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The latest victim of the stormy U.S. economy seems to be the management that runs our companies.

Maritz Research of St. Louis reports that its latest employee poll found 25 percent of workers have less confidence in management than they did a year ago, and only 10 percent trust management to make the right decisions in times of uncertainty.

The workers cited senior managers for poor communication, lack of perceived caring, inconsistent behavior, and perceptions of favoritism.

“Employee trust is such a critical factor for success, especially given what the American workforce has faced the past several years,” says Rick Garlick of Maritz. “This data paints such a dire picture of employee trust levels, management must ask themselves how they can better engage with their people.”

It also represents a major opportunity lost for company managers. The attitude and motives of top managers come under increasing scrutiny during tough economic times. When workers are uncertain of their futures, they look closer at company decisions and directives for clues to their own futures.

Trust is an extremely important component in the relationship of managers and their employees. And, it is during tough times that trust can pay huge dividends for managers.

Here are some tips for all managers during trying times.

Demonstrate trust to your employees by trusting them. Be open and consistent in what you say and do. Workers do not expect managers to have all the answers or to be perfect. What they want is someone to be straight with them, to listen to them, and to give them a fair hearing. Managers need to admit they don’t have the answers for a turbulent economy and its consequences. They need to show leadership by being candid, admitting mistakes, and encouraging members of the workforce to offer their own solutions.

Managers need to ask for advice and listen to it. More than ever, managers need the collaboration of their employees to help streamline operations or put the company back on a productive path. Review your company’s mission and values, action plans and goals, and achievements with workers. Be prepared to amend plans or strategies if there is a consensus that doing so will improve the company.

Get the employees involved in the problem-solving process. Few will have constructive thoughts, yet you never know who may come up with something small that makes a difference. The only way to do that is to meet regularly with workers and have informal chats in the hallways. Encourage them to speak up and publicly celebrate their successes when they occur.

Managers don’t control which way the economy turns, but through their behavior they can build bonds with their employees in good times and bad times. If they truly care about the best interests of their companies, they will find ways during the worst of times to reach out and comfort employees.

And while they might not have the power to stop layoffs or cutbacks, they can be honest as to why those were needed and help workers understand what they might do to avoid cutbacks in the future.

The Maritz findings will be depressing for some managers. But rather than dwell on that, managers need to understand there are things they can do in uncertain times to strengthen their companies for the future.

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Comments

Fred Williams July 23, 2011 @ 9:52 p.m.

Hi Michael,

I've read your articles over the decades and appreciate your work.

This one jangles my nerves a bit. Here's why:

Your beginning is fine...the standard report of managers not being trusted by employees because they are aloof, don't solicit ideas, and seem disingenuous or erratic. So far so good. We've all experienced this.

You go on to recommend some improvements. Trust. Openness. Listening to employee ideas. Fine.

But then you added this:

"Get the employees involved in the problem-solving process. Few will have constructive thoughts, yet you never know who may come up with something small that makes a difference. The only way to do that is to meet regularly with workers and have informal chats in the hallways. "

What's that? Again?

"Few will have constructive thoughts..."

Michael, you poisoned the well. This negates the rest of the article. Everywhere else you tell the manager to listen and respect, even trust employees. But with this little wink, you assure them that it's still just a charade. "Papa manager knows best, but pretending to listen to the little dummies will make them happier and more productive, bless their naive hearts." You do say that the employees might come up with something small. How generous of you. The inept managers who employees don't trust probably agree with you.

I don't.

Surely you recall the manager from the movie Office Space, who does what you recommend. He initiates those informal water cooler conversations, but everyone knows he's only doing it to slide in his infamous, "Yeah, that's great. Hey, ah, you know I'm gonna have to go ahead and ask you to come in this Saturday again. Okay? Great, see you here at nine. Oh, and you can wear casual. Great."

That's why employees don't trust such managers. It's too obvious that they go through the motions, pretending to be the things you recommend, while simultaneously agreeing with you that it's only for show and the employees aren't likely to have any good ideas to contribute...listening makes them feel better, but changes nothing in reality.

I hope you understand my point and don't take offense. If that one line hadn't been there, I'd never have written a comment.

Best,

Fred

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Twister July 23, 2011 @ 11:20 p.m.

It's a Law of Nature--fecal material floats to the top in all organizations with more than 150 co-workers. For an example of an exception, search (no "G" words allowed, I hope) for Gore (oh, what the helll, I'll make it easy.) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W._L._Go...

They don' need no stinkin' "managers."

If there is a just God at the Final Inquisition, Harvard University will rot in hell for passing out MBA's to favorite sons and other psychopaths.

Too bad Gore is closely-held, I'd invest a fair fraction of my life savings therein.

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