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Today we kick-off a 3-part series called “Building Trust at Work” with Chris Brogan. Chris is president of Human Business Works, providing business, communications and emerging technology strategy for mid- to large-sized businesses. He blogs regularly at chrisbrogan.com.

To better understand the dynamics of trust at work, I reached out to people who I believe have improved trust between leaders and employees. One such person was my friend Daniel Pink, bestselling author of many books, including the motivation-minded Drive and the powerful Free Agent Nation. In our conversation, Dan and I agreed that leadership isn’t about control.

Leaders of any size organization must come to realize that the age of “measuring butts in chairs” is over for most companies. The new method is to measure via output and responsiveness. In both cases, the emphasis is no longer on controlling potential productivity pitfalls for employees (such as blocking access to the Internet) but, instead, on equipping and educating employees to encourage a high level of autonomous output.

It’s a difficult shift. I’ve now run 3 distributed companies in a row, where my employees are scattered all over the place and working on their own timetables. There are days where even I have that nagging feeling of “Is anyone besides me even WORKING today?” But when I measure based on output, I don’t have to worry about whether the person took a 3-hour coffee break. Deadlines are deadlines, and the employee is either able to successfully deliver work or not.

The shift, instead of causing anxiety, affords a certain level of excitement when you realize that leaders who learn how to measure production and output rather than hours clocked will succeed in this new business environment of constant flux. The opportunities are incredible, because this affords a great deal of flexibility in hiring (you can hire based on skill, not locale) plus a very viable perk (working from home or remotely is a highly sought-after benefit, which helps with retention).

But how do you earn trust? First, it’s a two-way street. Employees have certain needs with regard to trusting their leadership.

  • If I’m going to work from home, you can’t forget me. (This is a big fear of remote employees.)
  • If I’m working remotely, you have to realize that it might take a little while to respond. This doesn’t always equal “slacking off.” Sometimes it means “head down in the work.”
  • If you’re allowing me to go mobile, then help me by making any meetings or collaboration easy (with the right tools).

On the other side of the coin, if you’re looking to build trust with your leadership, consider the following:

  • Be explicit about how and when you’ll respond and when you’ll be “heads down” in your work. When you work in person, visual cues speak loud enough. When you work remotely, silence feels like inactivity, but senseless chatter will waste everyone’s time.
  • Never miss a deadline. If you’re working remotely, you are being measured on delivery. Let no excuses get in between you and success.
  • Make it exceptionally easy for people to share and contribute to your work. If people are waiting on you, it gums up the works.

Learning how to trust your employees with their work is a big and powerful opportunity to change (improve!) your business. Though not every role works well remotely, more positions succeed at workshifting than you’d imagine.

Check back next week for the 2nd part of our “Building Trust at Work” series.

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  • http://www.twitter.com/danieldecker Daniel Decker

    Love it. Great interview and insight.

  • Courtney D Bosch

    As someone who works FT from home I can relate to this. Great interview! 

  • http://twitter.com/Wisegrass Paul Stoltzfus

    Right no! refreshing

  • Judy White SPHR GPHR HCS

    Judy White SPHR GPHR HCS

  • M Ivey

    You hit the nail on the head!  I can really relate to the point about some areas are more geared toward remote work and some more productive face to face.  I’m on conference calls all day long working remote between various time zones.  The productivity factor must be considered.  It often takes hours and hours of conference calls and virtual meetings where I feel that if we were all in a room, focused and gathered around the white board we could have reached the same result in half the time.

  • http://thoughtlead.com Steve Haase

    Great interview. I loved Dan’s book Drive and found his insights on the power of intrinsic motivation to produce optimal results particularly enlightening. In the interview, I appreciated his views on the shift from managing inputs (butts in seats on time) and outputs (what kind of work is being created). This is such an important topic, both as more of the workforce becomes non-local, and as more people find themselves simultaneously boss and employee. Thanks Chris and Dan!

  • http://www.owenmarcus.com Owen Marcus

    Giving up control is hard when your in crisis, stressed and overwhelmed.

  • http://www.robinsonleadership.com/ Toronto leadership training

    Yes, it’s important to trust our employees’ work. If we can’t, it’s quite hard to lead them correctly and responsible. I was last year in a leadership training camp and it was so great. I found out some good, interesting and useful things about this subject. I hope I’ll continue to have a good workplace with such great persons.

  • http://www.globalpeopletree.com/ Tanvi Gautam

    Great discussion.
    Like it is said, not all work can be approached in the same way. Different types of work, lends itself to different types of flex work. Organizations are simply not getting this message. The feel a work from home day a week is what cuts it. It does not.Secondly, the idea of spending sometime with the mothership is so in line with making sure people are socialized to the culture and people they will work with. A certain degree of face to face time and in-person presence can go a long way in smoothing offline transactions.

    Look forward to the other posts.


  • http://www.zameen.com/ Pakistan Property

    I really enjoyed the discussion. You have enlighten a major issue exists inside an organization. No doubt there are a lot of examples of employe’s fraud in the company where they work, but every one should realize the sensitivity of this issue. Popular and successful Businesses, companies , organizations definitely depends on the strong combination of employees with owners. I think somewhere owner has to build himself to trust his employ. Owners can have check on their employees circumstances.

  • Colleen Carlson

    Dan is describing a Montessori classroom!