Archives for February 2020

Levels of Trust in Workplace Relationships

 The Starting Point for Building a Trust Plan How do you define trust? How do you describe what trust means to you? Ask ten people and you will likely hear ten different responses.  Because trust is personal. Our past experiences with building, keeping or losing trust really shape how we define trust.

For me, I define trust as having the belief that someone, or a company, will do what they say they will do and in with my best interest in mind. A tall order?  Maybe, but never have the stakes been higher than in today’s volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous times – just think how fast social media posts move and how quickly information in spread. It’s no wonder that trust levels can come into question more than ever.

With this I mind, it is critical to consider what organizations can do to strengthen trust with their employees.  What if trust could be viewed as objective instead of just feeling so personal?  What if we could mark where trust is now, identify where we want to take it and map out a plan to do that?  We tackle this question in our newly expanded Building Trust in the Workplace Program.

Trust relationships can be established between people, between people and organizations, organization to organization, and within society in general such as networks, systems and government institutions.  Regardless of the parties, in my experience there are three levels of trust in any given relationship, and, due to various actions, the levels of trust can shift.  A starting point is to know where the trust relationship level currently stands and then, to identify what level one would like the trust relationship to move towards.

Let’s consider these three levels of trust in relationships. As you read the descriptions, think of a specific relationship you have with a person in your workplace.

Level 1: Governance and Rules-Based Trust

This is the most basic level of trust in relationships. It includes things like the law, policies, procedures, and contracts. If a relationship is at this level, then a quote that captures it is

“I know you will follow the rules and it governs our behavior with each other.” 

An example where this level can show up: Renewing your vehicle license with your insurance provider because you trust the provider that the fees are correct and that the provincial system will accurately be updated that you are driving a legal vehicle!  In this example, one may not need to go beyond this level of trust to be satisfied with the relationship. Both parties are getting what they need at the most basic level.

Level 2: Experience and Confidence-Based Trust

This level of trust in relationships represents most day-to-day work related and professional type relationships developed over time. A quote that demonstrates a relationship is at this trust level is:

“I know you have my best interest in mind. I have proven experience with you to know that you will do what you say you will do.”

An example where this level can show up in the workplace:  An employee shares a workplace challenge with his manager. He asks his manager for ideas for how to deal with the continuously late turnaround time from another department because it is impacting his ability to meet his deadlines.  She responds with acknowledgement that he brought it to her attention and she initiates a coaching conversation with him to explore the situation and possible solutions for a mutually agreed upon path forward.  It’s more than the basic level 1 because he trusts her to collaborate and help without knowing the outcome right away, rather than solve it for him or to think it is a poor reflection on his competence. This workplace relationship is one based on experience and confidence.

Level 3: Established and vulnerability-based trust

This level of trust in relationships is reserved for the most important connections in life, often created over time from relationships that began at Level 2. A quote that demonstrates a relationship is at this trust level is:

“I personally know you understand my dream, goals, and fears, and this would never be misused. Trust flows easily between both parties.”

An example is where relationships evolve organically and where trust flows throughout an organization. Google’s massive two-year study on team performance revealed that the highest-performing teams have one thing in common: psychological safety, the belief that you won’t be punished when you make a mistake.  This is an example of a level 3 trust relationship in an organization, when your creativity and the ability to speak up for the good of the team project is respected and valued. Extreme examples of level 3 trust relationships are your best friend, your spouse, and other close intimate relationships that truly are reserved for a select few outside of the workplace.

In my experience, great focus comes with being clear on what trust relationships need to change (move from Level 1 to Level 2, for example) and what trust relationships are ok where they are because both parties in the relationship are satisfied with the results.

It is useful to first reflect on what trust is and how it is evolving in these complex, changing times. Take a look at trust within your own organization and identify what level of trust relationships exist and how it serves the organization, or how it doesn’t and needs to shift. You may decide that a Level 1 trust between two parties is working well and needs to be maintained.

Also, take a look at your own impact on the trust-based relationships in your own experience.  Think about what your role has been in establishing a level of trust in your various relationships. How self-aware are you of how you are seen by others?

Bottom line – Organizational culture can take a monumental shift when leaders intentionally assess the current and desired level of trust relationships in their organization. Resetting the culture isn’t a quick fix. Behaviour can change so think of how to influence the behavior change. To create more trustworthy relationships that you want – know where you are starting from.

Linda is the lead facilitator for the Queen’s IRC Building Trust in the Workplace program. 


About the Author

Linda Allen-Hardisty Linda Allen-Hardisty is an ICF-certified executive coach, a senior OD professional, a chair at The Executive Committee (TEC) Canada, and a contributing member of Forbes Coaches Council. She’s built a reputation as a vibrant, contemporary voice in the business world by blending her grounding in organizational development with a practical approach to addressing business challenges. Over her 20-year OD career, she has helped many leaders – from corporate executives to entrepreneurs – improve their personal and professional success. She is a sought-after facilitator for executive development, organizational change and culture, team effectiveness, and emotional intelligence. With a Masters of Education from the University of Regina and a certificate in Organizational Development from Queen’s IRC, Linda’s uniqueness is that, prior to private practice, she fulfilled corporate leadership roles including the Director of Organizational Development in a company listed on the Hewitt Top 50 Employers in Canada, and became the first Manager of Strategy and Performance for a municipal government undertaking cultural transformation.

HR’s Role in Developing Innovative Organizations

HR’s Role in Developing Innovative OrganizationsBeing an innovative organization is far more than developing innovative products. It includes developing services, processes, business model innovation and even societal and policy innovations. Most innovation discoveries occur through convening diverse employees, teams, departments and organizations that combine perspectives, resulting in new ways of thinking and operating. Organizations need HR to drive innovation through the creation of leadership capacities, diverse team and organizational methodologies that allow innovation to flourish.

Here are five areas of focus for HR’s role in developing innovative organizations.

1. Building Leaders of Innovation
HR drives innovation by building ‘leaders of innovation’. Leaders of innovation do not necessarily generate the innovative ideas themselves. Instead, they recognize innovation when they see it and work with diverse groups to gain insight and discover innovative solutions to complex issues.  HR needs to hire individuals who are inherently capable of being leaders of innovation, promote them and develop that capability. They also need to build succession plans to ensure that future leaders can be leaders of innovation.

2. Ensuring Diverse Teams Can Work Together on Innovation
Innovative insights and discoveries emerge from diverse groups of employees, teams, departments, external customers and even diverse organizations that share their perspectives and combine them in unforeseen ways. Typically, organizations that have “silos” struggle to generate innovative outcomes. HR has a fundamental role to maximize inclusion, cross-functionality and the elimination of silos. For example, HR must ensure diverse teams convene and work together on innovation in order to drive innovation throughout the organization. HR should also extend the role of its HR business partners to ensure their internal clients receive and hand-off work to other departments effectively so that silos are reduced.

3. Focusing on User Experience and Iteration
Most issues that require innovative insights are characterized by ambiguity and uncertainty and often have little precedent. As a result, best practices and research are not very helpful for these issues.  An alternate method that has a higher probability to reveal insights into an issue and thereby yield much better innovative solutions is to analyze user experience. HR needs to champion user experience as an equally valid source of insights as best practices and research. However, insights gained from user experience can be imprecise and provide conflicting evidence. That’s why an innovation team will need to be effective at iteration. Iteration is the process of generating partial solutions that an innovation team can test on early adopt users to see if it generates any positive movement to resolve the issue. They then isolate the element in the partial solution that seems to work and expand and deepen it to produce another slightly better solution to test on users again. HR needs to promote iteration as a way to rapidly generate innovative solutions to complex, ambiguous and uncertain problems. They also need to debunk the myth that perfect solutions are possible and normalize partial and imprecise solutions designed to advance the discovery process.

4. Leveraging Change Management Practices to Implement Innovative Ideas
Innovation needs an implementation track record so that people will believe their efforts are meaningful and not a waste of time. Implementing new ideas also reinforces a culture conducive to innovation, which will help sustain the focus on innovation. HR should reframe its role in innovation as a ‘prequel to change’. Many HR leaders already focus on change management. By adding a focus on developing innovative organizations, HR extends its role earlier in the process to generating insights, ideation and iteration. HR should also ensure that leaders of innovation apply change management best practices so that employees and teams effectively and rapidly adopt innovative solutions that become the new business as usual.

5. Developing Organizational Practices That Drive Innovation
HR needs to develop practices and programs that drive innovation and do not make innovation harder to do. For example, HR needs to develop practices to help leaders to become leaders of innovation and programs to reward and reinforce diverse team collaboration.  HR should also review its current practices and programs to ensure they are not inadvertently making innovation more difficult. For example, HR should investigate if their job descriptions inadvertently create rigid job definitions that prohibit employees from working on diverse teams. They should also look at other parts of the organization and champion the removal or modification of various organizational practices that inadvertently make innovation more difficult. For example, if finance has a budgeting process that only allows innovative ideas to be implemented at the beginning of a budget cycle, then that will limit the willingness of employees to generate innovative solutions within the year. If parts of the organization require four or five signatures for approvals to proceed with innovative initiatives, then HR can champion the removal of those barriers because they slow down the implementation of ideas.

Overall, HR has a fundamental role in developing innovative organizations. HR should build leaders of innovation, create an openness to diverse thought, emphasize user experience and ensure that innovative ideas are implemented effectively. HR also needs to lead the way to remove or modify the organizational practices that are barriers to innovation and that make innovation more difficult.


About the Author

David Weiss
David is the lead facilitator for the Queen’s IRC
Leadership Capability to Drive Innovation program. Dr. David S. Weiss, ICD.D is President and CEO of a firm specializing in innovation, leadership, and HR consulting for many Fortune 500, social enterprise and public-sector organizations. David has provided consulting on more than 1000 business and organizational projects, delivered over 200 conference presentations and he has written over 50 journal and trade articles. He is the author or co-author of seven books including Innovative Intelligence (Wiley) which was reported by CBC News as a “top 5 business book” in the year it was published. David has conducted executive sessions in Canada, USA, China, Russia, Israel, Uganda, South Africa, Malaysia, Chile, Hungary, France and England. David currently teaches at three university executive development programs, including Queen’s University, Schulich, and St. Mary’s University. David’s doctorate is from the University of Toronto and he has three Master’s degrees.

Evidence Collection: Practical Tips for Workplace Investigations

 Practical Tips for Workplace InvestigationsOverview

Workplace investigations have become commonplace across Canada. Many Canadian jurisdictions require that employers implement workplace harassment and discrimination policies, which often include mandatory investigation provisions. Whether or not investigations are legally mandated, it is sound practice for an employer to conduct an investigation when there may be potential workplace harassment, human rights violations, breach of company policy, criminal activity, security breaches, legal action, or media scrutiny.

A fair and reasonable investigation can provide a defense for employers to assist in future litigation and/or human rights complaints.[1] Beyond legalities, investigations can also assist employers in identifying and resolving workplace issues, helping them to create a more productive and healthy working environment. For all of these reasons, workplace investigations provide an important function in today’s workplace. However, an investigation will only be useful if it is conducted in a fair and reasonable way.

Collecting the evidence is a fundamental step in conducting a fair investigation. Evidence may include witness statements, video surveillance, supporting documents (emails, letters, phone records, time sheets, text messages, photographs) and any other useful information regarding the relevant issues. While many witnesses may participate in good faith, people’s memories are not always reliable, and co-workers may share stories before an interview which could taint recollections. Further, not all witnesses will participate in good faith, resulting in dishonest and/or inaccurate witness statements on some occasions. Because of witness unreliability, workplace investigators should adequately instruct witnesses on confidentiality, while also making best efforts to collect and to preserve supporting documents when available. Following proper processes will assist investigators in ensuring that they have meet the good faith standard as required to conduct and complete workplace investigations. This article will highlight important considerations in collecting and preserving evidence when conducting a workplace investigation.

[1] See for instance: Morgan v. University of Waterloo, 2013 HRTO 1644 (CanLII) where the HRTO held that the university’s response to the complaint was “reasonable” and that the university had met its duty to investigate the circumstances; therefore, the award for damages came from the individual respondent only (and not the university). In this regard, a reasonable response and proper investigation can vitiate liability even in a circumstance where there is a finding that workplace harassment occurred.

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