The Magic of Trust
Brainworkers – and the way you manage them – are the main competitive advantage for your business, stressed leadership guru Theo Compernolle1 at HR Magazine’s recent conference in Prague.


Today’s manager is just like the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland, running around with a clock shouting ‘I’ve no time, I’ve no time, I’m going to be late.’ Managers these days shout the same, running into a meeting with a Blackberry. Just as when Alice jumped into the hole – into the unknown – so managers expect the same from their employees, says Compernolle. In fact, multitasking is very bad and will end up in bad brainwork.

Trust is like a bucket that can only be filled drop by drop, but one careless move will spill it all.

theo_compernolleIndeed over the years there’s been a revolution in the employee environment. Nowadays muscles have been replaced by machines; lower intellectual functions replaced by computer. What’s left are brainworkers doing work requiring the most human, higher intellectual and social skills.

The problem is that 21st century brainworkers are still being managed like the ‘brawnworkers’ of the mid 19th century. Brawnworkers or hardworkers were paid for the labour, whereas from brainworkers you simply cannot demand their enthusiasm, loyalty, creativity, ingenuity and readiness for change in the same way. Brainworkers have their own thoughts, relationships and emotions. Their quality depends on their relationship with their management.

Change is betting a certain past against an uncertain future. Intelligent people will only take this bet when they are convinced of the advantage; trust themselves; and trust their team. If there is no trust, there won’t be any change. In other words, there won’t be any innovation, Compernolle points out. For innovation is all about trial and error. No trust. No trial.

‘This was a lively and thought-provoking presentation,’ commented AHEAD’s Caroline Deruytter. ‘It set the tone for a useful conference programme focused on the importance of trust and engagement.’ ’These aspects are vital to AHEAD and the way we conduct ourselves towards both our clients and our candidates.’

Indeed Dr Theo Compernolle is a colourful and outspoken advocate of trust. ‘No other aspect of management behavior has such a major positive impact on profit as trust,’ he explains in his essay for The Focus2. Referring to 30 year old research by Professor Martin Seabrook, Compernolle notes a strong correlation between the personality of the dairy stockman and the milk yield of cows. Interestingly, self-confident introverts got the most milk out of their herds.

People who give most trust, get most trust.

‘Don’t set up bureaucratic procedures that hinder and demotivate 99 people, just to avoid the risk that one person will abuse your trust… Leaders often fail to realize that developing trust costs nothing, apart from continuous attention, but creates huge revenues… Trust is like a bucket that can only be filled drop by drop, but one careless move will spill it all.’

‘Developing a genuine interest in people opens the door to trust, so try to really understand what drives your staff… Be generous – delegate the credit for success and take the blame for failure.’

‘Building trust is about getting the basics right –the things that once made your parents proud of you. Be kind polite and courteous. Show respect. Be positive. And last but not least, trust others. People who give most trust, get most trust.’

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Dr Theo Compernolle, MD, PhD is former Suez Chair at the Solvay Business School; former Adjunct Professor-at-Large at INSEAD; former visiting Professor at Vlerick School for Management.  www.compernolle.com
2 Trust, Confidence, and Organizational Brain Disorder or how trust boosts the bottom line, Dr Theo Compernolle, Vol X11/1 p 44-48.