Organisational ‘Trust’ Building – KRA For the CEO!

“If each of us hires people who are smaller than we are, we shall become a company of dwarfs, but if each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, we shall become a company of giants.”

– David Ogilvy in ‘Ogilvy On Advertising’

David Ogilvy used to do something interesting. When someone was made the head of an office in the O&M chain, he sent him a set of Matrioshka dolls from Gorky. When the recipient opened the doll, and kept opening it until he reached the inside of the smallest doll, he found the above message. There was a powerful message in this small act.

Recently, I realized the significance of Ogilvy’s action and intention. Interacting with the CEO of one of India’s finest hospitals I asked him the biggest challenge that he foresees for his institution. Without a hitch, he replied ‘medical talent’. I was surprised: what kind of medical talent challenge does a reputed medical institution like his faces? The answer was quite astonishing, and also an issue to ponder for organizational leaders.

“Our biggest strength is becoming our weakest spot”, he said. The story reads like this:

A few years back, the Hospital management took a strategic decision to align key specialties as ‘practice areas’ under the leadership of a renowned doctor. The leader doctor was assisted by a team of specialist doctors from the field. Today, most of the practice leaders are on the verge of retiring or getting good monetary offers from newer hospitals. The worry for the CEO is that there is no number 2 or 3 in the ‘practice areas’, but perhaps a number 4 and below. How did this happen? In pursuit of achieving its business objectives, the hospital overlooked the fact that the practice leaders were not grooming leaders from the team working with them. Realizing that they were not getting opportunities to grow, many talented doctors left the organizations and the ones left behind were unable to develop capabilities to lead a team!

This is a story one repeatedly hears across sectors. As one enters the management cadre in an organization, one of the first lessons taught is that people do not leave organizations, they leave their leaders. Curious to know ‘why’, I spoke to people across sectors to know the reasons and realised that there may be softer issues at play. A few identified reasons were as follows:

Lack of the idea of justice

It may be the most unstated value in an organization, but it is the most important trust building factor between people, organizations and their leaders. When organizations in their pursuit of achieving business objectives turn a blind eye over the mishaps and misbehavior of leaders towards their subordinates (as in the case of the hospital), the idea of justice is forsaken. This leads to a loss of trust towards the leader and eventually the organization, which leads to people leaving the organization with a negative impression about the organization. In this whole sequence of events, the organization is the biggest loser- it loses talent, reputation and people’s falling trust on businesses as the harbinger of social change.

As Lord Acton’s famous quote predicts, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”, organisations need to build internal “countervailing power” mechanism as discussed by J K Galbraith in his book ‘American Capitalism’. No doubt organizations need performing leaders, but not at the cost subduing the rights of other team members. More on the subject of impartiality and fairness can be read in ‘The Idea Of Justice’ by Amartya Sen.

Leader’s insecurities

A leader is after all human, and is bound to have his/ her share of insecurities. In today’s competitive environment, a talented subordinate can be an easy replacement for the boss. A budding subordinate most times is not in the interest of the leader. At a leadership workshop, I heard a participant ask the facilitator, “What will I do if I groom the subordinate to take my place?” The facilitator replied: “you should tell the management to give you a new responsibility. If they don’t have a bigger responsibility, you should quit the job as the organization is not growing.” Good thought, but how many people will actually do it is a question mark.

Stephen R Covey in his book ‘The 8th Habit’ writes: “Building strong relationships not only requires a character foundation of inner security, abundance and personal moral authority…. but it also involves stretching ourselves in developing vital new interpersonal skills that will make us equal to the challenges we will face with others.”

The only viable option seems to be continuous self-development by the leader; constantly raising the bar which maintains the gap between their talents and the subordinates capabilities.

Fight for credit

Although not an openly and frequently discussed issue, yet one of the major reasons for friction between the leader and the team members is the fight for credit. A quote attributed to Napoleon, reads thus:

“The ideal army would be the one in which every officer would know what he ought to do in every contingency; the best possible army is the one that comes closest to this. I give myself only half the credit for the battles I have won, and a general gets enough credit when he is named at all, for the fact is that a battle is won by the army.”

Most of the times, this truth is lost on the leaders, who wish to hog the limelight. The subordinates in frustration either switch off and start performing below expectations or leave the organization.

What can the CEO do about the whole affair? Can organizations succeed without trust? According to Stephan Covey, “Almost all the work of the world is done through relationships with people and in organizations. But what is communication like when there is no trust? It’s impossible.” CEO’s need to realize the significance of trust building in their organizations. A lot of literature is already available on the subject, there needs to be a conscious effort on the part of the CEO to identify ‘touch points’ for trust building in the organization. CEO’s need to look not only at the competencies of the their internal leaders but also at their characters. Alongwith financial performance, growth, results, etc. CEO’s need to keep trust building as their KRA.

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