Restore Trust at Work with These 3 Words

We are allies. Three simple words. Yet when spoken by a manager to an employee, these may be three of the most powerful words possible.

Most of us spend the majority of our waking hours at work, on our way to and from work, or thinking about work. When we meet someone new, the first question Americans ask and are asked is typically, “So, what do you do?” When we describe someone else, we usually lead with their profession: “She’s a doctor.”

Given how important work seems in our lives, it is tragic that most employment relationships are built on a lie.

Managers pretend that employees have a job for life. Employees pretend that they intend to work for their company for the rest of their careers. But deep down, both parties don’t believe their own words.

You can’t build a trusting relationship on a foundation of dishonesty and self-deception.

Yet the “honest” approach of considering every job temporary, and every employee a “free agent” leads to a bleak, cynical world without trust or loyalty.

The answer is for managers and employees to treat each other as allies: Independent and autonomous players who voluntarily come together to work towards mutually agreed upon goals.

Treating employees like allies allows managers and companies to build loyalty without lying. Successful alliances can be renewed and updated, allowing employees to construct a successful career filled with professional growth without ever changing employers. And employees who choose to leave can do so on amicable terms and with fond memories of what the members of the alliance achieved together.

This open, accepting approach allows managers and employees to be honest with each other, providing a solid foundation for mutual trust, mutual investment, and mutual benefit. It creates a bigger pie for everyone rather than treating our work relationships as a zero-sum game.

We’ve thought a great deal about this approach and how to put it into effect, including concepts like Tours of Duty, Network Intelligence, and Corporate Alumni Networks. We’ve tried to build a rich framework that lets managers change their employee relationships, whether you’re a Fortune 500 CEO or a newly minted team leader.

But, really, your journey as a manager will begin the next time you meet one-on-one with an employee and speak the three simple words that show that you’re committed to an open, honest approach: We are allies.

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