Доверяй, но проверяй
(trust, but verify)

by Richard Smith. richard@levelplain.com

On a daily basis there are so many things going on in even the smallest business that it is really impossible for a single person to control or be fully aware of the actions of their teams. In reality you cannot even control a small part without having to trust people.

But whom to trust, what to trust them with, and what to do when trust is broken? These are some of the thoughts that whirl around in many manager’s minds. Experience has taught us that people are not perfect, some will make mistakes in judgement every now and then and some will be plain malicious and surprise us with their ingenuity for creating havoc.

Managers have a variety of responsibilities in any given company and a key one is to be trusted with things, big and small. When trust is lost in the business world, there is no easy way to get it back. Sometimes it is impossible to regain lost trust.

That being said, in my opinion there is BIG and small trust. You can trust in someone to pick up the documents from the printer on the morning of the meeting. If they do not do it and have no believable excuse, you lose trust in them and will think twice about relying on them for other small but important tasks. This is small trust. Some of it can be regained and eventually may even be restored. It is like dropping a cup and a chip is knocked off it—with patience, it can be repaired and be almost as good as new. If the cup is dropped many times and shatters, then the continual need for repairs becomes a burden and eventually you just need to throw it away and get another one.

Then there is BIG trust. When BIG trust is lost or is broken then it explodes and causes a lot of damage. It cannot be repaired; the original structure is damaged beyond recognition. BIG trust in work is broken when the finance people steal. It is when the manager lies about the promotion you did not get and does not admit that it is because you were not right for the job or that they just do not like you and chose someone they did like. It is when someone purposely takes advantage of a customer or colleague out of greed or anger. As a manager I have had to deal with all of these situations and more.

The most memorable instance was wrong on so many levels. In a previous company I worked at, one of our sales people was moonlighting for a competitor while on our payroll. The company found out when an irate distributor called the corporate office, livid because he thought he was being tested by the salesman when he offered the distributor an option to buy our competitors’ products instead of ours. He wasn’t being tested, the salesman had gone rogue. The salesman and a few other cohorts were unceremoniously suspended and locked out of their offices as an investigation was launched. It wasn’t pretty and the suspicion it generated trickled out in all directions. The company recovered, the individuals involved lost their jobs, and it took a very long time before those directly affected found it possible to trust in our company again.

When trust is broken by someone they usually know full well what they were doing. People are not oblivious to their own deceit. “I didn’t realize what I was doing” or “I never meant to cause trouble” are some of the explanations you may hear. These are also lies and actually compound the trust issue. In reality what they really mean is “I got caught red handed and now I’ll throw myself on the mercy of the court.” Well, you can throw yourself out the door as far as I’m concerned. They deserve the full consequences of whatever they have coming to them.

A corollary to never breaking trust is never to renege on a promise you have made, unless the company will be in danger if you don’t. It is crucial that if you ever do need to renege on that promise, then explain yourself truthfully and make it clear why you needed to break the promise.

Do not ever compromise on trust. There is nothing to be gained and much to lose. The salary or wage you get paid requires that you do the right thing and be a trustworthy person. If people lie or show an obvious lack of regard for the truth, if they continuously break the small trust, or ever break the BIG trust, then they need to go.

In my experience the vast majority of people rarely have small trust issues and an even smaller group have BIG trust issues, so my advice is to trust people initially and be watchful of their actions. Their actions will either reinforce your trust or not. Then if trust issues arise you need to handle them as they happen, thankfully this should only be necessary on rare occasions.

As a past USA president learned from a Russian proverb Доверяй, но проверяй (trust, but verify).

Please send any comments to richard@levelplain.com