Developing trust in any relationship is key for the longevity of that relationship. In organisations it can mean the difference between an aligned productive workforce and a disparate, fractious group of individuals who find it hard to collaborate.
In this podcast, David talks with author of a new book Trust: The Foundation for Healthy Organisations and Teams, Melanie Marshall about the key importance of trust in teams and organisations and how to develop it.
Trust: The Foundation for Healthy Organisations and Teams
Trust: The Foundation for Healthy Organisations and Teams can be found here:
Melanie Marshall Melanie is one of our members and is an organisational trust consultant. Melanie spent 10 years in the Royal Australian Airforce and has a degree in Psychology from the University of Canberra.
Podcast – Interview about Trust in Organisation and Teams
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– Okay today, we’ve got Melanie Marshall. She’s the author of a new book called, “Trust – The Foundation of Healthy Organizations and Teams.” And Melanie of our members and is an organizational trust consultant. Melanie spent 10 years in the Royal Australian Air Force, and has a degree in psychology from the University of Canberra. Welcome Melanie.
– Thank you for having with me on David, I really appreciate it.
– No, it’s an absolute pleasure. Do you just want to kick off by telling us a little bit more about yourself and the journey that you’ve taken in order to actually get to this book?
– Well, it’s been a long one, a long and convoluted one. I never quite knew where I wanted to be when I grew up. That’s still the case. I bounced around between all different sorts of careers, Air Force was the first one, and then I started getting into organizational change. I did some personal training, life coaching at one point, but the common theme was people and trust in order to change or do something very differently for a different outcome. And what got me to the book was a constant sort of, I guess, looking for the type of leader that would inspire me, and feeling that we could do better, we could be better within organizations. And I got to a point where I was sick of doing sort of a lot of contracting type gigs, working within organizations and getting really frustrated at the rate of which people within organizations, including myself at the time, weren’t being trusted to do what we were employed to do. And it wasn’t about just me, I was seeing it among my colleagues. I was seeing it even among the executives who I reported to. There seemed to be this underlying theme that at some point they either weren’t trusted to do the job or they didn’t trust themselves. So that kind of piqued my interest. And then it really got fever pitch probably about a year and a half ago where I was sitting around with a friend of mine and I said, I’ve got to do something different with my career. I feel like I’m just on the same treadmill over and over again. At the time I was working with a client, and I was getting incredibly angry at the way in which he wasn’t trusting his teams to deliver, and they were a fabulous team, they had great skills, great experience, but for whatever reason, the connection wasn’t there. And he kind of lost touch with the people who he was supposed to be leading. And looking at my own failures in the past of not being able to connect and not being trusted to do the job, and even not getting trust from other people to do my job, I’m like, what, what am I doing differently? And I said to my friend, maybe I need to write some kind of a book. Maybe I needed to do something to really just I guess, reflect on what I’ve done, and think about what could be done differently. And if I can help somebody else avoid the pain, the frustration that I’ve been through, that’d be great. He said, oh Melanie, you’re all about leadership, and I’m like, no, I rolled my eyes, I said, there’s no way the world needs another leadership expert. I said that the thing that grinds my gears is that people just don’t trust one another and there’s gotta be a better way. So I poured myself into reading a whole stack of different books, leveraged the research that the Oxford Review kindly pulled together and made sense of. And the thing that I was noticing was that certainly within the books that I had read, the popular sort of, I guess, your self-help books, your leadership management books, and even reflecting on my own training from the military and other leadership development courses that I’ve done, there was a call out for trust but it was never anything around how to do it. Communication was too vague and broad, all of the different models around organizational change and culture, they weren’t quite hitting the mark for me. So I started going about this journey of, well, what is it that I do when I am able to obtain trust? And it’s a mutual thing, what is it that creates that? So that led me down the path of really writing this book and the actual heart and soul model itself came from, I had this epiphany after going to a, here they have like a, where you get your groceries store, there’s a big chain called Woolworths. And every week I would get my groceries and a gentleman at the counter would serve me and he was fabulous, he was amazing. And I was always inspired by how he operated. And this one particular day, I said to him, I’m really inspired by what you do, I think you’re incredible, how are you? And for whatever reason, he totally opened up his heart. And he said, I actually feel like I’ve lost my sense of purpose in life. I went, wow. that’s horrible, that’s really not reflective of what I see every day. You give so much, and yet for you, you feel, it sounds like you feel really empty. He says, yeah, yeah, I do. And so we had this banter as he was scanning and packing my groceries over life purpose. We had conversations around what it was like when he did feel he had purpose. And within the space of five minutes, I’d found out all this stuff. He’d revealed all of these very deep things, but yet he had left me with a smile and he also had a smile because he realized that he liked painting and he could pick up the paintbrush, and he could start again and he committed to that. So I got in my car and for whatever reason, I burst into tears because I’m like, wow, like that was just an amazing, amazing conversation. And it was connected, he was a really clear around what was missing, what he needed. And then there was a commitment from him, that he was going to do something different to really change things for himself. And I broke down in the car, going, what hell did I just do? And for whatever reason all of the competencies, the heart and soul competencies that I came up with, just blurted out of my head and then the book began. So from there it was breaking all of that down and going, well, starting with who I had to be, was really important, understanding his context, equally important, and then finding a way that we could have that connection, make it really clear around what supports that he needed to be able to then do what he needed to do. It was a very easy, logical way of how to write a book, understand your context, be the person that you need to be to lead with trust, and encourage others to do the same. And then really acting on that and doing what it takes to to change things in a positive way. So that’s summary of how I got to this place, the gift that a random conversation gave me, just by being, and being open to that, and then being able to pull it together and say, well, how does this relate to business? Because it really does, it really relates to not just our personal life, but our our business life as well. And if you can have that one impact between a customer and an employee and all of that can happen in five minutes, imagine what you can do. If you can have a whole stack of people within an organization applying this sort of logic with a really intentional focus to perform better and to better serve, not just your employees, but also your customers as a result. So yeah, that’s how I got here.
– Wow, what a story A couple of the things that came out of that for me is that trust’s not just about creating trust between people, but it’s also about trusting yourself, as well as creating trust across a series of relationships within organizations and teams as well. And getting them to be able to trust in the situation. But we’ll explore that as we go through. One are the things I am interested in, because I’m ex-military as well. And it’s just kind of a question really, is I wonder how much influence your background in the Air Force has had on this, because I do know that they place a lot of emphasis on leadership.
– Oh, absolutely. Trust is very much a cornerstone of that. I could even remember it at rookies where they did it so many different exercises based around trust. Where you, I remember standing on top of those big industrial bins and having your arms across your chest and having to fall back, you had to trust that people had to catch you. Constantly being put in different situations, where really your life is also in the hands of the mate beside you. That in itself was all about trust and working together. So trust is a foundation of so many different things. And certainly within the military, instilling the importance of trust is a constant, it’s a very big thing.
– Yeah, particularly, and again, there’s quite a lot of work being done around the whole idea of followership and people aren’t going to follow you if they don’t trust you.
– Oh, absolutely. I read a really great book very early in my, I guess, leadership journey. And it was called, “Why Should Anyone Be Led By You?” And it was very much about, it was a very pointed question. And I think the same can be applied to trust. Quite often, we want trust, we ask for trust, but why should anybody trust us?
– [David] That’s a really good question
– It is an important one. And are we applying the same, I guess, conditions for what it would take for somebody to earn our trust onto other people? So this is very much about owning, finding ways to own our own beliefs about trust too, is important because it’s actually not about us, it’s about the other person. So really releasing that in itself can be very risky and very scary because it’s not a given. You can put yourself out there, but it doesn’t mean to say that anybody’s gonna trust you. And then they could even abuse that vulnerability that you show.
– Yes, we’ll come back to the vulnerability thing in a short while, because I think that’s one of the key components of trust. Okay, yeah, fascinating, really interesting. So, in the early parts of the book you write, and I put a quote here, the fundamental problem is that people focus on risk within organizations and choose control rather than establishing relationships and trust. What do you mean by this?
– Yeah, I think in in a world of uncertainty and a world of constant change, we want to control what we can. But the thing is in grasping too tight on things, you don’t actually control anything. What you end up doing is constraining people, you constrain their ideas, you constrain their thinking, you can strain innovation, you can strain a number of things that make people unique. And when you constrain the use of people’s experience, your results are always incredibly limited to purely what you can do. So I think it’s really important that, yeah, okay, trust can be risky, but at times I think it’s riskier and more dangerous if you don’t trust people, and why the hell are you employing them if you don’t trust them, right? Or why are they part of your inner circle or your inner network if they can’t be trusted? It doesn’t make sense. So I think sometimes our emotions override our logic and we’ve got to have that balanced view.
– Yes, yes, I think so. And I see a lot of organizations have been built on this idea of control, down to the level of micromanagement where everything’s laid out.
– It’s incredibly dangerous.
– Yeah, It’s dangerous, and it stifles, it stifles performance, probably more so than if you gave people a little bit more freedom. I mean, if you’re really that worried about who you have employed in your organization, have a look at how you’re recruiting them when they come in and the supports that you’re giving them or not giving them to actually perform. Because you really got to understand why is it that you aren’t trusting somebody? Is it about you? Is it about them? Is it about the structures or the setup that you’ve got? There’s so many other things that are involved. And I know the culture is something that people mention all the time, but that can be quite a broad sort of vague word that doesn’t fully appreciate everything that formulates part of the culture, that also then requires trust within the culture.
– Yeah, so one of the things that we know, particularly in organizations that require change, require flexibility. It’s very hard to get that kind of flexibility if everybody’s constrained, the flexibility for change requires quite a significant element of trust.
– Absolutely, particularly if the change that, particularly people have experience where change hasn’t worked in the past. And I don’t know how many times you see organizations go, you know, we’re on this transformation agenda, we’re going to positively change things, and we’re gonna do this. And trust gets written into vision statements and strategies and business plans. And when I see that, I think, oh, great, they’re putting that on the table. Are they gonna do the work though to get it? Because when you call out that you need or you want to be trusted, it means that it’s not quite there. ‘Cause if it was, you wouldn’t ask for it. So it’s a sure sign that if trust is the new thing that you’re going to try and achieve or it’s the thing that’s going to launch your business or provide that stability, we want our customers to trust us. Okay, well, it means that they probably don’t. Are you going to skirt over the top of that and say that it’s just about some communications and better promotions or are you going to really dig a little deeper and look at why they don’t trust you and then work with the costumers in that space, your employees in that space to say, well, how can we tip the odds into our favor? What would it take for you to trust us? Because we don’t know, we’re not getting it right, So once again, that sense of vulnerability comes into play and people can see that as a really risky thing to do. What, we’re going to ask people what we’re doing really bad and what we need to do differently? Absolutely you are, because it shows that you care and you want to do something different that is positive and that will better serve them. But that conversation to have that, particularly, if it’s a conversation that needs to be had, and you’re not used to having those conversations that are quite emotional, because trust is very human. You can’t outsource it. You can’t outsource it, It’s not about a digital product. So I do worry and I get concerned when I see that people are going to create digital trust, that’s the new one.
– Digital trust.
– Digital trust, but there’s not too much effort around, well, what about all of the people involved who you want them to trust, right? Because it’s not digital, it’s gotta to be human. So yeah, that can make a lot of people twitch.
– Yeah, you’ve really got to open yourself out. If you just ask another person, what would it take for you to trust me? And what would it take for you to trust my business?
– Oh I know, can you imagine?
– I know, and it’s quite a scary thing to do, because you might not like the answer.
– Exactly, and chances are you won’t like the answer. But it’s the intent of which you’re asking the question that’s important there. And if you are coming from a place of, I don’t know, I need you to teach me, and I’m willing to partner with you so that we can co-design something that is going to better serve you. Well, that’s gotta be good. And I think what’s really surprising when you start really opening yourself up to those sorts of conversations, is that even if the answer isn’t good, the fact that you’re putting yourself out there, people are very unlikely going to kick you while you’re down. They will see that and they’ll go, wow, you’re really willing, you’re really wanting to know this. And even if I have to tell you bad news, I’m going to be less inclined to do it in a way that’s really horrible because you’re coming at it from an angle of putting me in the driving speed to say, wow, you’re the expert on what you need for trust. I’m clueless, give me a hand, and then we’ll figure it out.
– People are responsive to genuine requests for information like that and to understand what the other person’s position is.
– Yeah, and the key there is once you get that information, what are you going to do with it?
– Yes, yes, yes.
– So it’s one thing to open yourself up, it’s another to go, now that I’ve opened this up and we’ve had this conversation at a deeper, more meaningful level, that also requires deeper, more meaningful action on your part. So not only are you going to be hearing things that you might not want to hear, you may also have to do things that you don’t want to do. You may have to let go of old ways. You may have to lean into something that you never really wanted to go into, in order to get a better outcome. So it’s that level of give and take, more give, is the key.
– Yeah, there’s a generosity that comes along with trust, I think. And in fact, in the book, just another quote here is you say, when it comes to change, it’s the behavior, not the person or the people that’s the problem. So what do you actually mean by that? And why is it important?
– Yes, vital. So that one comes from some experiences I’ve had in misconduct investigations and in mediation sessions where people are at their wits end. And they’re usually either wanting to punch one another, yell at one another, or they could have already done that. And they’re acting out in ways that generally aren’t in alignment with their own moral code and definitely not in alignment with organizational values or codes of conduct in that regard. So that’s where that thinking came into play. For me, it really hit home, because of what I’ve found was in, gosh, and I’m just gonna throw out a figure ’cause it’s my anecdotal figure, I haven’t done solid research on this. But I would say 98% of the time, when you scratch the surface, it was the behavior, not the person that was the problem. And why I say that is when you start understanding, why did you behave like that? Why did you punch that person? Or what happened before you lost your cool and just totally behaved in that way, what was the trigger? And usually it was a case of that their own values, they felt that their own values had been not respected or not regarded, or there was quite often a process or some kind of a business practice that wasn’t working, where it had just reach boiling point for them because they couldn’t do their job without this. And I tried to tell this person about it, but nobody listened to me. And then I just had a brain snap and then that’s kind of how it all came to be. So when it comes to change, that’s a less extreme example of what can happen, but when it comes to change, if you think, well, depending on what the change is, it could be somebody losing a job, even if they’re still employed within the organization, we’ve got robotic process automation. That’s a really big thing right now. And if you’ve got somebody who is very transactional, and they just love it, they love their work and it lights them up. And all of a sudden you say to them, well, we’re actually gonna automate 80% of your job. That can be devastating for people. Because what are they going with the other 80% of their job, if they’re only given to be 20% busy?
– Without really understanding what that means for somebody, the reaction can be one of anger, it can be one of withdrawal. It can come out in all kinds of different ways. I mean, that’s just one example. If you think of all of the different changes that we make to work. Some people get very, very connected with their office space. They like having their snowblowers or their plants or whatever it is that they put on their desk. And all of a sudden, if you introduce hot desking, What, I don’t have my space, I don’t have my territory. So it is about looking at well, what is it that is ticking this person off and that they’re reacting to, and what can we do about that that will not necessarily give them what they want, but certainly I guess, make the situation slightly less uncomfortable for them.
– So it’s a negotiated outcome.
– It’s a negotiated outcome, and even if it’s a change that is a non-negotiable, and there are plenty of those. You put that out on the table too. You say, look, this is the way that it’s going to be. It’s a non-negotiable, but what we can do is we can figure out ways that will better support you in that space. So you might still hate the change, and you’re totally entitled for that, you’re entitled to hate the change. And this might even be such a change that the organization may no longer be right for you, and that’s okay too. But let’s see what we can do to retain your skills or to keep you here and get you into a position where you can perform and you are okay with this. But then if you’re not okay, well then how do we help you exit into something that’s more suitable? So, yeah, I think when we look at a reaction, as opposed to a response, it’s a dangerous space to be in, and yeah, we need to really think about, who is the person behind that reaction?
– I think that’s an important point. I think, you might not like the change, but it doesn’t stop you trusting that the change is the right thing to do, or trusting in the organization, or trusting the people who are instigating the change, you can still have that trust and still not, you think actually, this isn’t the kind of change that I want, or like, but still trust in the process or in the people. And it’s creating processes and having people that will create that kind of trust, even though the change may be felt to be a negative at that moment in time.
– Absolutely, and quite often, if you’ve got environments of distrust and you’ve got large groups of people who are distrusting, what are the things that they can be involved in so that they can actually trust the process of change? They don’t want to be told, they don’t want to be directed, they want to be involved with what needs to be done and how to do it. So I think that that one’s the vital, if you’re working on something together around how, it’s like the change is the change people, we don’t have to like it, but how we get there, that is totally something that we could probably work more closely on.
– I think it’s impossible or very difficult to trust in a vacuum when you don’t have the information. When you have the information and there’s communication going on that’s a two way communication, people are listening to each other and things, then trust has a bigger chance of occurring, I think.
– Oh, absolutely, And I mean, you talk about, you mentioned earlier in our conversation about risk, trust is inherently risky, right? You’re not going to be able to take the risk out of trust, but you can mitigate some of the negative impact of that by involving people in creating the processes, creating the structures, in order to get to where you want to go. So I guess it’s about minimizing the risk by involving people, because if they’re part of creating the solution or creating the how to get there, well, they’re gonna wanna identify the risks as they come. And then they’re also going to be identifying what can be done to take the edge off. And I think that that’s a really important one. and I learned that one when I was working in hospitals. We had some major changes with building a new hospital and expanding a new hospital. And I was in a ward services at the time, so these were the, I guess like your heavily operational staff at the hospital. So they were clinical support and they had to move mental health patients from one area to another. And they didn’t feel safe doing it because it meant getting into a car, which was an enclosed environment and moving patients from a mental health assessment area, to an area that was further out in the hospital, within a car, to where the treatment hospital was. So, to mitigate some of the concern and to gain their trust, it was about totally putting myself in their shoes, and the only way that we were able to even get them to not strike, ’cause they were threatening strike action, and actually get the work done, was to say, well guys and girls, you’re going to have to help me, I’m not the expert on this. What is it that we need to do for this to be safer for you? Because we’re not going to be able to eliminate all risks, we’re in a hospital, it happens, but what’s the best possible thing that we can do to minimize the likelihood of any risk to you, to patients or to other clinicians? So they were part of the design process around the policy that needed to be implemented, the type of vehicle, how the vehicle was configurated,.everything. We even gave them veto power so that if somebody said, no, no, no, you have to transfer. If they didn’t feel safe, they were able to put their hand up and go, no, I’m not not doing the transfer, and these are the reasons. So an incredible amount of trust was gained within that environment purely because we called it out, we were really open, I was very open around what I didn’t understand. And I said, you guys are gonna have to teach me, teach me. And I will back you and I will support you every step of the way. So yeah, it was very much about opening up and then creating the structure and the process to support them together.
– What I’m taking out of what you’re saying here about trust is that, well, firstly, trust comes from a relationship that’s built because you don’t just automatically trust things. And quite a lot of organizations, what they do is they do change to people. They just come along without any kind of mental preparation, and just say, okay, this is what’s happening. And you don’t actually feel in a trusting relationship if somebody comes along and just does something to you without any form of discussion. And I think that’s a big takeaway for a lot of organizations about involving them in the process of why we need it, what’s going on, and helping us to do the change in a way that makes sense for everybody involved.
– Oh, absolutely. And I think the pushback that people often have when you suggest things like that, is, oh, it’ll take too much time, oh, the consultation process will take forever. People will never agree to this. It’s like, some things you’re never going to get agreement on. There are things that are non-negotiable and you can call those out. The problem that you have is if you don’t have some form of consultation or some form of discussion around how things are going to be changed, is that you’re going to end up spending a lot of time later on addressing people’s complaints, dealing with people digging their heels in really tightly, sabotaging change efforts, ’cause that happens, even the most angelic of people can dig their heels in hard and refuse to do stuff. You see, omissions from things as well, you know, we just won’t tell them about this. We’ll wait until this grabs them on the butt, and you go, okay, that’s not how it’s going to work. So I think front-loading the effort, making sure that you build that relationship can save you a lot of time later on, particularly in the testing and the adjusting stage, because you’ve involved them earlier.
– Yeah, manipulating people and creating shocks for them isn’t a great way of creating trust, it does the opposite.
– No, and if anything, what it does is that it tells the people who are actually needing to change that that’s okay. Well, if it’s good enough for them to shock us, well, we’re just going to save this little bundle of joy up later on, we will explode it when you least expect it. Because people do. I would love to be able to say that we don’t, but people do. If they feel disrespected, if they feel undervalued, if they feel small, at some point they’ll find a way to feel big again and it won’t necessarily be in a way that you expect.
– They’ll poke you back.
– That’s right that’s right. Especially, if it’s something that really threatens their livelihood or their own identity, because our work is very connected also to identities. we can’t sort of separate ourselves and go, well, you know, half of me is work Melanie and half of me is personal Melanie, I’m still the one person. There’s gotta be a blend in there somewhere. So I think we really have to respect that we are one person and we have to be holistic in that.
– Yes, yes, I think that’s it. Actually, this is an interesting question, so do you think you can fake trust? That’s a horrible question.
– No, no, it’s a great question, it’s a great question because it goes along the lines of fake it til you make it. And I really hate that saying, because we’re all pretty smart, right? You know what it’s like when somebody is faking it, you feel it in your head, heart and your gut. Usually it’s your gut first, and then it travels up to your heart, it just doesn’t feel right. And then eventually the logic kicks in and you go, I knew I couldn’t trust you, because here’s all of the evidence in my head. So can you fight trust? No, and the question is, if you feel that you need to fake trust, why? Who are you not trusting? You’ve already made the decision to not trust people by faking it. So why should they trust you? You’ve got to give first. So I think it’s time to check your own beliefs on that one, if you’re feeling that you can get away with faking it.
– Yes, and in fact, you know, trying to do that is a manipulation and if people discover that you’re manipulating them, then I would suspect, game over as far as trust is concerned.
– Oh, that’s right. Not to mention how hard it would be to keep up the facade. Can you imagine trying to fake being anything? It’d be very exhausting, very tiring. At some point, the mask is going to slip, you’ll have a weak moment, and all of a sudden you’ll be exposed to the world for the fraud that you are. So maybe just be honest at the start.
– Yes, it’s easier to do. One of the things, I just want to move on a little bit, so one of the things in the book that comes out is your heart and soul model, which I find particularly interesting. And you’ve got three main areas of honesty, reliability, and empathy, which comes back to the thing we’ve just been talking about. So can you explain how these three characteristics interrelate, create trust? And why did you focus on these three?
– So I focused on those three first and foremost as the foundational elements, because it pops up time and time again in research and even outside of research, when you read a lot of books that I guess, touch on the surface of trust. They’re the big three that they call out. And as you know, I don’t believe that that’s enough, hence the book, hence the heart and soul competencies. How they interrelate is it’s best to sort of say, well, when I’ve failed, I’ve missed one of them. I’ve not quite given it. So when I’ve been honest without empathy, it’s like hitting people in the face with a sledgehammer, or it might be, I’ve been honest, but it hasn’t been well received, because they didn’t ask for my honesty and I didn’t have their permission. The other one with being, I guess, reliable, it’s about being consistent in how you show up and what you’re giving. So is what you’re saying and what you’re doing consistent enough for people to go, well, there’s a clear pattern of behavior there that means that when push comes to shove, that I’m going to be okay because consistently over time, they seem to be somebody who is generally speaking, quite reliable and I can trust, even if it’s a good day or a bad day, generally speaking, the baseline is something that I can kind of work with. So those three are very much baseline competencies. You can’t cherry pick them though. You can’t just pick the one that you most prefer, that’s easy and think you can get away with it. Because that’s not going to work for you either.
– How about reliably dishonest?
– That’s right, exactly, exactly. Honesty is a funny one too, because it can’t really just be about your opinion either. I can be honest with how I’m feeling, but that’s still my perspective. If I’m wanting to work with you, well, I need to come at you from a perspective of where’s the evidence here that says that my feelings are based on some kind of a situation or an event that we could both relate to, because you’re not me and I’m not you, and your take on the situation could be very different, but the facts are hard to argue if we can agree on those. So that’s a little one there that I think we quite miss when we talk about honesty. Because people think that, well, I feel like this, oh, I should be honest about how I’m feeling. Yes, and you’re in respecting that there is a other person having feelings as well, and their truth is not necessarily your truth. What’s the one in the middle?
– Yes, yeah. I think the empathy thing’s hugely important in trust, but all three of them. You’ve got a number of competencies that are sitting under the heart and soul, and if people want more, they can read the book. One of the the things I was interested in was the Three C Model that you’ve developed of connect, clarify, and commit. Can you just explain a little bit more about this and what it does and how it sits in the whole trust story?
– Yeah, trust is not a soft skill, it’s really tricky, it’s really hard. And when you do it well, it’s got fantastic hardwired business impacts. When you do it badly, the same thing applies. So the Three C Model is about pulling together how you will lead with trust and putting it into a context where you can connect with the people who you’re going to need to work with. You can be really clear around what needs to change, what doesn’t need to change, and what’s reasonable to change, not just for you personally, and for them personally, but also within a business context. Because we’re all bounded by certain constraints, operational constraints, strategic constraints, and then looking at it from, well, what are we going to commit to? So when we know that this is what we want for ourselves, this is who we are and what we’ve got at our disposal. This is what we need to achieve and why we need to achieve it. Now’s the time where we’ve all got to have our skin in the game to say, well, I’m going to own my part in this. And this is how I’m going to behave from here on out. So being able to put the heart and soul competencies into more of an action focused model, it makes the conversation within a business context much easier to have. Because you have to have some kind of a tangible outcome. What we don’t want is a whole stack of notion, that trust is this soft skill, it’s not, it’s just not, so let’s call it for what it is and then put it into a context that we can actually act upon so that we can do what we need to do differently.
– And certainly in a business context, in business relationships, where we’re trying to create trust for a particular set of reasons, as well as human reasons. And I think one of the things that the Three C Model does is that it highlights the relationship nature of trust, the whole idea of connecting, you’ve got to have that connection first, and that connection then leads into the ability to be able to clarify things and then create some form of co-commitment.
– Oh, absolutely. I mean, that connection is vital. It definitely has to be first, because how are you going to know what all the problems are that need to be solved or the risks that there are to the change, to the organization, if you don’t have that connection first? People need to feel that it’s safe to be honest, safe to call out what’s not working and even safe to call out what they may have been doing wrong in the past. If they can’t have that open conversation with you, well, then you’re only going to be coming at a problem with half of the information, if you’re lucky. So you’ve really gotta, it’s really about gathering good intel, but in a way that is mutually provided and inclusive. So professional inclusion is really what the Three C Model is about.
– Yeah, and the whole idea of trust in things like debriefing, getting the information from people, and so there’s this idea of employee voice, that they’ll speak up when they see something, they’ll only do that, if they actually trust, A, that the information is going to be well-received, they’re not going to be thumped for it. And then something’s going to happen as a result of that. And there are many examples in history of of leaders not listening to people, not wanting honest feedback, and all of that stems from, well, largely, I sometimes think that is distrust of the leader’s own capabilities to be able to deal with that.
– Oh, absolutely. And it could, in some organizations, it could result in life or death. And I mean, that’s the seriousness of the topic really, if the people are in a position where they don’t trust you, or you can’t trust them, depending on your industry, that that could result in something that could not be reversed.
– Yes, yeah and we see that certainly in the armed forces and in the emergency services. In the debriefs, you’ve got to have honesty, you’ve got to be able to learn from what worked and what didn’t work. And you need people to also, if you’re a commander, if you’re a leader, telling you what you’ve done that caused a problem so that you can learn, because these are life and death situations.
– Absolutely, and I think quite often as leaders, we can get in the way without realizing it. And that’s another important one. I mean, when you’re responsible for leading a team or leading an organization, quite often, you could be the number one risk and not see it. So that’s equally important to be aware of.
– Yeah, actually I think a number of leaders become the number one risk, largely, because nobody trusts them. Then you’ve got a real breakdown in communication, things start happening that are unexpected, that could have been predicted because that information would have been flowing previously. And I’ve seen a lot of problems in organizations through a lack of trust of the leader, what the leader’s gonna do with the information.
– And it’s horrible if you’ve ever been a leader in that position. And you realize when it’s too late, that something could have been prevented had people have trusted you. So I think having been in that position myself, where I haven’t been trusted, I really empathize with people in that spot too, because quite often the higher you become in an organization, the more filtered your view is of the world. And the more protected you are of the operational realities. So there’s a real lot of effort that you need to do, if you’re in those executive roles or in those leadership positions, where you’ve got to connect and get to know people, not just every now and then, but really have a good relationship with the crews on the ground.
– And that’s important, again, for the whole feedback issue. I’ve been in organizations, in a number of roles, where we’ve done like a 360 for the leaders, and it’s been the first time they’ve actually had any feedback and they’ve been shocked. And you just start thinking, well, what’s been going on before? And I know the higher up that you go in an organization, the less likely you are to get honest feedback that you need in order to kind of move yourself into a place that’s more effective as a leader. And that lack of trust kills it.
– And it can be hard to carve out the time, carve out the space to do that too.
– Yes, and just having the will to do it, quite a lot of people are a bit protected, it’s like getting that feedback, particularly as a leader, because that self identity, you have this kind of identity as a competent person and suddenly you’re getting this. I certainly remember doing an exercise with one of my teams for getting feedback, and I was like, crikey, I had no idea what you thought of me.
– Oh, isn’t it an awful feeling when you get that realization? You need support yourself to be able to get through that.
– Because I mean,
– Yeah, exactly.
– I think we’re inherently good, nobody wants to be the leader with their head in a bucket of sand, nobody wants to be the person everybody sniggers and talks about behind their back because, oh, they don’t get it. It’s like well, you need help with that as well, ’cause we only see segments.
– We can’t see how other people see us until they tell us. And it requires, particularly for subordinates, it requires a lot of trust to be able to say that to a leader. And particularly if they’re two or three levels above you, to be able to go to someone and say, hang on a minute, we’ve got a problem here. You and I have got a problem or-
– That’s right, and if you’re somebody who has come up from the ranks, you often don’t realize just how scary and intimidating you’ve become. I remember the first time I ever had to lead a large group of people. So there were 300 staff, it was the first time I’d ever had that kind of a cohort of people under my watch, I guess for want of a better term. And I remember somebody saying to me how scary I was and I was like, what? He’s like, yeah, he’s like, I just have to say it, but you’re like this corporate chick who’s just bullet proof. And we can’t connect with you because you just don’t seem human. And I was devastated. I was like, wow, I’m like, that is not who I am, am I coming across as arrogant or rude? He’s like, no, you just brush everything like it’s not a big deal and you’re just all over it. He said, we know that you’re under a whole stack of stress, and we want to help you, but you never let us in. And I mean, this guy was twice my size in width and height, a big burly bloke, saying that I was intimidating and scary. And it was the best leadership advice I’ve ever been given. And from that time on, one, it gave me permission to be more vulnerable, and it also gave him a really good way to go back to the crew and go, oh, yes, I told her this, and she’s going to come in a bit differently next time. So yeah, when you get that kind of insight, it is real gold. And quite often, we’re not lucky enough to get it at the right time. And I was blessed in that moment, and it’s exactly how I took it, but it doesn’t always feel like that at the time, it can hurt.
– No, and we often don’t realize what the hierarchy does to people’s perceptions of us. I’ve had very similar kind of feedback in the past. Certainly when I was a police officer. And I went home and my kids rolled around laughing, they think I’m a big teddy bear. But it was the real perception of what people thought I was.
– Yeah, yeah, it’s positional.
– And my reaction to the hierarchy, as well as their reaction to the hierarchy, because I was trying to be professional. And it created that distance
– And that’s the thing, right? Professional distance and what I’m doing with the book is I’m bucking the trend, and I’m saying, well actually, we don’t want you to be professionally distant, we want you to be professionally inclusive, professionally close. Because you will get a better outcome with that. And so will the people that you serve.
– So what do you think the biggest challenges are for leaders and managers in organizations in terms of creating trust, both with a team and with people, but also facilitating trust between others and between teams. Because as a leader, you’ve got that role as well, you’re trying to get teams working together and other people working together. So what are your thoughts about that?
– The uncertainty is a big one. We talked about risk before, so the personal intrinsic risk to you, as well as the external risk of what’s going to happen with other people once I start putting these sorts of things out there, how are they gonna respond? ‘Cause we can’t control the response of other people. So that itself can be a bit confronting, particularly if you’re in an area where there’s already a lot of distrust. And remember what I said before already, if we’re calling out that we need trust, it means that you’ve already got a bit of a culture of distrust going on. So when you go and open out your heart and soul, that might not be received in the way that you would like it to be, to begin with. And the initial reaction that you get, might want to make you want to crawl away underneath a rock and hide and never come out again. So overcoming that and the emotions that are attached to that are key. I mentioned slightly earlier in our conversation too, around the time that it takes to be able to establish a relationship of trust. I mean, there are certain little depths of trust. You’ve got your surface level, your middle level, and then there’s that deep, I trust you with you with my life or my family sort of stuff. Those sorts of things take time. And the time that you spend in trying to build these relationships, the return isn’t always obvious. And if you’re looking at an environment where it’s all about time and targets and money and deliverables, and all of a sudden people see you over here building relationships, having conversations, well, you know, what do they actually do? Where are their deliverables? Well, they’re delivering, and you’ll see it a little bit later, but not just yet. So I think the perception of building trust is going to take too much time and not be worth the effort, or it’s going to impact a KPI, a key performance indicator that we’ve got. I think overcoming that it can be a challenge in some areas. So, they are a couple of the key challenges that I think often people push back on the most. Uncertainty, the risk, and then that whole, well, if I’m not seen as being or doing this, people will think that I’m not doing anything at all. When in actual fact, you’re kind of paying it forward.
– Yes, yeah, and I think that’s important. So apart from reading the book, of course, which we take as a given, you should read the book, what three things do you think people, well, it’s a good book, I’ve really enjoyed it. What three things do you think people can do, firstly, to create greater trust in their interpersonal relationships? We’ll deal with that one first.
– Yeah, be human, right. You cannot have a relationship with another human if you’re not a human yourself. So be human, do something a little scary by assuming trust, by giving them your trust first. And when you give other people that little bit of trust, I’m not saying trust them with everything, but we’re being a little bit vulnerable, showing them a softer side of yourself, offering up something that may be people wouldn’t see on the surface, that can really open the door for other people to do the same. And I think that’s a really key one for the first one. So if it’s about creating greater trust in your interpersonal relationships, you’ve got to give first, and it’s not giving, it’s giving without expectation is the key.
– Yeah, I think that’s really important, and quite a lot of people give in order to receive, as opposed to just give. And I think there’s kind of a generosity that underpins trust quite often.
– Yeah, giving without expectation. That’s very foundational.
– Yeah, and that includes compliments and well done and things like that as well.
– Yeah, yeah.
– What about helping to create higher levels of trust in a team? What advice would you give there?
– So this one is about being very, very specific around the unique value that each person plays and how their experience has a positive impact on what they’re delivering on, on what the organization is delivering. Because when you’re really specific around why people matter and what people do matters, and how that benefits the greater good, that’s really powerful. Because people want to feel connected, they want to feel that what they do has meaning and offers value. And when you really validate that you being here matters, and this is why it matters, and we couldn’t do this without you, without your thinking, without your different range of experience. When you really, really intentionally provide that kind of feedback, whether it’s individual, or more publicly, that has power in it. And it encourages other people to also bring more of themselves to the table, because we have so much individual experience within our little pinky fingers. And we don’t get to show much of that. So the more we share of ourselves and our unique experience, and the more we value that from each other and say what we value and why we value it. We’re a much better space to be wanting to share even more of our skills, because the label that you are, for the particular job that you’re doing right now, is not a reflection of the number of years that you’ve been on the planet. So don’t confuse a job title with experience, because they’re very, very different things. So be specific, look under the surface, and really really show and tell people why what they’ve done and the way that they’ve done it has added value and meaning.
– Yeah, I think that’s really important, valuing people within teams, and the point that you’re making is quite often, and I’ve seen this time and time again, in organizations where you’re really surprised that somebody has got some knowledge or skills that you didn’t even know were there. Because you’ve never given them the opportunity to express it in the first place. And suddenly you’ve got this thing on your hands that you actually think, wow, where did that come from?
– Yeah, and we don’t ask, ’cause because we don’t know what to ask for quite often, and if you don’t ask, you don’t get. But when you just let it be, it’s like, well, if you like that, I’ve also got this in my toolkit, and this in my toolkit, and all of a sudden you’ve got a whole toolkit of stuff that didn’t pay for you, you didn’t expect. And wow, what a gift, I’ve now got a whole Christmas tree filled with stuff as opposed to baubles.
– But it’s true, isn’t it? And it’s that, just asking people, particularly as a leader we don’t like asking this, is just saying, okay, how do you see the situation? And what would you do?
– People love that, they love to be asked.
– When you’re asked, you all of a sudden are seen as important and the higher you are, the more that you ask for help, the more powerful your conversation is, because they get to give this, they want to give this to you.
– Yes, yes, definitely. So, and lastly, of those three, so if you’re a manager or a leader and you want to start to create higher levels of trust with people, what are your three pieces of advice for those people?
– Oh, three pieces of advice. Well, I would say, I think we’ve already covered it. Well, I would be a little bit more vulnerable, show people that you’re human, be sincere, and promote their specific value, and offer your trust first. And when you offer your trust first, that’s a pretty dang good start.
– I think so, if you trust in other people then that trust will start to build. I think it’s kind of reciprocal, it grows as the relationship grows.
– Yeah, when we talk about, and it’s already established, is servant leadership is definitely far more effective. And when we look at that, how we serve people, we’re giving them our trust because they’re worthy of our trust. And we’re doing this in service to them. I think that’s a really powerful way to lead.
– I think that’s a really good point and we’ve got a project going on about, within The Review, about servant leadership at the moment. And I think that’s one of the things that servant leadership does do is it’s very good at building trust. The leader just being, part of the principle is that the leader’s there to make your job easier, give you the resources to make sure that you can get on with what you’re trying to do. And I think that’s a very powerful way of creating trust. That’s brilliant.
– Thank you so much Melanie, I really appreciate this. And thank you so much for the being generous and for your time, what people don’t know, and they won’t know is that this is about two o’clock in the morning because we mocked up our time. So thank you for staying up, it’s time for you to go to bed. So just lastly, what’s the best way for people to find you and contact you?
– You can find me on LinkedIn. That’s how you and I found one another, which is always a great way to go or my website. So melaniemarshall.com.au. So LinkedIn profile or my website.
– Yeah, we’ll put all the links in the show notes so people can get ahold of you, that’s fantastic. So the book, “Trust – The Foundation Of Healthy Organizations And Teams” is available now, and I’ll put a link in the show notes. Thank you so much, Melanie. I really appreciate your time, I’ve really enjoyed this.
– Me too, it has been an absolute joy and a privilege to be able to share this with you. And I feel really excited and blessed that you gave me the opportunity, David. So thank you very much.
– It’s cool, thank you.
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