As I speak with managers around the globe, there is one topic that is beginning to dominate our discussion: Employee Engagement. It is so important that I am embarking upon a three part series that focuses on the essential elements of Employee Engagement. Welcome to the first installment. According to Wikipedia, an “engaged employee” is “one who is fully involved in, and enthusiastic about, his or her work, and thus will act in a way that furthers their organization’s interests.” There are three elements of employee engagement that we’re going to put under the microscope over the next few weeks, including trust, communication, and participation. We’ll begin our employee engagement discussion with the first element: trust.

Before we get started, allow me to (re)introduce you to a few concepts. Many of you may be familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which is displayed in the pyramid graphic. Maslow’s Hierarchy describes the needs of every human being and spans from the essentials, such as those required for human survival at the bottom, all the way through self-actualization, or realizing one’s full potential, at the very top.

Inspired by Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, I have developed my own inverted pyramid that represents the needs of every employed human being. “Why the upside down pyramid?” you may be wondering. Well, I think we should all work on spending more time at the top! As you can see, my pyramid spans from the most basic need of employment at the bottom, through the ultimate goal of engagement at the top. So, keep this pyramid in the back of your mind as we review the elements of employee engagement over the next few weeks.


Trust. Robots. These are two words that should never go together. We, as sentient human beings, should not—nay—MUST NOT trust robots for reasons which I will explain later. However, trust is a critical component of the employer-employee relationship. Leadership must be reliable, open, candid, and accepting (i.e. I accept you for who you are, you accept me for who I am, and you don’t have to be like me to provide value to our team) in order for trust to exist in the workplace

Beyond that, I’m not going to spend time talking about why it is important to establish trust. I think it’s quite easy to envision an office devoid of trust and picture how utterly inefficient and unproductive it would be as a result. Rather, let’s take a moment to talk about how to establish trust, or what Cynthia Olmstead refers to as the “ABCDs” of trust in her article “Confronting Workplace Realities to Build an Environment of Trust.” According to Olmstead, “the ABCD approach divides trust into four elements, or buckets, that are driven by individuals' or groups' specific behaviors.” The elements of the ABCD approach include Able, Believable, Connected, and Dependable. Let’s take a closer look at each of these elements, how they relate to the workplace, and how trust is one of the key weapons we have as we do battle with the robots who are attempting to eradicate the human race, even as we speak.


In your quest to gain the trust of your employees, you must demonstrate an acceptable degree of competency for any number of tasks as the manager. To again quote Olmstead, to be considered “able,” you must prove that you “(have) the required expertise, experience, knowledge, and get the desired results.” Few employees would be willing to go to bat for a manager who they consider incompetent. An employee must be able to trust that when they come to you with an issue, you have the ability to guide them to a resolution.

While seniority and professional credentials might get you the benefit of the doubt and some immediate “street-cred” in your employees’ eyes, it will only get you so far. They will ultimately make decisions about your ability as a leader during the heat of battle. That happens to be one of the advantages we have in our struggle against the robots and droids who have been programmed to supplant our position as the most dominant species on earth. Sure, a robot whose leader has flipped its “Primary Directive” switch from “Cook and Clean” to “Destroy” is capable of unleashing unspeakable chaos and violence, but at least we are free to choose those who we trust and deem as worthy leaders. And we base such critical decisions on their abilities. You cannot simply reprogram us or swap out our motherboard to change our opinions.


Another critical element of gaining the trust of your employees is conducting yourself with integrity and honesty, or “walking the talk” as I like to say. While it is (hopefully) unlikely that many leaders out there intentionally and/or maliciously misinform or lie to their team, there are other things a leader can do that will quickly have him or her labeled as “unbelievable”. It really all comes down to something a leader shared with me – DWYSYWD - Do What You Say You Will Do. For example, picture a manager that always talks about implementing new processes or programs designed to make life easier around the office ... but never follows through with them. While the team will surely appreciate that manager’s intentions, she will quickly be viewed as unbelievable if she never follows through with what she says she’s going to do. If you think about it, “trustworthy” and “believable” are really synonyms; therefore, violating this rule is a sure-fire way to lose any trust that you may have already developed. “But what about the robots?” you may be wondering. Absent a moral compass, our robot enemies don’t understand the concept of integrity, which again gives us the upper hand.


The care and concern that you demonstrate towards your staff is invaluable in gaining their trust. “Connectivity” spans everything from the rewards and recognition program you have in place to the day-to-day communications, drop-in visits, and status updates you schedule with your team. If you truly seek to be connected, you must also trust your team. There is a reciprocal nature to trust. As Harold MacMillian, former U.K. Prime Minister once said, “a man who trusts nobody is apt to be the kind of man nobody trusts.” A connected manager is one who is both open with, and trusting of, his or her employees. However, a truly connected robot is one whose power supply is running low and is currently sitting on a docking station waiting for an energy boost. Therefore, a truly connected robot is a vulnerable robot.


Finally, your team members must be confident they can rely on you before they trust you. Olmstead characterizes a dependable manager as one who “follows up, is accountable for actions and situations, and is organized.” I would particularly like to call your attention to the word “organized.” I think it’s easy to lose sight of the importance organization has on developing trust. It gets lost amongst those other touchy-feely concepts like connected, caring, etc. Keeping your work day organized is absolutely essential to maintaining the highest degree of dependability. We all have “those days” where scheduling gets a little wacky, but consistently failing to attend meetings, completing tasks late (or not at all), and generally scrambling to get things done sends the wrong message! Robots may seem to have an advantage over humans in the dependability realm, but don’t be deceived. Their programming can get messed up worse than you calendar – advantage back to the human race!

Trust, critical as it may be, is but one piece of the Employee Engagement puzzle. Be sure to tune in to the second installment of our Employee Engagement series to learn about the next puzzle piece: Communication. Until then, take care of your customers, take care of each other, and take care of yourself!

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