Free? Free? What do you mean, free? What can you as a leader do in your organization to improve company performance without spending any money? From my experience working with leaders inside organizations such as IBM, Headwaters, and Head Start, as well as my own research into what drives organizational performance, I have uncovered five things leaders can do that will not cost them a penny and, when implemented effectively, will make a positive impact on their top and bottom lines. What are these “magic” activities? Let’s take a look.
#1: Create a Culture of Trust
Studies show that companies with high trust levels outperform companies that trust less. Each year, the Great Places to Work® Institute generates Fortune magazine’s 100 Best Places to Work list. Two-thirds of their assessment is based on trust in a company. In their research, the institute finds consistent trends. From 2004-2008, the top 100 trust companies outperformed the next highest 100 companies by 43 percent. When 2009 is added into the mix, the highest trust companies outperform the next highest by 120 percent!1
The evidence is there. So how do companies create a culture of trust and begin to improve company performance? Leaders begin by removing debilitating fear. Open, honest communication mitigates fear, as does transparency. Authentically share all the information you can without the corporate spin. Withholding information sends a clear message you do not trust your teams. Instead, brainstorm what your team members feel are the biggest fears in the organization. Prioritize these, and together work on solutions to the highest-ranking fears. Most likely, these are the fears in your team. Base measurements on results—not individual results but team-based results. Let teams decide how they define success and how they will hold each other accountable. People do what they are measured by. If we measure on results, we will get results. When I led the development of the Swiss Stock Exchange, one of our biggest challenges was to implement a system that moved stock traders from the trading floor to an office workstation. The team working on the trader workstation built four workstation prototypes. After each prototype, they would tell me, “Don’t worry, Pollyanna, we’ll reuse some of the code.” “I don’t care,” was my reply. “I only care about one thing. That when the system goes live, no trader throws a workstation out the window.” After 15 years, no workstation has gone out the window. By focusing the team on the desired result—a workstation that traders would use—and not on mechanics such as code reuse, the team delivered what mattered most.
As a leader, you need to trust first and be trustworthy. As management guru Marcus Buckingham says, “Suspicion is a permanent condition.” What would a person you don’t trust have to do in order to earn your trust? As a leader, remain positive and give up any hidden agendas you might have. If your teams are suspicious and lack trust, they tend to read between the lines and may misinterpret what you are saying. Be transparent. And give continuous feedback.