Trust Is Essential

By R. Keith Mobley, Principal SME, Life Cycle Engineering

It has been two months without a letter. One can rationalize and state the obvious—that there just has not been time—but that is no excuse. The good news is these past few months have provided ample subject matter for this and future letters.
At the top of this list is trust—in your boss, peers, yourself, and most important, in the workforce. I am continually amazed by just how little trust there is in the business world. This is especially true within the executive, mid- and front-line leader levels.
One example is our experience with a client, where the executive level, with a total lack of trust, would not share information with their own management team, who in turn shared nothing with the workforce. Imagine their consternation when we suggested empowering the workforce—operators and technicians—and permitting them to design the company’s future. It turned out well, the transformation was highly successful and there is a new universal sense of trust and teamwork that will carry them well into the future. Traumatic, yes, but the results were well worth it.
I really do not understand why the norm in the business world is mistrust and a lack of confidence in its workforce, but in my experience it is universal. The level and how it is manifested varies, but it is always there and is always at the heart of poor performance. In severe cases, there is an absolute distrust between management and labor. Surprisingly, when this is the case it is easier to establish a new order and transform an underachieving company into a sustainable best-in-class performer. In this situation, both parties acknowledge the distrust—it is obvious and clearly visible. When properly motivated, the parties can learn to work together and as the transformation progresses they can develop a real trust that strengthens the company.
In situations where the lack of trust is more latent or covert, the problem is much harder to overcome. In many cases, none of the participants consciously recognize the distrust. They know something is there, but cannot verbalize it. To an outsider the signs are clear. Managers talk down about, and to, their direct reports, especially the factory-floor-level personnel. They do not share information with anyone outside a small select group of peers and upper level management. They hold close information that might be detrimental. They do not make waves.
Trying to work without trust is simply not an option. Each of us is completely dependent on others (in the business world, all others) for our success and will fail without it. It should be clearly obvious that the factory-floor is the only reason a manufacturing company exists. After all, it is where the money is made. Without fully empowered operators and maintenance technicians the company will fail. Why is it so difficult for management to acknowledge this simple fact, embrace the entire workforce and permit them to make the company successful? In every instance where universal trust exists, the companies have been highly successful and have been able to sustain it. Those that fail to establish trust have struggled to maintain status quo and many have failed. Trust is truly the key.
A word of caution: always remember my third law, “People do what you inspect, not what you expect.” I tend to trust everyone and expect them to behave as professionals and extend mutual trust. However, I would never violate Mobley’s third law. No, this is not a contradiction. Trust is a double-edged sword, and all parties have an obligation to sustain it by consistently meeting mutual expectations. One should never take trust lightly or without verification that it is maintained. 

"Trust, but Inspect"

Thank you for taking the time to read this month’s letter. Hopefully, it has raised a few thoughts that will help you take the next step in your journey to excellence. I welcome your feedback and am happy to respond to specific questions. You can reach me at [email protected].

Best regards,
R. Keith Mobley
Principal, Life Cycle Engineering, Inc.

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Keith Mobley has earned an international reputation as one of the premier consultants in the fields of plant performance optimization, reliability engineering, predictive maintenance, and effective management. He has more than 35 years of direct experience in corporate management, process design and troubleshooting. For the past 16 years, he has helped hundreds of clients worldwide achieve and sustain world-class performance. Keith can be reached at [email protected].

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