Finding the ‘Silver Bullet’

Image courtesy of Flickr/Ed Schipul

Here we are in the middle of what pharmaceutical companies call their Christmas season. From December through April, the population contracts more sinus and respiratory sicknesses than in the other eight months of the year. Remedies fly off the shelves, and drug store cash registers overheat with activity.

So where is the “silver bullet” that will cure the common cold?

It’s the same question we ask continually in business. Since 1950, I’ve kept track of the so-called management silver bullets that came and went. When I stopped counting in 2010, there were 50 and still coming. Despite all this, we still suffer from corporate rhinitis.

The closest case of a true remedy can be found in the work of the Great Place to Work Institute. To quote Robert Levering, the organization’s co-founder: “Trust is the defining principle of great workplaces — created through management’s credibility, the respect with which employees feel they are treated, and the extent to which employees expect to be treated fairly.”

This claim didn’t come out of a one-off experiment in a division of a company, as so many of the stories I’ve read over the decades have. If we want something that truly works, it needs to be tested frequently under different conditions with different groups.

The Great Place to Work Institute has been surveying trust levels for more than 25 years. It has developed a “Trust Index” survey instrument that the organization says more than 10 million employees take annually. It has passed the validity and reliability tests over and over.

To be sure, this isn’t a commercial for the Great Place to Work Institute. If you can’t afford or don’t want to use their instrument, you can develop one of your own. It won’t be as comprehensive, but it will give you a good idea of what your silver bullet looks like.  

Here are the three basic questions. You can add more if you like.

1. On a six-point scale, with six being high, “How trustworthy do you feel your top management is?”

2. On a six-point scale, “How trustworthy do you feel your immediate supervisor is?”

3. Please give two or three examples of behaviors that would make your top management and immediate supervisor more trustworthy.

You can segregate the responses by asking respondents to indicate their level in your organization. Keep identification somewhat broad so people won’t feel they can be identified.

When scoring the first two questions, I suggest you drop the responses at each end of the scale and only keep scores that fall between scale responses two through five. This does away with extremes that you can’t or don’t need to deal with. 

The only exception would be if you have an extraordinarily high incidence of one-point scores. It’s not likely, but if you do, you need big time help. Also, if you do have a very high distrust response, you probably already know it.

Lastly, if you find that you need to build trust levels either at the top or in the middle of your organization, what can you do? Obviously, one approach is to hire a consulting firm thatwill want to redo the survey you’re using, likely for one of their own instruments.     

On the other hand, you can use my favorite approach: common sense. I learned this from my mother, who when I was telling her about the psychology theories and models I was studying, she would often say, “Sounds like common sense to me.”

When I was on your side of the desk, I always liked to start with the simplest and often cheapest problem-solving approach: talking with people. 

People want to be talked with, not to. It’s a fundamental of trust. You start with the data off your survey. Have your staff walk around and chat with people. Organize the findings. Then present it to senior management and go to work to fix it.

You have the silver bullet within your knowledge of humanbehavior. Keep it simple. Work directly. Trust your people to be honest with you. If you don’t trust them, I know where the problem rests.