|Build Trust with Operating Principles|
By Kathleen A. Paris, Ph.D.
Trust is an essential ingredient for a successful workplace. People do their best work when they feel they can trust their bosses and those around them. Conversely, without that bond of trust, employees will not extend themselves beyond the minimum required to do their jobs. That makes sense, but how is trust built in the workplace?
Many ingredients go into building trust including honesty, consistency, respectful communication, predictability, and dependable actions over time. Creating operating principles together is a tangible activity that can help a work group establish and develop a climate of trust.
Operating principles are written statements that describe how group members will interact with each other and those they serve--clients, customers, members. Operating principles translate values and beliefs into concrete actions. They are not the same as an organization's value proposition such as "We serve only the freshest organic produce" or "We will send your purchase to you on time every time." Those are promises to the customer or client or buyer and they are necessary, but different. Operating principles are about everyday behaviors of employees.
Google has ten operating principles, one of which is, "You can be serious without a suit." One of the Whole Foods Market, Inc. core values for team members is, "We take responsibility for our own success and failures. We celebrate success and see failures as opportunities for growth..."
The Raymond Management Group in Madison, Wisconsin which manages a large network of hospitality properties and real estate has identified 10 operating principles:
At Raymond Management group, these principles are discussed both in the home office and at the hotels.
Operating Principles can be very good glue for developing a trusting, cohesive and mutually-supportive work environment. They are only useful, however, if everyone from top management to the newest employee pays attention to them. Economist Kay Plantes (Plantes & Finfrock, 2009, pp. 159-160) uses the term "guiding principles" and says,
I use a two-part process for helping groups identify their operating principles. The first part is having participants interview each other in pairs about a situation where they felt the organization was "at its best." We then debrief as a group on the values that were the underpinning of those memorable situations. Secondly, participants silently respond to a question such as, "What are the everyday behaviors between us as employees and between us and those we serve that demonstrate our values?" Participants silently generate their own ideas on paper, then agree within their small group. The categorizing process Michael Wilkinson describes in The Secrets of Facilitation is ideal for clustering the behaviors and deciding together what to call them.
I urge my clients not to expect perfection. Everyone will have "slips" and will make mistakes and sometimes act totally out of alignment with the operating principles. The important thing is to acknowledge the slip, apologize as necessary and move forward with renewed commitment.
Plantes, M. K. and Finfrock, R. (2009). Beyond Price: Differentiating Your Company in Ways That Really Matter. Austin, TX: Greenleaf Book Group Press.
Our Philosophy: Ten Things We Know to Be True (September 2009) Accessed February 13, 2011 at http://www.google.com/corporate/tenthings.html.
Staubus M. and Lynch, R.P. Building a System of Trust: Ten Hidden Secrets of Success in Employee-Owned Companies. Accessed February 13, 2011 at http://rady.ucsd.edu/beyster/newsletter/2010/fall/system-trust2.html.
Wilkinson, M. (2004). The secrets of facilitation: The S.M.A.R.T. guide to getting results with groups. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Interested in learning more facilitation techniques? Check out our course, The Effective Facilitator.