The High Cost of Low Trust for Nonprofits

What happens when you take control away from the front lines?

You erode trust in an organization and diminish autonomy. Dr. Brené Brown identifies this pattern as Leading for Compliance and Control. She explains, “When we lead for compliance and control, we reduce work to tasks and to-dos and spend time making sure people do EXACTLY what we want them to do. It impedes creative problem solving, and eventually, people stop sharing ideas.”

Business leadership experts Stephen M. Covey and Doug R. Conant identify the very real cost of low trust in for-profit organizations: the bottom line. In a Harvard Business Review article on the connection between employee trust and financial performance, Covey and Conant explain, “trust between managers and employees is the primary defining characteristic of the very best workplaces” and companies with the highest levels of trust “beat the average annualized returns of the S&P 500 by a factor of three.”

The “bottom line” may look different for nonprofits, but it’s still there. Low trust impacts your efficiency and effectiveness, which shows up in your client satisfaction and fundraising success. We have to trust and empower our people to make decisions. Daring Leaders do just that. I love how organizational development experts Bolman and Deal show what empowerment can look like in the workplace:

“Progressive organizations give power to employees as well as invest in their development. Empowerment includes keeping employees informed, but it doesn’t stop there. It also involves encouraging autonomy and participation, redesigning work, fostering teams, promoting egalitarianism, and infusing work with meaning.” (Reframing Organizations, Bolman and Deal, pg 147)

How do you build trust in your organization and empower your teams to make decisions?


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