When Trust is Broken - Lessons Learned

When it comes to people working for my company, I made a promise when I first started to be true to myself and my values and to model “loving and kind” actions in dealing with my staff.  We became the company of “loving and kind” people.  And no, we’re not a bunch of “touchy feelys.”  We simply believe in the value of every individual and in honoring what they bring to our company. We don’t all think alike nor do we have the same skills or knowledge, but it takes a well-rounded, cohesive team to succeed.

So what does this mean?

Your employees are watching… They see what you do every day.  They read your emails, corporate memos and hear your hallway, bathroom, and lunchroom conversations with others.  They listen intently to see if what they were told is the same “line” being told to everyone. People yearn for truth and want to trust their peers and leaders.  And just as important, they want to trust that “what they see is what they get.”  I’ve always told my employees that “I’m not that deep.  Take what I say at face value and know that you can bank on it.” After all, life is way too long and my memory is way too short to remember different tales of the same incident. Better to be transparent and honest all the time!

This sounds good, huh?

Well, there was a short time in our company history where I was deceived by a leader who was keeping up appearances but wasn't modeling the loving and kind behavior defined in our core values.  All had been going well.  Business was clicking along, and I thought we were winning on the “happy employees” scale. Unfortunately with growth comes hiring new people – and sometimes they just don’t fit with your culture.

We had hired a new instructional design manager – let’s call her Mary.  She was uber qualified with degrees, experience, and a smile in the interviews that drew me in.  She knew the right words to fill my trust meter. I believed what she told me was truthful and that what she was saying to me was the same as she was telling/instructing her direct reports – our talented, committed employees and contractors.

Here’s how it played out:

Mary was business-like and very organized. After only a short time, she attended our 1-on-1 meetings prepared with all the appropriate paperwork completed and ready to bring me up to speed on the projects in her area.  She said all the right words that led me to believe that everything was fine with the projects and our people. I’m a type A, get to the bottom-line kinda gal, so I was feeling very comfortable with how our meetings were going.

Unfortunately, after a few months went by, the unspeakable happened.  I realized that I had stopped walking among the troupes to keep communication open among us! I was just listening to Mary.  Luckily, on the Friday of Mary’s last day of PTO, her direct reports felt “safe” to come and speak with me.  Whew - glad they still believed in me!  Yep, NOT just one, but EVERYONE from the instructional design department lined up in the hallway next to my office waiting for their turn to tell me how the “real Mary” was nothing like I thought. In their own words, they explained that Mary was verbally abusive, unforgiving of mistakes, rude, and just plain mean. She didn't have a sense of humor and simply didn't fit in with our cultural morals.

A person of action, I immediately called an emergency meeting of all employees.  I knew everyone in that meeting well.  They were honest, hard-working professionals that liked working in our “loving and kind” company.  They would not have chosen such a dramatic way to get my attention had they not tried to solve the issues on their own. Yep, they had talked with Mary, pleaded and even cried in her office, but Mary was just a tough nut to crack that didn't believe in “loving and kind.”

Our HR Director and I took care of her firing – with Mary screaming and threatening us as we walked her out of the building. Let’s just say she showed me her true colors – enough that I called the authorities to make sure my employees were safe!

Don’t ding us for this quick fire...

  • It was the right decision for keeping our company healthy.
  • We ALWAYS play by the rules and it was a legal fire.
  • We’re a small, limber company that is fair to a fault.
  • It would have done more harm to keep Mary around.
  • We could have given her time to try and change her ways, but we have lost many of our esteemed colleagues as they would not work for her any longer.
  • Mary’s management style just didn't fit.
  • She was simply a bad hire.

The moral of this story:

Stay true to your values and trust your employees.  Keep your doors open and keep communication two-way with as many people in your company as possible. Provide an environment that PROVES it’s safe to speak up. If you model the behavior you want, your people will thrive and help you keep your corporate values alive and well!

Jonena, TBD Consulting

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