What to Do When Your Managers Don't Trust Each Other

You need to put an end to any office intrigue and backbiting--now. Here's where to start.

For smooth execution, people on your team--from upper management to those who toil on the most mundane tasks--need to have confidence in one another. Without trust, people at best second guess those they deal with. At worst, they won't make necessary efforts because, why bother? Other people will only screw things up.

Such is the stuff of office intrigue and backbiting. But it can get worse when the people who aren't inspiring trust are the people on your management team. News flash: That's the situation in many companies, according to a new survey of "200 C-suite executives, senior leaders, and managers" conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit on behalf of management consulting firm BTS. And, sadly, you, too, may distrust many of the managers working for you.

Here are some figures on the percentage of people who are "'highly confident' in their managers' ability to lead successful execution" and that leaders are "hands-on":

Focus on the left-hand side and consider that CEOs have more faith in managers working for them than the managers themselves. The most cynical are C-level executives. Chances are disturbingly good that, at many companies, most managers don't trust one another. Not exactly the formula for effective action, eh?

There are two major scenarios, both of which can be at work in the same company. One is that employees don't trust some managers for a good reason. The other is that employees perceive managers as being ineffective even if they actually are effective. Here's what you should do:

Take a reality check.

To understand the situation in your company, it is important to learn who is and isn't trusted and why. Don't even try to do this on your own. When you start asking people (and consider talking to all employees, not just managers) about who is effective and who is not, you'll generate immense fear and get many answers calculated to be what people think you want to hear. This is a situation where you need a neutral third party who can respect confidentiality, knows how to put people at their ease, sort out reality, and can report results in a way that still provides useful data. Having been one of the people interviewed in my professional past, I can't stress enough the importance of the professionalism and believability of the people involved. If you try to undertake the question with people who work at your company, don't even start. You'll waste everyone's time.

Verify with data.

Next, you need to understand whether the personal opinions match other measures of effectiveness. Don't assume that someone who receives a poor rating is necessarily ineffective. Review basic metrics of the function for which a given manager is responsible. Now you'll get a sense of whether a manager actually seems ineffective or has a reputation of being so. (You might find the opposite problem as well: Someone with a great rep whose department doesn't get things done.)

Analyze the results.

If someone has a good reputation and is apparently effective, breathe a sigh of relief. If performance is poor, consider whether the problem is the manager or if imposed business processes or corporate culture could be the cause. It may be, however, that the manager is the problem. If so, work up the chain from the person to the appropriate person in upper management and consider whether the management may need more seasoning, some specific training, or if there may be a misfit for that particular position. It may be that you will have to replace someone, but then again, that might not be necessary. Determine what will serve the company and morale best in the long run. A "dump the chump" attitude could do damage.

Many entrepreneurs are fond of saying that the company's most important asset is the people who work there. Moving beyond rhetoric into action can significantly improve your fortunes.

IMAGE: Shutterstock
Last updated: Apr 29, 2014

ERIK SHERMAN | Columnist

Erik Sherman's work has appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times Magazine, and Fortune. He also blogs for CBS MoneyWatch.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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