I had an interesting conversation with a friend the other day. He runs a good sized company and is very successful. He’s also new in his position and is having the growing pains that come with taking over an existing company. Like most new CEO’s his biggest challenge is figuring out who to trust. Not trust in terms of who’s stealing from you. More like trust in terms of who sees the world like you do.
When I go into a new company the first thing I do is figure out who sees things as they really are (which means who sees things like I see them.) The problem, obviously, is that we all have a filter. Some people have a small one, some people filter the life out of things. But everyone uses a filter. That filter includes your upbringing, your education, your experiences in life, your experiences in business, etc., etc., etc.
The process usually goes like this: you observe trash by the back door of the warehouse (you are walking around from time to time, Aren’t you?) You recall that there has been trash by the back door the last several times you’ve been out there. What do you think? If you’ve worked in the warehouse before, and know that trash accumulates by the back door every day until about 3:00 p.m. and you know they dump it at about 3:30, you dismiss it. On the other hand, if you’ve never worked in the warehouse, and you have no idea that trash accumulates every day, you may form an opinion that they’re just not very tidy out there. Depending on your experience in life and in business, you decide they’re either not very tidy, or they’re lazy. Or if you’ve been in a situation in the past, where you’ve been ripped off by warehouse people, you’re convinced they’re stealing from you by hiding merchandise in the trash.
That problem is compounded if you send someone else down there to check thing out for you. ”What did you find?” you ask as they return. Depending on the experiences of the person you sent, you could get any one of the conclusions listed above. Five people will have five different evaluations of what is happening out there. So whose opinion do you trust? The problem is, when you’re new, you don’t have a filter to use for what your employees tell you. For example, after dealing with your employees for awhile, you say, ‘You know, Bob always thinks everyone is stealing from us.” So when Bob reports that the warehouse people are stealing, you take it with a grain of salt. And Bill always thinks everyone is lazy. So when he reports everyone is living in a pigsty you take that with a grain of salt as well.
If you’re like me, you are looking for the manager that looks into things. I want the person who says, “You know, the last few times I’ve been down there, there’s been trash by the back door. So I asked a couple of key people what was up, and they explained that it accumulated throughout the day and then dumped at the end of the shift. I know that sometimes people steal from us by hiding merchandise in the trash, so while I was there I rummaged around in it a bit to be sure that wasn’t the case.”
When I hear that answer, I hear a person who looks into things like I would. But really, that’s the long answer, and managers don’t always give the long answer. What would I think if that same manager came back and said, “Everything is fine.” I’d say to myself, “You know, I’ve known this manager for two years. I know she’s thorough, and that if there was a problem, she would have found it.” So if she tells me it’s fine, I know it’s fine.
But how do we get to the point of trust?
Anytime you’re dealing with someone new, the buzz words are “trust and verify.” I trust you implicitly, but until I have enough experience with you, I’m not going to just blindly accept your word. I’m going to hear what you say, then go verify for myself that you and I see things the same. I’ll compare my evaluation with yours, and see if there are discrepancies. After a few weeks or months (or more) I’ll know if I can “trust” you. Meaning I’ll know if you see things the way I do. Once I trust you, I’ll use you more than those I don’t.
I’ve worked with employees whose evaluation was almost always different than mine. I seldom asked the to do something for me. You couldn’t trust what they said. Not that they were dishonest in any way. They just didn’t see things through the same filter as I did. If I ask you to go check on something for me, I want to know that what you found is what I would have found if I’d gone myself.
My friend, in the story above, had had a middle manager come into his office and represent several things to him that were horribly misinterpreted at best, and out and out lies at worse. My friend had made an important decision based on the information provided by the middle manager, and ended up making a serious blunder. Had he had more experience with this middle manager, he would have known not to take what was said seriously. He would have gotten a “second opinion” or checked into it himself. Doing so would have saved him untold grief.
You can teach critical thinking and evaluation skills if you have the time and the patience. You go through the process of teaching what you saw and why. What you’re looking for and why. You can’t just do it once and think you’ve taught them. You’re going to have to do it over and over. But it is true you can teach people to see things through your eyes. If you have a manager that’s great in every way except that, it’s probably worth taking the time to teach those skills.
So really, it comes down to knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt who an be trusted and who can’t. Which, of course, means who sees things like you do, and who doesn’t. Again, to be sure we’re clear, we’re not talking at all about honesty and integrity in any way shape or form.. We’re talking about measuring someone’s critical judgement and evaluation skills against our own. Presumably, if you’re the boss (or the supervisor) you have a responsibility to make sure everything comes out right. So your opinion of what’s “right” is the one we will use to measure against. You need to know who sees things like you do. Or, in short, who you can trust.