What mistake has your team losing trust for you by the second?

I spent a good part of this past weekend helping my 8-year-old memorise his two-to-three minute public speaking assignment for school and speak it with expression.  In order to do that, I created a system.

First, I would read a sentence from his speech to him with expression.  Second, he would read it to himself, silently, with expression.  Third, he would read it out loud, with expression.  And finally he would speak (not read) it out loud, with expression.

The system worked like magic.  My son was remembering his speech.  He spoke with vocal variety, gave me plenty of eye contact and was using appropriate facial expression and gestures.

But once in a while I would skip a step and try to move things along.  My 8-year-old, normally a rule-breaker at home, would pull me up and bring us back to the system.

Because it was no longer my system.

It was our system.

He was invested in it.  He believed in it.  He put his trust into the system.  And by extension, he put his trust in me.

The danger of ignoring the system

How often, with our teams, do we promote a way of doing things and then we don’t live up to that approach ourselves?  All organisations have systems and policies.  Performance reviews, reports, quality assurance processes.  The list is long. (Often too long.)

Promote the system and not follow it, and you may as well not have the system in the first place.  Without consistency, you will not only not get the results that the system was put in place to achieve, but you will have no leg to stand on when your team isn’t following the system either.

But even worse, you lose credibility with your team.

Because you are the champion of the system.  As their leader, you are a representive the organisation.  You are “management.”  If you, leader, support a system in word or by virtue of your leadership position, but you don’t live it, work it or apply it, then your words and your actions don’t match.

The message to your team:  you don’t need to believe what the boss says. You don’t need to follow the policies and procedures of the organisation.    What management says and what we, the team, do, are two different things.

In other words, disregard systems.

Selective system use

Imagine being a new employee at a large organisation and it comes time for your annual performance review. When you were recruited, you were told how this performance review is a cornerstone of the company’s success because the company values its people and their growth.  You get sent on a half day training course on how to fill out the performance review questionnaire and how to have a valuable conversation with your boss.  You spent the previous months diligently capturing your achievements and successes, which you carefully craft and capture succinctly in your review.

On the day of your meeting, as you sit with butterflies in your belly in a meeting room, your boss arrives.  Your boss, who is meant to have read your review and come ready to discuss the review, your performance, and your career at the organisation.  He/shewalks in, sits down, and says, “I haven’t had a chance to look at this yet.  Anything I should pay attention to?”

Demotivating your team

In a complex, varied world, systems give people a sense of structure.  A sense of control.  A feeling that at least they know what’s coming next and they’ve got some influence over it.

Take that away from your team and you pull the rug out from under them, destabilise them, and create an environment where they cannot trust.  They no longer know what to focus on and what not to, because what is said and what is done do not match.  They begin to watch for clues as to how they’re REALLY meant to behave, because the policies and procedures, the systems, are just words on a page.

Follow the system

Your organisation needs systems.  There are mandatory systems which you have no control over, but have to follow.  You might not like it, but to be perfectly blunt, it’s not about you.

It’s about what works.  For the organisation, for management, and for the team.

If you have a problem with a system, take it up with your own “management,” but follow it with your team anyway.

And when you create your own systems for your team, follow them religiously.

Because not everyone is going to be like my 8-year-old son.  In fact very few people will have the courage to raise it with you when you’re not doing the right thing.  They’ll observe in silence and come to a conclusion about which systems need to be upheld and which are voluntary.

And when they do so, you had better hope they get it right.

Because cliché as it is, the buck stops with you.