Low-Trust Cultures vs. High-Trust Cultures
Stephen Covey outlines the differences very well in First Things First, which is one of the most helpful books on productivity around. He compares high trust and low trust organizations in the areas of supervision, evaluation, span of control, motivation, and structure and systems. Here are some highlights.
In a low-trust culture, supervision is associated with words like control, monitor, hover over, and check up. In a high-trust culture, people supervise themselves according to the agreement. The criteria are clear, the consequences are set. There’s common understanding of what’s expected. A manager, leader, or parent becomes a source of help — a facilitator, helper, cheerleader, adviser, counselor, and coach — someone to remove the oil spills and get out of the way.
In a low-trust culture, you’re into forced ranking, external performance evaluation, and judgment. In a high-trust culture, the judgment goes into the performance agreement before the fact instead of after the fact. People judge themselves. Their evaluation is not just a function of measurement, but also of discernment. “The numbers are looking good, but I feel a concern about this particular area…” People are much more aware of the issues that affect their performance and success. [Note: The "discernment" here should not devolve into subjectivity. It needs to be anchored objectively in the mission and values of the organization.]
Span of Control
In a low-trust culture, the span of control is small. It takes time and energy to hover over, to check up. You can only control so many people. In a high-trust culture, you don’t need to hover over and check up. You aren’t trying to control but to release. Instead of one to eight or ten, you have one to fifty, one to a hundred, one to two hundred.
In a low-trust culture, you’re into “the great jackass theory of motivation” — the carrot, out in front, the stick behind. In a high-trust culture, people are internally motivated. They’re fueled by the fire within. They’re driven by a sense of passion about fulfilling a shared vision that’s also a co-mission, a synergy between their own mission and the mission of the family or organization.
Structure and Systems
A low-trust culture is filled with bureaucracy, excessive rules and regulations, restrictive, closed systems. In the fear of some “loose cannon,” people set up procedures that everyone has to accommodate. The level of initiative is low — basically “do what you’re told.” Structures are pyramidal, hierarchical. Information systems are short-term. The quarterly bottom line tends to drive the mentality in the culture. In a high-trust culture, structures and systems are aligned to create empowerment, to liberate people’s energy and creativity toward agreed-upon purposes within the guidelines of shared values. There’s less bureaucracy, fewer rules and regulations, more involvement.
It isn’t my point in posting this — my point is to encourage you to keep building a high-trust rather than low-trust culture in your organization because it is intrinsically right and better for people — but Covey next makes a connection to personal time management. And his connection is this: high trust cultures save a lot of time, because you don’t have to spend so much time controlling, monitoring, checking up, supervising, coming up with hokey motivational programs, creating (and enforcing) pointless rules, and sorting out the communication problems that result from low-trust environments.
We spend an incredibly inordinate amount of time dealing with symptoms of low trust, but learning how to deal with the symptoms faster is not going to make a qualitative difference.
“First things first together” is a function of empowerment. It’s the ultimate way of moving the fulcrum over from the “one to one” ratio to a “one unit of effort to one thousand units of results” ratio. There’s no time management technique that can even begin to approach the results. And that’s why empowerment is at the heart of Quadrant II [that is, true personal effectiveness and effectiveness within organizations].