In recent weeks I’ve had some pretty low-energy conversations with people working in organisations. It could be the political climate, it could be the time of year, it could be the weather… I’m not going to try to interpret the detail of what’s behind these conversations, suffice to say there’s a lot of people around who seem to be experiencing a distinct lack of motivation. Google Trends also shows a c. 40% Global increase in the search term 'Motivation' in the last couple of months. However, when we do get to talking about the ‘why’ of all this, the word I hear more often than I should is TRUST - there seems to be a definite lack of trust out there. Google Trends reckons this word is searched for some 4 to 5 times more than 'Motivation'.
Trust - Motivation, what’s the connection?
Let me give you my take on all of this. I’m going to start with something we know about motivation and use that to look at how trust becomes a player.
There are many process theories about motivation, but the one I tend to reach for is Vroom’s Expectancy Theory of Motivation. It’s a relatively simple Motivation Equation, it’s only got three moving parts which makes it easy to collect evidence in a workplace setting when looking to answer questions about why people are / aren’t motivated in particular circumstances. I often apply it with clients who are wondering if a particular new initiative will work (will our people get behind this?), or, retrospectively helping clients to understand why a particular new initiative didn’t work (why didn’t our people get behind this?). Obviously the former of these is the most desirable, the latter is by far the most expensive.
What Vroom says is focused on what individuals expect in the future. Specifically, that an individual’s motivation is affected by how much they value any reward associated with an action (Valence), how much they believe that by putting effort into something they will be able to generate good results (Expectancy) and how much they believe that generating good results will result in a reward (Instrumentality). Importantly the reward may be either intrinsic (like a sense of fulfilment or achievement) or extrinsic (money or promotion).
This is usually expressed as the Motivation equation M = V * I * E
So where does Trust come into this? Let me add this key word into how the equation is usually explained.
Valence: is pretty straightforward. How much does the individual or group value the potential rewards? Hint: go and ask them!
Expectancy: How much they TRUST do they place on the information that their additional effort will help them achieve the target results?
Instrumentality: How much TRUST do they have that the rewards will actually appear should they achieve the target results?
Put like this trust becomes somewhat pivotal in motivating people to do what leaders want them to do. At that point I usually see the lightbulbs going on - that in order to get people to do what they are told, they need to trust the leader who’s telling them to do it. Now we’ve got a different question to answer:
How do we build trust in our leaders?
I can easily answer that one in the negative - you don’t build trust in leaders by telling people that they are worthy of trust.
It’s here that the term “walking the talk” is usually introduced by somebody, and that tells me that many clients get this in principle, but may be struggling with the practice of making it happen.
My answer usually emphasises the need for shared experience - there is nothing quite like having stood shoulder to shoulder with a leader in a challenging situation to build trust in their ability to perform. The trouble is that challenging situations - where the consequences of failure could be drastic - are not places for experiments in leadership practice. This is where authentic and engaging experiential learning environments are worth their weight in gold. The consequences of failure are perhaps a little embarrassment and certainly a lot of learning, but crucially the increase in interpersonal knowledge is the stuff the trust is built upon.
Very often in organisations there is an assumption that certain development experiences are for leaders, and other development experiences are for the people they lead.
Think how many trust-building opportunities are lost by playing to the ego that exists at the top of the organisation - and how crucial that lack of trust could be when the leaders need the workforce to follow them.
My prescription is to work in vertical slices and put the teams / groups into shared learning situations where they can experience one another performing. More complex tools like T-Trade, Minefield, and Emergency Delivery lend themselves perfectly to these learning outcomes, though it may well be advisable to use a preliminary exercise like Colourblind, Webmaster or Simbols to build some initial trust / familiarity.