Chris Uggen's Blog: trust in organizations

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

trust in organizations

i'm learning a lot from most of the new-chair stuff that fills my days lately. though i managed a tiny (m.i.s.) shop years ago, i've had little training in administration or exposure to research on management techniques. i was a little surprised to learn that i'm actually enjoying such sessions.

since my gut and my experiences tell me that departments need mutual trust to function effectively and efficiently, i was glad to get some practical advice on establishing trust relationships in one of the sessions last week. on this point, my college dean, steven rosenstone, passed along the following ideas adapted from ciancutti and steding's built on trust:

principles for establishing trust based relationships in organizations*

1. closure. coming to a specific agreement about what will be done, by whom, with a specific date for completion.

2. commitment. an intention of no conditions. this mean that there are no hidden “ifs,” “ands,” or “buts.” it doesn’t mean that you absolutely guarantee the result that you promise, but it does mean that you enter into the commitment with every intention of fulfilling it. and if you discover that you can’t keep the commitment for any reason, you speak up immediately.

3. when people communicate directly and openly with one another, the organization avoids or minimizes some of the most common communication problems; talking behind people’s backs, withholding information, hallway buzzing, and avoiding certain subjects. it is also understood that people do not lie to one another, or even suggest that things are true when they are not.

4. speedy resolution. a leadership organization addresses critical unresolved issues quickly and completely, so that people can gain closure and make commitments. unaddressed problems do not solve themselves.

5. respect. this principle simply means that people threat one another as they would like to be treated themselves—with dignity and respect. don’t confuse tact and respect with “being nice.”

6. responsibility. in leadership organizations, people give and receive help—but in the end, everyone must be responsible for his or her own problems.

7. responsiveness. (twenty-four hour rule). follow the guideline that asks people to respond to telephone calls, e-mail, or other requests promptly, even within twenty-four hours. (at least acknowledge receipt).

8. handle issues at the lowest possible level. place the solution to most problems in the hands of those closest to it. avoid “high political moments.”

9. tell the truth.

10. management as role model.

the list of principles pointed me to areas in which i'll need to step up my game as department chair. as a regular faculty member, for example, i haven't always been great at reaching closure and responding to email in a timely manner. in my capacity as chair, of course, these characteristics could lead to all sorts of problems. so, i'm making a concerted effort to improve my response time on decisions.

though some of the principles seem obvious (who wouldn't want respect and commitment?), others appear to be sensible advice (e.g., handling issues at the lowest possible level). and, in providing such advice to new chairs, my dean** is also communicating his expectations regarding our relationship. that is, he expects such principles to be applied in chair-dean relationships as well as chair-faculty relationships. i guess it wouldn't hurt to apply the same principles in my dealings with students and collaborators as well. but that 24-hour response time thing is gonna kill me...

* adapted from something that was adapted from arky ciancutti and thomas l. steding, built on trust, mcgraw-hill, 2001.

** it is a bit awkward to blog about the department and the dean without sucking up. locals know my high opinion of college leadership, but it would be unseemly to fawn all over my boss(es) in this space. that said, i'd rather not define all such relations as non-blogable, since i'm thinking a lot about administrative stuff these days -- and i might eventually learn to write about it in an interesting and/or useful way.


At 10:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds like the dean is trying to run a tight, efficient ship. While I think public feedings at a shark tank work equally well for motivating workers, the whole 'love thy labor' paradigm is more politically correct. Of course, the tenure process is its own form of coercive logic, which the State Penn Punk may reach in 6-7 years.

Guess who anonymous is!

At 11:32 PM, Anonymous chris said...

hey, anon, i've got no idea as to identity. but the dean's advice was given and taken with love. i pledged not to fawn (i can't have the other chairs callin' me a brown-noser, now can i?), but i'm a fan. let me just say that it is very nice for faculty to have a really accomplished scholar in his position.

At 7:00 AM, Blogger Penn State Punk said...


Please do take off the veil and let us know your identity.


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