Trust is better than control.

Although it’s more important than ever, trust is in short supply. With everyone doing three jobs, there’s really no time for anything but a trust-based approach. Yet we’re blocked by the fear that trust means loss of control.  But that’s backward.

Trust is a funny thing.  If you have it, you don’t need it.  If you don’t have it, you need it. If you have it, it’s clear what to do – just behave like you should be trusted. If you don’t have it, it’s less clear what to do. But you should do the same thing – behave like you should be trusted.  Either way, whether you have it or not, behave like you should be trusted.

Trust is only given after you’ve behaved like you should be trusted. It’s paid in arrears. And people that should be trusted make choices.  Whether it’s an approach, a methodology, a technology, or a design, they choose.  People that should be trusted make decisions with incomplete data and have a bias for action.  They figure out the right thing to do, then do it.  Then they present results – in arrears.

I can’t choose – I don’t have permission. To that I say you’ve chosen not to choose. Of course you don’t have permission.  Like trust, it’s paid in arrears.  You don’t get permission until you demonstrate you don’t need it.  If you had permission, the work would not be worth your time. You should do the work you should have permission to do.  No permission is the same as no trust.  Restating, I can’t choose – I don’t have trust. To that I say you’ve chosen not to choose.

There’s a misperception that minimizing trust minimizes risk. With our control mechanisms we try to design out reliance on trust – standardized templates, standardized process, consensus-based decision making. But it always comes down to trust.  In the end, the subject matter experts decide. They decide how to fill out the templates, decided how to follow the process, and decide how consensus decisions are made. The subject matter experts choose the technical approach, the topology, the materials and geometries, and the design details. Maybe not the what, but they certainly choose the how.

Instead of trying to control, it’s more effective to trust up front – to acknowledge and behave like trust is always part of the equation.  With trust there is less bureaucracy, less overhead, more productivity, better work, and even magic.  With trust there is a personal connection to the work.  With trust there is engagement.  And with trust there is more control.

But it’s not really control.  When subject matter experts are trusted, they seek input from project leaders.  They know their input has value so they ask for context and make decisions that fit.  Instead of a herd of cats, they’re a swarm of bees. Paradoxically, with a trust-based approach you amplify the good parts of control without the control parts.  It’s better than control. It’s where ideas, thoughts and feelings are shared openly and respectfully; it’s where there’s learning through disagreement; it’s where the best business decisions are made; it’s where trust is the foundation.  It’s a trust-based approach.

5 Responses to “Trust is better than control.”

  • Mike,

    Nice piece on trust. Its interesting that I would get this article presented to me today a day of cross roads.

    Keep up the good work. Hopefully there are some managers out there reading your blog.


  • Mike:

    Thank you Stephan. I’m happy my post was helpful. (That’s my reward.) Please spread the thinking and share it with others. Mike

  • Good stuff–as usual. Thank you for thinking deeply and sharing with us.

  • Mike:

    Thank you, Jack, for your kind words of praise. I’m happy my post is meaningful to you. That is my compensation.

    Please help me spread the thinking, and send the post to those you care about.


  • Jeff:

    Mike, Bravo! You hit the mark about people. SME are typically confident in there subject and instill confidence in others. Trust comes after this acceptance of confidence. This is what I have experienced. Its great to see articles that hit the root of what makes people and teams great. Thank you.

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Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
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