Research shows that managers who cannot “ see” their direct reports
sometimes struggle to trust that their employees are in fact working.
As a trainee, before mobile phones, my team manager liked to ring
establishment I was visiting and ask them to pass on a message to
return to the office as he wanted to speak to me. It was a control
thing checking up I was where I said I was going to be then making me
return to the office. When I mentioned this to the rest of the team
they said it’s not just you, he doesn’t trust any of us because he
knows what he got up to when he did our job.
A manager may have good reason not to trust an individual but to
assume everyone they manage can’t be trusted is to misunderstand their
role. The role of a manager is not simply to ensure employees do what
they are paid to do but to develop mutual trust and respect. The way a
manager deals with someone who abuses that trust is to challenge the
individual , perhaps restrict their autonomy until confidence is
restored but not to introduced ,”close” supervision of the whole team.
The pandemic forced many organisations to require staff to work
from home rather that the office. The technical problems were not, it
turned out, insurmountable and managers unease about monitoring and
supervising home workers were put aside due to necessity. But old
habits are hard to break and stories are emerging of organisations
expecting workers to return to the office or instilling servalence
devices to computers. Organisations which don’t trust their staff like
managers who don’t trust their team can not expect employees to trust
or respect management. Which is a concern because it is extremely
difficult for an organisation to be agile, to respond quickly and
smoothly to external circumstances if the workforce does not have
confidence and trust in management.
Likewise a manager can hardly complain that their staff don’t
take responsibility and use their initiative if that they have learnt
they are not trusted to do so. Oppressive management practices are in
the long term incompatible with the aim of being an agile organisation.
Simply telling managers to trust their employees isn’t going to work.
Managers must learn to delegate and empower their workers thus giving
them more control over their work. Trusting employees to get on with
their work does not mean abdicating responsibility for their work nor
does it involve less communication with individuals about their work.
What it does mean is a shift away from checking up on individuals to
checking in with them to provide information, guidance and support.
Blair Mcpherson former Director , author and blogger www.blairmcpherson.co.uk