ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

August 1998 / Special Feature : An Issue Of Trust

An Issue Of Trust

In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash

All You Ever Really Need To Know About Trust You Learned In Kindergarten

Furnishing Trust And Empowerment

Eight Organizational Strategies That Build Trust

Trust In Whom

by Peter Block
Trust Columns
John Schuster

Cliff Bolster
Joel Henning
Dan Oestreich
Felicia Seaton-Williams
Trust Interviews
Trapeze Artist
Emergency Room Physician

Air Traffic Controller
Police Officer
Park Ranger


Brief Cases
Business News Briefs

Book Review


Furnishing Trust And Empowerment

As more and more businesses take steps to empower their employees, many lose sight of the important role trust plays in the empowerment process. Owners and managers want employee action and involvement; however, they often neglect to provide these same employees with adequate tools and information to help them achieve these objectives.

In his book, “Principle-Centered Leadership,” Stephen Covey writes, “You can’t have empowerment without first having trust.” Covey goes on to say that owners and managers must first work on building trust in the workplace in order to achieve true empowerment. However, establishing trust in any environment is no easy task, and when it comes to the workplace, mistrust is often deeply embedded and difficult to overcome.

Mistrust in the employee/management relationship is a consequence of a natural human tendency to be skeptical of that which we don’t understand. Because employees frequently have less information than management, there is a tendency for them to mistrust individuals at the top and to speculate (inaccurately) about management’s intentions.
One of the best ways to overcome workplace mistrust is to share and explain information about the business so that employees understand how they fit into the big picture. As workers begin to appreciate the business from a more informed perspective, involvement and interest will grow, along with a more trusting employee/management relationship and successful empowerment.

Changing the Flow
As an example, Tom Seely Furniture, a small furniture manufacturer in Berkeley Springs, W.Va., recently took steps to build a more positive company culture where trust and empowerment were predominant characteristics. This presented a major challenge to the new CEO, Gat Caperton. For decades Seely employees had been managed with a traditional top-down management style where company information did not flow beyond the executive office. This closed-door environment fostered a great deal of skepticism and mistrust among employees. Caperton wanted to break down the walls that had been formed not only to help employees understand more about the business, but also to get their input on how the company could be more successful in the future.

One of the initial improvements Caperton made involved introducing a company-wide profit sharing plan. Acknowledging that an incentive alone would not provide a complete solution, he also wanted to provide employees with a lesson in business basics, as well as an understanding of the importance of profit to everyone.
To help him accomplish this, Caperton hired Profitworks, Ltd., a Columbus, Ohio company, to customize and deliver a workshop called, Profits, Profitability & You, to all 150 Tom Seely employees. Over several sessions the employees learned how they affect the amount of profit the company makes, and that if they use this control to move the numbers in the right direction, they can really benefit through their profit sharing plan.

Caperton could see a change in employee behavior and attitudes even before the end of the workshop. In one of the last sessions an employee recounted a recent incident where one of the company power drills was missing from the warehouse. Since the drill had been there when the day shift left on the previous day, the day shift suspected that someone from the night shift had taken it. The day shift workers got together at the end of their shift and confronted the night shift about the missing drill. They pointed out that the company would have to replace the drill and that the cost to replace it would ultimately come out of everyone’s profit sharing. The following morning the missing drill was back on the shelf in the warehouse.
While examples like this demonstrate that Caperton’s efforts to improve trust and empowerment are working, he realizes that it is not an overnight endeavor, but an ongoing process. By continuing to provide employees with the information and understanding they need to take action and become more involved in the business, the future for Tom Seely Furniture and its workers looks bright.

August '98 News for a Change | Email Editor

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