Paul Baard's Motivation Matters: Trust is a motivation foundation

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August 05. 2018 11:45PM

One’s daily dealings in business are very much predicated on trust.

Do I believe that hiring one qualified applicant over another will result in a hard-working asset for my firm? Will corporate client confidences be upheld? Will the supplier of a service or product stay true to promises made during the sales process? Can I trust a potential employer to keep its word about my future prospects if I do my end of the bargain?

Trust is an underpinning of motivation; it is essential to collaboration. Belief in the integrity of the other party in business transactions is central to establishing an ongoing relationship. Experiencing lapses in upholding both ends of a deal can lead to all kinds of problems. Late payments may force your supplier to rely on repeated attempts to collect his payment. A handshake agreement gets replaced with a lengthy legal document. Micro-managing is now thought to be necessary with the new hire who was found to have concealed an error he made.

Warren Buffett, the investment guru, reportedly said: “Trust is like the air we breathe. When it’s present, nobody really notices. But when it’s absent, everybody notices.” Trust is tied significantly to one’s motivation. For intrinsic or self-motivation to occur, one’s innate psychological need for autonomy must be satisfied. This pertains to feeling empowered regarding how a job gets done, having some significant level of ownership of responsibility. Rather than being micro-managed, one is entrusted with responsibility.

A second motivational need is to feel competent, being equipped to grow, to try new things — even being free to make errors by trying new approaches (within reason). The third innate psychological need is for connectedness, to feel respected and valued. It goes without saying that being trusted and acting in a trusting manner are part of the employer-employee relationship. These needs cannot be effectively satisfied absent an environment of mutual trust.

Trust can take decades to build, yet this foundation can be toppled in a matter of hours. An industry friend once attended an internal telecast where the chairman of the company that had just acquired his organization would address all the employees of the new acquisition. He began: “Welcome to (the acquiring company). As of today, you have no history with this company.” I really felt for my friend. He was a bright, hard-working guy who had spent decades at this firm.

In another act of non-trust, one company made a buyout offer, not necessarily a bad thing. Senior employees were being offered a cash payout plus an add-on of time credited to their retirement benefit. But there was a caution: The deal was only good until the cap on the cost to fund the offer was reached.

This prompted the head of one division to sleep on a cot overnight in front of the locked H.R. department’s office.

Later, clerks who were being let go were greeted one morning with an empty box and a security person to witness all personal items being placed in the box and to assure that they had no access to their desktop computer.

Bill Ouchi is a management theorist who addressed the productivity gap between the United States and Japan years ago. He conceptualized “Theory Z”, asserting several practices of Japanese management style that he had identified for their achievement of greater quality and efficiency in producing products.

Among his findings were that the Japanese system of leadership afforded a greater amount of freedom and trust with its workers.

A good reputation is a tremendous asset in attracting and retaining talent. It also makes a workplace more enjoyable and collaborative. Core to that characteristic is trust.

Dr. Paul P. Baard is an organizational psychologist, specializing in motivation, with Fordham University, a former senior line executive in the television industry, and the lead author of a book on leadership and motivation. He and Veronica Baard, a former managing director responsible for HR at a major international investment banking firm, head up Baard Consulting LLC, a firm in the greater Boston area, focusing on motivation, conflict reduction, and team building. Questions are welcomed at


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