A newly appointed general manager (GM) managed to turn an unsuccessful company and not only achieving an unmatched level of performance, however he also created a trust culture in the workplace.
A manufacturing company appointed a new GM for their failed operation in the Limpopo province in South Africa. Within a year the operation become a noticeable profitable competitor in the market, with a high performance team with share values and high levels of trust. Originally the GM considered an effective teambuilding effort to accomplish success; however it was in fact his ability to develop trust relationships which guaranteed the success. He appreciated the fact that ultimately it’s complicated, if not impossible to a certain extent, to be a reputable leader without trust.
With little faith to continue with the operation, a final attempt of the owners of this company was made, to appoint a new GM. A twelve month time (last chance) ultimatum was set for the company due to the following triggers:
No profit- No return on the investment/ Declining customer basis/Low quality products/ Lack of service/ Low efficiencies no obedience to KPI’s/Shrinkage/No devotion to process or procedures/Dysfunctional team /Ethnic conflict /De-motivated people /Lack of Trust
v Day one. Introductions, and” the teambuilding speech”. On the notice board In the meeting room was an old faded illustration of “the tale of the two donkeys”, and to obtain a reaction the GM used it as an opening line once he introduced himself, and conclude with the moral of the story;” if we work together, we will never fail”. However, he did not manage to get any positive response from the team.
v First month. With optimism, he work close to the team, pay attention to them as member of the team, notice their strengths, and encourage them to share their operational knowledge. He put an effort to be consistent in his behaviour and visibly illustrated his knowledge of business and the industry. However, he also observed and recognized the impact of the team’s distrustful relationships, confirmed understanding and respects their feelings. He reinforced the importance of the team and described what the company’s expectations. Enforced that all members should be able to accept responsibility for their behaviours, and apologise should be given when required. (Truth is important to trust). He emphasised the importance to the team on moving on and not to dwell in the past.
v Second month. Although progress was minimum the GM felt it was needed to express his gratitude to the team, and he arranged a “social get -together”. However, he was quite stunned when an elderly supervisor made the following remark. “When you started here a month ago, you told us a story of 2 donkeys…I just need to tell you, you are a terrible teller of tales… however you are a excellent “father” Then the old man told the Venda version of the tale…explaining that before the donkeys could “work together” they would need a trustworthy “father” and the father also needs the donkey’s to trust him. Trust is basically a reciprocal behaviour leaders ought to understand and the only way to obtain trust is to demonstrated trust. When member trust their leader, they identify with and feel content to work for that organisation
v The succeeding days. Re-adjusted his approach to some extent, the GM focussed to motivate the team to be involved in change of company’s commitment, concentrated on consistent fairness in workplace, develop company standards and team participation and trust. He understood that trust can be delicate in new relationships; subsequently the trust relationship needed to be developed in something more robust, with shared approval and thoughtful bond between members. With this robust form of trust, the team would be relaxed and flourishing; with trust progress would be faster and members will follow him without guarded hold back; with trust the company would passionately succeed.
v Month six. With the improved trust culture in the company, the GM becomes more confident and assertive to investigate possibilities to benefiting the company. Bigger customers were approached to trial the “higher quality “products, inefficient product lines were removed from product list. Within the team, participative decisions making developed, responsibilities were assigned and efficiencies improved.
v Month Twelve. Pointless to mention, the company developed into a preferred trusted market leader with a trusting culture and a positive bank balance.
The GM identified the succeeding matters which were challenging the trust relationship at the operation and also engaged the following solutions.
v A lack of/or poor communication between department (e.g. sales vs. operations/ operations vs. engineering/ debtors vs.sales etc) encouraged inconsistency and resistance of trust, thus de-motivated members. Solution; Promoted, consistent transparent focused communications, operational goal setting and multi-skilling to support a business understanding.
v No profit, declining customer basis, low quality products, lack of service, low efficiencies no obedience to KPI’s. Solution: As a reasonable leader the GM turned important success factors into clear and reasonable common interests. He insisted on dedication and expected it from the team. This created a positive “snowball” result, and constantly increases customer loyalty and trust.
v Product shrinkages and a lack of devotion to process or procedures caused huge financial corrosion to the company. Solution: As confidence leader with integrity and accountability which GM instilled was seen as trustworthy. He also demonstrates respect by “Walk the talk”.
v Dysfunctional team, ethnic conflict and a lack of trust. Solution: With the creation of a high trust atmosphere the team started to be more supportive, optimistic, dynamic and comfortable between them. The GM appreciated that trust is basically a reciprocal behaviour leaders ought to understand and the only way to obtain trust is to demonstrated trust. When member trust their leader, they identify with and feel content to work for that organisation.
v Other positive outcomes were the GM compassion for the team and the company which also stimulated trust, loyalty and commitment. Businesses with a trust ethos will have a competitive advantage. This emphasizes the fact that distrust can be expensive.
Most people want to work for a trusting leader; therefore a leader should be able to understand the foundations of trust, dynamics of trust in a team and how trust is measured. However, it is important to understand trust is fragile, thus the leader also need to know how to rebuild trust.
It is not unexpected that trust is an issue in several businesses currently, due to the pace of change in all business, e.g. mergers, downsizing, new business models, and globalization. (Hurley, 2010).The expansion of workplace relationships created by trust is exciting, thus trust should become a vital leadership focus due to the fact that it result in valued organisational outcomes.