In an online Harvard Business Review article this month, Sue Bingham, an expert on creating high-performing workplaces, addresses a growing concern among business leaders today that employees don’t trust their organizations. She then describes four practices to build employee trust.
Those who have already read the latest edition (2017–2018) of the Baldrige Excellence Framework will see that Bingham’s four tips align with the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence (part of the framework). Following are examples of the connections.
In elaborating on this guidance, Bingham cautions, “Don’t assume that technical skills and knowledge trump character.”
The workforce-focused section of the Baldrige Criteria (known as category 5) begins with this assessment question as a basic requirement: How do you build an effective and supportive workforce environment? An organization being evaluated against the Baldrige Criteria is expected to describe systematic processes in response to that question and to the more specific question How do you recruit, hire, place, and retain new workforce members? Baldrige evaluation factors include whether (and the degree to which) an organization’s process is deployed, improved, and integrated. In regard to hiring practices, organizations scoring high in this area of a Baldrige assessment often describe hiring processes that use behavioral-based and team interview practices, among others (though the Criteria do not prescribe particular approaches), as means to aligning hiring outcomes with the organization’s identified values and related organizational culture.
In her HBR article, Bingham makes clear that in high-performing organizations, trust is a key part of the culture. Also emphasizing the importance of the values that define the organizational culture, the leadership section (category 1) of the Baldrige Criteria begins with questions that ask leaders how they set and deploy the organization’s vision and values.
Bingham points out that negative assumptions by leaders about employees lead to micromanaging, which conveys distrust. She counsels leaders to “give challenging assignments with the clear and confident belief that your expectations will be met” and also recommends that they “promote transparency.”
In the “Workforce Engagement” section (item 5.2), the Criteria ask about fostering an organizational culture characterized by open communication. The Criteria also ask, How do you empower your workforce?, stressing that leaders should give people the authority and responsibility to make decisions and take actions. When this happens, decisions are made closest to the front line, by people who have knowledge and understanding related to the work to be done.
At a more fundamental level, the 11 core values and concepts of the Baldrige framework (and Criteria) include visionary leadership, valuing people, and ethics and transparency. In describing the valuing people concept, the Baldrige Excellence Framework booklet states (on page 41 of the 2017–2018 edition), “Valuing the people in your workforce means committing to their engagement, development, and well-being.”
In addition, in describing visionary leadership, the Baldrige Excellence Framework booklet states (on page 40 in the 2017–2018 edition), “Senior leaders should serve as role models through their ethical behavior and their personal involvement in planning, providing a supportive environment for innovation, communicating, coaching and motivating the workforce, developing future leaders, reviewing organizational performance, and recognizing workforce members.”
According to Bingham, a disciplinary policy that treats everyone the same “strips people of their individuality and unique abilities to contribute.” She advocates that leaders instead have supportive discussions with individual employees when there are concerns about performance, given that being treated with respect and support can make people feel safe enough to accept responsibility and motivate them to determine solutions to effectively address their problems.
Again, in describing the valuing people concept, the Baldrige Excellence Framework booklet states (on page 41 of the 2017–2018 edition), “Valuing the people in your workforce means committing to their engagement, development, and well-being. Increasingly, this may involve offering flexible work practices that are tailored to varying workplace and life needs. Major challenges in valuing your workforce members include demonstrating your leaders’ commitment to their success, providing motivation and recognition that go beyond the regular compensation system …”
Bingham states, “High-performance companies value trust so much that they implement and enforce zero-tolerance policies for betraying it.” Of course, to build trust leaders must be held accountable to the same values and policies.
The Baldrige Criteria requirements in the leadership section (category 1) emphasize leaders’ personal actions reflecting the organization’s values and legal and ethical behavior. In the “Senior Leadership” section (item 1.1), Criteria questions include these: How do senior leaders’ personal actions reflect a commitment to [the organization’s] values? How do senior leaders’ actions demonstrate their commitment to legal and ethical behavior? What’s more, the Baldrige framework booklet’s description of visionary leadership states, “As role models, [senior leaders] can reinforce ethics, values, and expectations while building leadership, commitment, and initiative throughout your organization.”
I’ve drawn out but a few of the ways the Baldrige framework aligns with Bingham’s expert guidance on building trust with employees. But from this sampling of material, I hope it’s clear that using the Baldrige framework to lead and manage an organization will put one on the right track to cultivating employee trust and high performance.