Eleven years ago I suddenly became a manager in a Software development company. I liked the responsibility and revelled in answering employees’ questions and solving their problems, thinking that that was the way to overcome obstacles that were holding up the work. I “needed” to be involved in client calls and saw myself as indispensable in translating their requirements for our developers.

I derived my sense of self-worth from all this.

I became a bottleneck. My people became overly dependent on me. The team leads reporting to me micromanaged the same way I did since that was the only example they had. There wasn’t a lot of ownership because I owned everything.

The burden became too much for me to carry, so I asked the president of our company about it who suggested I read “One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey” (Hal Burrows, Kenneth H. Blanchard, and William Oncken) This book explains how the manager should let others keep their monkeys (responsibilities) and not take them off their hands.

It is such a short, little book and such a simple message, but it was an eye-opener for me. It took time to get rid of this bad habit. When I finally got better at it, I found that I had time on my hands. I could start to think creatively again. I could learn and grow and research.

Our employees took some time to grow into this new reality as well, but they soon started to thrive on the ability to make decisions, to solve problems and to deliver value to our customers. They knew that they were responsible for the results and stepped up to the challenge.

The one behavior that makes people own their work is TRUST. 

Maybe you guessed it already. When people have our trust, their self-worth soars, they start owning their work, they start doing what is right without having to be watched.

There is a balance. I do not trust an intern to make critical changes to our clients’ databases. I must know what our people are capable of and sometimes I get it wrong, and they feel overwhelmed. But if there is trust, they will seek the help they need while keeping the ownership of their problems. If they overcome difficult challenges, they gain confidence and motivation and become even more responsible and hungry for more.

Trust did not free me from responsibility, but my responsibility changed. I became responsible for empowering our employees. When they need my guidance, I try to give it to them without providing answers. Instead, by asking the right questions, I guide them to find the answers themselves. Most often they will arrive at a better solution than I could have given them.

If we trust our people, they can bring their best talents and skills to bear on the problems they face. They become stewards of the projects that we as management entrust to them. They feel significant because they are making a difference.

At Covalience, we have very low staff turnover compared to other software development companies in India. I think that at least some of it is due to our culture of trust.

What do you think about trusting people? What have you done to encourage a culture of trust? What are some of the benefits that you have seen in doing it?

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