Banish the enemies of trust

Business has an image problem, and it’s not an easy fix. Edelman’s 2012 Trust Barometer, which measures attitudes about the state of trust in business, government, NGOs and media across 25 countries, found a wide gap between what’s considered important for business to do and what’s actually being done. Business is doing a slightly better job than government at closing the gap on operational factors, it found, but lags in “societal” areas such as listening to customers and treating employees well. That’s suggests a significant leadership challenge for companies aspiring to an open and collaborative innovation culture. The biggest barrier to innovation, according to consultant and author, Jeffrey Phillips, “is the contradiction between what we tell people to do and what we pay people to do.  Often we express the importance of innovation and assign people to innovation teams.  We ask them to do important work, creating new products or services.  Yet we do nothing to change how these individuals are evaluated, compensated and rewarded.” Such mixed messages deeply damage trust at an organisational and individual employee level, researchers say. A major project studying employee motivation found that senior executives routinely undermined the creativity and commitment of their employees in avoidable ways. At one of the companies in the study, the “top-management team espoused a vision of entrepreneurial cross-functional business teams… (and) the annual report was full of references to the company’s innovation focus,” researchers Teresa Amabile and Steve Kramer say. “In practice, those top managers were so focused on cost savings that they repeatedly negated the teams’ autonomy, dictated cost reduction goals that had to be met before any other priorities were, and – as a result – drove new-product innovation into the ground.” Amabile and Kramer identified four traps executives should avoid: mediocrity signals, strategic “attention deficit disorder”, miscoordination and chaos, and “misbegotten” major goals. It comes back, they say, to leaders’ role in articulating organisational purpose. “Make that purpose real, support its achievement through consistent everyday actions, and you will create the meaning that motivates people toward greatness.”

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