Q: I work for a sales company where I know certain employees are “given a pass” when it comes to the policies because they are recognized as “closers.” How can I trust my organization if the rules don’t apply to everyone?
A: I have worked for organizations where managers “sweep indiscretions under the rug” because certain employees are in a position to increase the financials of a company. Others were held accountable to the “company standards” and rebuked accordingly. I have heard this same type of story across industries and geography.
Unless every individual in an organization is subject to company policies and subsequent praise or punishment required under a policy, I do not think an employee can trust their organization, or to be fair, cannot trust the manager, executive or person in a position of authority.
Trust is earned through consistency, fairness and honesty between humans. Because trust has become overused nomenclature, it can be used incorrectly and be void of true meaning. Consider this: If your supervisor has a consistent, fair, honest relationship with you would you say that you trust your supervisor? Probably. And, as an extension, would you say that you trust the organization? Most likely.
On the flip side, if your supervisor is inconsistent, passes unfair judgments, and is dishonest, you would probably say you do not trust your supervisor, and by extension not trust the organization.
One of the most important decisions executive leadership can make is to ensure that every manager and/or person in a position of authority within the organization knows, acts, and consistently, fairly and honestly holds every employee accountable for their behavior if he/she does not follow company policy: every time, period. Think of trust like a three-legged stool where each leg represents consistency, fairness and honesty. If any one of the three values is not practiced at any time, the stool falls and trust is lost.
For you, unless the system changes, I fear you will remain in an untrustworthy and unethical environment. Take heart: There are some very trustworthy employers out there; you may have to just go out and find them.
Nicole Zwieg Daly is the director of the Center for Ethics in Practice at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business.