. The myriad interactions and decisions made by those thousands are what ultimately gives it its' ethos and value system. It is very difficult to establish an ethos and then try to cram people into it. It is the people who ultimately define it. To enhance trust, you always have to start with people.

By telling the truth - popular or not - the leader sends a message to the subordinate that honesty in word and deed is prized by the leader. What the subordinate will likely be forming is their understanding of what the leader thinks the 'truth' is. Again, it will always come back to interpretation and any time a leader states what they believe, the subordinate will be trying to match that statement up against their own belief system. Telling the truth leads directly to speaking with good purpose and to encouraging mutually serving intentions. A common understanding of the truth and a shared purpose and vision generally help to align all the parts of the organization and get it moving in a particular direction. For the Army, this equals vision and commander's intent. My commander plainly states what he/she knows to be the truth about our current situation. Then he/she provides the purpose of the operation and how it's success or failure affects everyone. Once that has happened, and I (the subordinate) understand why my individual well-being is tied to the organization's accomplishment of the mission, then I get my part. Now, if the leader then acknowledges my abilities, seeks my input, and shares information with me, then I have become part of the solution to the mission. I am now personally tied to it's success or failure. I am invested. Part of the leaders job however is to recognize my limitations and experience and help manage my expectations, set boundaries and delegate tasks to me that are appropriate to my skills, abilities and experience. Another portion of that will be the interaction I have with my leader in the form of dialogue, feedback and appropriate constructive criticism. Both the leader and I have to have a constant interchange of ideas and possible solutions. We must both be able to listen and adjust as the situation dictates. We both admit our mistakes quickly and thoroughly so that their outcomes don't impact the over-all mission in a negative manner. However, if my mistakes will not dramatically affect the outcome of the mission and can be used to help me learn new skills without demoralizing me or publicly embarrassing me, then when I tell my leader the mistake I've made truthfully, then it should be treated confidentially and used as an opportunity to grow and gain experience and wisdom.

All of which leads to trust. A trust that is returned from the led to the leader ten-fold once earned.

Last week, I included the link to the Army's report on suicide prevention. Because it was part of a different discussion, most people overlooked it and it didn't receive a lot of feedback throughout the week. However, I think the Transaction Trust model outlined above would be a great place for the Army to start dealing with the crisis it faces. However, to do so will require a re-ordering of the different parts of the model in the manner I posited above.

I have a Soldier in crisis. That Soldier has lost hope and can no longer see their personal place among their family, friends and work place and is contemplating suicide. They feel both un-valued and hopeless and have lost their basic trust in the organization to assist them. Using the steps of the model at the personal level in the same manner that they were applied to mission accomplishment however, I believe that we can directly influence this terrible trend and regain the trust of the Soldier in the Army. We will just have to demonstrate it personally. I will always be honest with my Soldier. A Soldier cannot take word games when they are in a dire situation. Simple, plain spoken truth - no matter how bad - works. Scimming around the edges and allowing vague interpretations only makes the situation more confusing and dangerous. I must speak with good purpose and help a Soldier see the mutually serving intention. They must understand that I do not wish them harm and that by assisting them in their crisis, I am trying to help them, and the organization. That the organization will be worse off without them. In effect that they are valued. But that has to be truthful and without guile. I cannot promise them that they will remain with the Army after the crisis ends, but rather that the Army values them right now in a very personal manner. We can deal with the institution later. I also need to share the responsibility for their well-being with them. They must do their part. They must give me as much effort as I give them. They must provide feedback and dialogue. As the leader, I have to suspend my own thoughts and listen to their interpretation of their situation. I must also provide them honestly and forthrightly the limits of my ability to assist them. They cannot become wholly dependant on me for every answer. I must be able to tell them the things I will not be able to provide them as quickly as I tell them the things I can. These boundaries are important because they keep the troubled Soldier inside a manageable box of decisions, not one that has an infinite number of possibilities that they might find overwhelming. And finally, if I make them a promise, I must see that promise through. A Soldier in crisis has placed their trust in me. Why? I don't know, and frankly, at that particular moment it is not important. What is important is that they believe that I can help them. If I tell them I will, then I must follow through on that promise. It may be all they have left to hold onto. And once lost, trust like that cannot be regained.

I believe that the 16% of corporate America that has lost trust and faith in the leadership has a similar, if not higher, percentage in the Army. That loss is demonstrating itself in dangerous and life-threatening decisions being made by Soldiers. The trend is reversible. The Transaction Trust model is a person-based technique for leading others. It also seems to me to have provide a way to help us help ourselves. Soldiers are the reason we get to be leaders. Let's not lose sight of that. Without those below you expressing their faith, trust, and confidence that you can, ate least, meet half of their Transaction needs, you wouldn't have anyone to lead at all.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.

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