Trust versus Control

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- 4 min read

Right after my graduation I was invited for a job interview at a large wellness company for a marketing job. As I was very passionate, I showed up as the best version of me. And yes, I got the job and started a week later on my first ‘real’ job.

During the first few weeks, my enthusiasm and curiosity were quickly replaced by surprise and amazement. A boss who reads your emails? A clothing policy (no jeans, neat clothing) while I was in the office every single day? Colleagues having spontaneous panic attacks if they were summoned to the boss’ office? A secretary who was closely controlling at what time we entered and left the office? I lasted about six months. Actually, I already knew after one week that something wasn’t right, but I couldn’t put the feeling into words back then. Now I can: it has everything to do with trust versus control.

Trust as a prerequisite of happiness

During the search of Joost and Pim, trust often comes up as a prerequisite for happy employees. And while lots of companies often say they trust their employees, it’s kind of hard to do this in a society where malleability and control reign supreme. Rob Wijnberg wrote a beautiful piece (Dutch) on the consequences of what he calls a ‘reactive malleability’. According to him, our malleable society often relies on control, prevention, monitoring and distrust. As an example he mentions the huge amount of actions that have been taken against terrorism. The chance of becoming a victim of a terrorist attack is approximately 1 in 20 million. The chance of being struck by lightning is twice as big. Walking the stairs is, statistically speaking, 127 times more dangerous. Compare that to the endless list of measures that have been taken against the terrorist threat. Similar mechanisms have also creeped in our organizations. Measure and control are key. Trust and the corresponding uncertainty are lacking.

Vulnerability as prerequisite of trust

This lack of trust in relationships and organizations is what led me to Brené Brown about one and a half year ago. And it’s not just me who was touched by her story. Her TED Talk has been viewed by over 20.000.000 (!) times and is about the power of vulnerability. According to Brené, everybody wants to feel and experience connection and we achieve this by being vulnerable. We often try our very best to hide our insecurities and failures. How? By trying to control situations, colleagues, tasks and emotions. By doing this we create, paradoxically, distance instead of connection. With vulnerability comes real connection and especially in that connection we find trust.

How do we do it in Borne?

At municipality Borne we put trust in the heart of our organization, not control. We allow our employees to decide when and where they do their job. By focusing on results and talents, not on working hours and flaws. By providing room for experimentation, failure, and discovering talents. This all sounds very positive, but we still have a long way to go. Way too often, I still hear the phrase: ‘trust is good, control is better’. Also, in the conversations with the accountant we’re not understood when we talk about soft aspects as trust and ‘letting go’. And don’t even get me started on the extensive disclaimer packed with legal stuff that is still at the bottom of every email I send. No, this isn’t easy and it’s a long road. Brown beautifully explains this process as ‘normalizing uncomfortable feelings’. Organizations that focus on trusting, learning and growing automatically run into uncomfortable feelings. It won’t be right the first time, that’s normal and you should embrace those feelings.

Happy employees

Once in a while I think back on my first job and the contrast with the way of working at municipality Borne. Vacancies I encounter are often still focused on the job features and the content. I believe happiness at work is less depending on these aspects, but more on the culture and values of the organization. Do the things that are important to you also matter to the organization? Do they match? If yes, then I don’t think happiness is that far away.

Anouk Mannessen is working for the municipality Borne. She deals with the organizational development of the municipality Borne towards a directing network society. Besides that she focuses on the improvement of services, information policies and new ways of working at the Twente government. As guest blogger she updates us regularly on the development of Borne.

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