First, let’s address a common misconception that focusing on treating employees well and maximizing earnings are concepts that are in conflict with each other. As a profit-maximizing organization, increasing the bottom line is the primary goal and sometimes that means introducing changes that will piss off employees. We do whatever is required to maintain and improve our profitability and employees win by getting to keep their jobs. That’s just life, right? Wrong.
The unalienable truth is that no company continues to exist and thrive if money coming in isn’t greater than the money going out. That’s just math. No one is going to purchase a mediocre product or service from you just because you’re a good person and treat your employees well. No one.
You will notice that I profile seven high trust organizations throughout this book. Its noteworthy that that their financial performance is near or at the top of their industry. The myth I want to bust is the thought that being high trust and having strong business results are conflicting concepts. These companies are at the top of their game because building trust runs through their veins.
All of these organizations have had setbacks, including disappointing quarterly and annual returns. Most have had to lay staff off. Laying staff off, although unpleasant, does not erode the trust built with your employees. Trust is eroded when employees believe they are not being treated fairly. Trust is eroded when, as my Caribbean grandmother used to say, you’re trying to give someone a “6” and tell them it’s a “9.” Trust is eroded when you lay off 15% of your employees to recoup from a large regulatory penalty and then tell your employees an entirely different story.
The reality is that when you decide you’re going to be a high trust organization, you may need to pass on some short-term opportunities to make a financial quick win. You may need to fire a high performing sales person because their behaviour is not consistent with the corporate values and negatively impacts the company’s reputation and employee morale. You may need to fire a big client who is not respectful of your team members and routinely makes unreasonable demands. You may incur additional expenses to find a new supplier for one of your products when you learn the current supplier’s costs are low because their manufacturing process is damaging to the environment or has sub-standard safety measures in place to protect their employees.
High trust organizations don’t view profitability as a short-term endeavor. They believe in the value of being high trust and know it’s a long-term game. Foregoing some short-term wins that are at odds with their principles reinforces and builds their reputation as high trust. In the chapter Principles over Profits, I share some examples where individuals and organizations took the more difficult road that aligned with their principles rather than taking the easy way out. I don’t think we are ever truly considered high trust until we’ve been in one of these situations and demonstrated that we will stick to our principles.