In a recent TED Talk, Baroness Onora O’Neill states that although we say that we want more trust what we are really asking for is more trustworthiness on the part of those we deal with. During her presentation, she covers three key qualities which need to be demonstrated for someone to be considered trustworthy: reliability, competency and honesty.
These same qualities apply when in the project context. A complaint I’ve occasionally heard from project managers is that they don’t trust one or more of their team members or sometimes it is the team members who express this concern regarding the project manager. This doesn’t usually have anything to do with whether or not they believe the individual is “good” or “bad”, but is usually an expectation gap or violation of one of the three qualities, so let’s take a deeper look at what these mean on projects.
Reliability: A project manager should have confidence that once an activity or action has been assigned to a team member and they have accepted the responsibility for completing it that it will get done as expected or that the team member will provide timely feedback on expected variances in timing, effort or quality. I’ve written previously that the essence of project management is predictability – the foundation of project predictability is individual predictability.
Competency: When team members are assigned to a project, the project manager should expect that they will be competent in performing their assigned tasks. There is a dual responsibility here – the project manager needs to ensure that the functional managers assigning staff have a good idea of the skills and experience required, and the functional managers need to provide the project managers with a clear understanding of the capabilities of the assigned staff. Beyond this, the team members should reset any false assumptions on the part of the project manager regarding their skills and experience to avoid expectation gaps. On the flip side, a project manager who is paper-certified but lacks scars on his or her back is unlikely to inspire much confidence or trust on the part of the team.
Honesty: Reliability and competency are both important but shortfalls in either of these may be overlooked but the quickest way to lose trust is to act dishonestly. If a team member provides a progress update to the project manager which is different than that provided to their own reporting manager, the project manager will likely start taking everything the team member says with a grain of salt. Similarly, if a project manager commits to recommend a pushback in timelines based on a review with the team and then claims to have done so even if they don’t, the team will rapidly lose trust in the project manager’s ability or desire to support them.
Onora O’Neill identified one final condition for trustworthiness – intelligible evidence that all three of these qualities are present. Although we might claim that we trust our colleagues until they give us reason to distrust them, we are usually more comfortable working with them once we have experienced their reliability, competency and honesty on more than one occasion. Or as per the U.S. Naval Intelligence motto In God we trust; all others we monitor.