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Trust is an important part of continuous improvement. Team members have to believe their bosses. They have to be sure that making gains won’t cost them their jobs and that making mistakes on projects won’t get them in trouble.

Lean requires a great deal of autonomy from frontline employees. Lean leaders need to trust them to make decisions on their own and to act in line with the needs of the company.

Employees also have to trust each other. They need to know that if they help other people when their workload is low that they will be helped out when they see a spike in demand.

Trust comes in two basic flavors. The first is honesty. It simply means that a person can be taken at his or her word. And to be clear, lying by omission is still lying. And being intentionally deceitful, even if the message is technically true, is also still lying.

The second form of trust relates to behaviors. It is confidence that a person will act in a predictable, appropriate manner. That means that he follows through on what he says he will do, and that he lives up to expectations. It means that employees will be where they are supposed to be and will do what they’re supposed to do, even when managers are not around. And it means that managers will protect their employees and look out for their well-being.

All of this trust does not happen by accident. It is a byproduct of the efforts to create a continuous improvement culture.

There are several factors that go into building trust.

  • Sense of Purpose: People have to know their role and have a sense of belonging. When people feel like they have a respected place on a team, they are more likely to trust their teammates.
  • Having a Voice: When people have a way to express themselves without fear, they trust those around them more. Leaders must cultivate open discussions about problems to convince people that it is safe to talk about issues.
  • Fairness: A sense of equity is important to people. They need to see that rules are applied evenly, and that managers don’t play favorites. That’s not to say everyone has to be treated equally, but there should be an obvious reason why some people might have earned extra privileges. It is also important that those privileges be open to everybody who meets the same criteria.
  • Opportunity: People need to see a cause and effect in the advancement within the company. They need to know that if they work hard, they will be rewarded.
  • Autonomy: People should not automatically be given free rein to make changes. But if they prove themselves, they should be allowed to push the envelope on the decisions they can make on their own.
  • Security: People should not be afraid for their job. If they see those around them getting in trouble for making mistakes or losing their job due to productivity gains, there will be no trust.


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