One Key to Productivity

By Ian J. Cook, CHRP, MA, MBA

As the  the engines of the economy start to rev up, a number of organizational leaders are facing the same challenge they left at the beginning of the summer. How to get our people more engaged?

This year has been a tough one and many organizations have faced changes and shifts that are unprecedented in their scale. This has left many organizations reeling, trying to find a new direction while desperately trying to stay solvent. The focus for many organizations has shifted dramatically away from their people (where to find them, how to keep them and how big a salary increase do we need to make to stay competitive etc) and onto finance (can we get loans, how much revenue have we lost, where can we reduce costs etc). With the financial picture becoming more stable and the potential for overall economic improvement, the focus moves back onto people and their contribution to the creation of organizational value.

When people ask how to improve their employee engagement, the first question to ask in response is ‘why do you want to improve employee engagement?’ Often what people really want to improve is the productivity of their employees and to reduce their cost of turnover. (Understandable when the median cost of voluntary turnover in B.C. is approximately $63,000[1]) They are using the multiple concepts of engagement as a proxy for this level of performance and commitment. However, the question ‘how do I improve engagement?’ can lead in many directions. The question ‘how do I improve productivity?’ leads in a more focused direction.

One answer for how to productivity improvements comes from Sandra Robinson of the University of British Columbia and Sabrina Deutsch-Salamon of York University. In a recent research study they identified that “when employees feel they are trusted by management, . . . sales and customer service go up.” Moreover, due to the timescale of their study they were able to determine that the link was causal such that an increase in the feeling of being trusted would lead to an increase in productivity at a later date.

This is worth repeating. The findings prove that when an employee feels trusted by their supervisor / manager they will perform at a higher level. And that if a manager can create or increase this level of felt trust then this employee will increase their contribution. For anyone looking to increase the contribution/ productivity of their staff, one of the keys is to understand and increase the extent to which your people feel trusted by their manager.

Much has been written or stated about the fact that employees need to trust their leadership. And this is still relevant. However, less has been said and done regarding how to engender a feeling of trust in employees. Given the tight budgetary context where many of the activities employees have undertaken or much of the flexibility in spending and decision-making they enjoyed has been reduced, how do you re-develop a feeling of being trusted?
Here are a few quick ideas:

  1. Share organizational results, financials and challenges openly – the more information you share the more people feel trusted
  2. Increase the amount of questioning, listening, probing and collaborative problem-solving that your managers and supervisors lead – the more listened to and involved a person is the more they feel trusted
  3. Increase the use or communication of policies, principles or guidelines relating to decisions and outcomes – the more freedom to affect an outcome people have the more they feel trusted

These are not easy or quick fixes. It can take seconds to destroy a feeling of being trusted and months and years to rebuild it. Layoffs especially have been proven to have a significant negative impact on people’s perceptions of being trusted. The research proves that by directing your HR activities and resources to enable your leaders to generate a feeling of trust in their staff you will be enabling an increase in productivity you can be confident that your actions are impacting your organization’s bottom line.

[1] Source BC HRMA HR Metrics Dashboard


Ian J Cook, CHRP, is the director of HR knowledge and research at BC HRMA. Ian is using his global HR consulting experience and business knowledge to grow a function which delivers informative, relevant and timely comment.

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