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We need to talk about Trust

I've been talking to some of my team recently about equality and inclusion. More specifically we've begun to talk about how to be inclusive when some people are in the office and some still working from home, and that led us into a very interesting conversation about trusting people and being trustworthy. For those of you who were office based workers before lockdown, I wonder how many were told by their manager that they couldn't work from home because... well, just because you can't. So now that myth is blown out what next?

For many office based staff before lockdown there were practical reasons why they could not work at home. Their company may have invested in desktop computers rather than laptops, the telephony, and a whole host of other good reasons. When it became necessary for people to work at home if at all possible then many of those initial barriers had to be overcome. And for others, there were no real barriers to remotely, other than custom and practice, and the view of your manager.

Its fair to say that many managers have never been taught how to manage. Commonly people are promoted to the next level by being good at what they do now. But then the next level includes managing other people. Its a little like becoming a parent, nobody ever taught you how, but once the baby arrives you find yourself on a steep learning curve. Of course there are books you can read, and training you can go on, but for new managers these often involve little more than how to deal with sickness absence, managing leave, and other 'processes'. So the quality of management can be about the example previous managers have set, whether that be good or bad. Thing is management is about people at least as much, and for me, more than, processes. Its the people stuff you really need to get right, and that is not so often taught well.

So we were talking about when colleagues were sometimes told they couldn't work from home in the past, and what the managers actually meant. The conversation was made more interesting because the range of colleagues included those who had been told 'no' and some of the managers that had said 'no'. What we had was a wonderfully open conversation about trust. What it took to start that conversation was the leader to say plainly 'of course what we all really know now, is that when you were told no then, it was never about not being able to work at home, it was all about trust'.

I talk about trust with colleagues quite often, particularly with those who seem to want to check every action or decision before they take it. We talk about when they need to check in and when they don't need to, and that I trust them. Its very rare that I ask them to earn that trust first, simply that I trust them, and its for them to either live up to that or not. Its a measured risk. We talked about some people who need others to earn their trust first, and that's ok, and what is even better is talking to colleagues and explaining that. We also talked about giving trust being different to someone being trustworthy. A colleague may be the same degree of 'trustworthy' whether they have a manager that trusts easily or needs them to earn that trust - that's what makes the conversation so important. Without it colleagues may just feel resentful.

So what is that feels so hard about talking about trust? It's not just about trust though is it? Its really about honest conversations. Its about knowing how to give feedback, and say things that feel hard, but still need to be said. If you work in HR and want to prioritise funding to one thing, then managers all feeling confident to hold honest conversations, kindly and respectfully is crucial to a good workplace culture. It opens the way to so many conversations that needs to be had about the topics that led to our discussion, topics like equalities, diversity and inclusion. You might want to ask about how we can help you get there

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