Sunday, September 28, 2014

How Do You Develop a Trusting Culture?

In an interesting on-line article, the boss of the Virgin Group, Sir Richard Branson, highlights how he is offering his personal staff as much holiday as they want. I can imagine the announcement in other organisations and a mad rush to the door, as people go home to pack, with a huge smile on their faces. It takes a huge amount of trust and belief in your people to make such an offer – as it’s the kind of offer that is hard to take back, without a major negative impact on motivation and morale, if you’ve got it wrong.
Branson says that his staff of 170 can "take off whenever they want for as long as they want". He added that there was no need to ask for approval, nor say when they planned to return, the assumption being that the absence would not damage the firm.
Now it’s worth noting at the outset that this offer, at this point in time, is only for his personal staff of 170, out of the more than 50,000 people employed by the company around the world. And I can’t help wondering what message it’s giving to the other employees around the world – some will think it’s just basic favoritism; others will be demotivated, believing that the signal implies he doesn’t trust them as much as his ‘near and dear’ – so even though exciting, the management of the roll-out and communication of such an inspiring idea has to be very well thought out and managed.
Branson said he was inspired by his daughter, who read about a similar plan at the online TV firm Netflix. "It is left to the employee alone to decide if and when he or she feels like taking a few hours, a day, a week or a month off," wrote the billionaire.
"The assumption being that they are only going to do it when they feel 100% comfortable that they and their team are up to date on every project and that their absence will not in any way damage the business - or, for that matter, their careers!"
To have an organizational culture where you have certainty in your employees commitment to the business is definitely the exception and not the rule in the first part of the 21st century. The concept is innovative and exhilarating – but we will need to watch this space very carefully.
This kind of ‘perk’ has to be earned and cannot be simply given away by employers, not that I think many will be rushing to implement this. Since the media got hold of this concept from Branson, they’ll be many employees of other organisations who will be thinking what a great idea this would be – though they will have scant regard for the concept of ensuring their absence doesn’t damage the business in any way.
Branson added that he had introduced the policy in the UK and the US "where vacation policies can be particularly draconian". If it goes well there, Branson said he would encourage subsidiaries to follow suit. "We should focus on what people get done, not on how many hours or days worked. Just as we don't have a nine-to-five policy, we don't need a vacation policy," he wrote.
This business concept is entirely correct – yet there are still organisations that focus on the hours employees are at work and not on how productive they are. It still amazes me that they naively believe that time behind a desk equates to output – and it simply doesn’t.
Before being able to trust employees to take leave, both when they need it and when it is convenient to their jobs and performance; organisations have to allow employees to be more flexible in their work hours – focusing on quality outputs, performance, motivation and ultimately culture.
Only when both the leadership and the employees have been able to ‘trust’ each other to get the job done, rather than getting the hours done – will organisations be able to take the next step and allow employees to take leave when they want. Because they will already have a culture based around quality outputs – which is what business is all about.

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