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August 2007
ISSN 1834-4933. Published by Geoff Kelly, Kelly Strategic Influence

Wisdom to lead minds:

“There are three signs of a hypocrite: when he speaks he speaks lies, when he makes a promise he breaks it, and when he is trusted he betrays his trust.”


Trust me, but don’t hold me to anything I say

Lawyers have a tough job keeping clients out of trouble. This month The Australian Financial Review reported on the rising number of court cases brought by employees for failing to deliver on promised conditions of employment. And they are winning damages that are getting larger and larger.

Such promises and implied promises flow freely in codes of conduct, statements of ethics, staff policy manuals, and printed and digital media in a variety of settings.

So what are some lawyers reported to be advising? Show greater restraint in the language used when making such claims, or better yet expressly state in employment contracts that such policies are not binding. Some companies have gone even further to draft contracts that attempt to bind the staff member to policies, but expressly state that they are not binding on the employer.

Depending on your point of view, you are by now laughing at yet another example of our emperors wearing no clothes, or feeling sympathy for well meaning employers trying to deal with an unfair dilemma in an increasingly litigious world.

And to be fair, the lawyers have a point. What organisations say is raising their legal risk and lawyers are paid to advise on the most reliable ways of reducing such risk. And perhaps they realise that some clients don’t have the integrity and discipline to do what their promises imply.

On the other hand, most studies of trust in Western societies in the last 40 years have shown the consistent fall in trust for organisations of all kinds by stakeholders of all kinds. And it is not just corporations, and governments that have fallen. Consider how the churches, traditional professions (like law, medicine, science), and even charities have dropped markedly.

And this brings a crushing cost that is often discounted because it is less obvious than litigation costs and penalties. As Stephen Covey points out in his book The Speed of Trust (Free Press, 2006), low trust slows every decision, hurts every communication and lessens every relationship.

And the quality of decisions, communication and relationships govern performance in business, government and organisations of any type.

Organisations build trust by performing well and consistently, and by making promises and keeping them. There is of course much more to it, and we will cover this in future issues of Leading Minds.

The point for now is that by not making and keeping promises organisations are missing an opportunity to build much needed trust, in this case with their existing and prospective staff. Worse, by watering down promises and standards by which they might hold themselves accountable, they also risk performing worse as well – this is a recipe for a low trust double whammy that will further reduce their scarce residues of trust. And add to the risks associated with slower decisions and even poorer communications and relationships.

This issue is a timely reminder to leaders that they need to ensure that they say what they mean, and mean what they say. And the lawyers are right to recommend that they don’t make promises that they can’t or don’t intend to keep.

However, to leave it there would be only half the story. To rebuild the trust necessary to speed their organisations in this faster new millennium, they also need to quicken their track records of kept promises and achieved results. That requires more than strategies to minimise risk, especially in communicating with those whose relationships have a high value to them.

More next month...


Geoff Kelly works with leaders who are frustrated that others don't fully support their ideas and strategies. He mainly works with corporate leaders around the world, but also leaders in Government and Not for Profit. He is also a popular speaker on this and related subjects. See www.kellystrategicinfluence.com.au, email [email protected] or call +613 9678 9218 for more information


© 2006 Geoff Kelly All rights reserved.
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