General management

Earning trust from the bottom up

Photo by JD HancockEveryone knows what’s wrong with their organisation, and how to fix it. But it’s usually impossible to get that message across. Even if someone doesn’t know all the answers, they probably have a good idea about some of the key problems and have a good idea about the solutions. Or at least, they think they do. A software developer has seen the operational failings of their company, they’ve read about lean production, it’s clearly the answer to the company’s problems. Why can’t they get any traction for their insights?

Sadly, you can’t tell people what to do. At least, not easily. If someone in one part of the organisation wants to have the ear of key people elsewhere then they have to earn trust first. That means they first have to be seen to be excellent at their job. Then people are more likely to seek them out to help solve their problems. Or perhaps they’ll just be listened to more readily. But someone is unlikely to have much credibility telling others what to do if they cannot first demonstrate they can do their own job effectively.

For software teams this means you have to be demonstrably good at delivering software. You might see all kinds of failings elsewhere in the organisation, but if you can’t be seen to be successful yourself—in terms that other people understand—then you don’t earn the right to be heard. When Mike Bracken joined the Cabinet Office to head up digital initiatives his “strategy” was to deliver. This is one reason why. If his department had got stuck into enormous projects without end then it would never have had much influence more widely.

This is a hard message, because it means lots of hard work. But the result is that doors will open much more easily.

Photo by JD Hancock

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