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To be efficient in virtual organisations, trust people’s processes.

Great restaurants have master chefs to do the cooking, not machines. Great cooking has three parts: tools, instructions, and process knowledge. The tools are the pots, pans, and ovens in the kitchen. The instructions are the recipe. The process is the tacit knowledge or technical experience: because 1001 things can go wrong when cooking (which you can’t write down in a cookbook). That’s why we trust master chefs to produce fantastic dishes – not machines. You see (and smell and taste) it in the results.

A master chef does all three. A machine can only master the first two: tools and instructions. The day when a machine becomes the process expert will be the day Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsey look for new jobs.

In short, we trust chefs to get on with the job of cooking our food. We don’t walk into the kitchen to micro-manage the process. The results are produced out of our sight – it’s all done virtually.

Charles Handy said, 25 years ago, that to enjoy the benefits of working in a virtual organisation, we have to run organisation based on more trust, than control. Virtual working needs trust to make it work.

Fast forward to today and as so often, Charles Handy’s predictions are becoming reality.

Last week – and I was doing initial one-to-one interviews with the CEO and CFO of a new client. Their company operates across Europe and the USA. It’s doing very well: sales and growth are increasing, despite the current pandemic. But they have a few “growing pains”.

What struck me in both interviews was how comfortable the CEO and CFO were as they talked about the emotional and intellectual challenges in the company. Both were totally open, honest and sincere. I instantly felt they trusted me. Maybe that’s because I was referred to them by a good contact. But that openness is still a rare, powerful combination in any company, particularly at that level. It’s even rarer to see executives establish trust so quickly and deeply via Skype, i.e. virtual communication.

This experience got me thinking: what makes people feel trusted when working virtually? What did the CEO and CFO do to create an atmosphere of trust on Skype?

Let’s get the easy points out of the way, first. Using Skype, like any technology has three parts: tools, instructions and processes.

They are totally comfortable with the tools and instructions.
I remember as a kid, watching my friend tie two plastic cups to a long piece of string. Hey presto! He’d made a really cool “telephone”. I was amazed at the technology.

Today, I still watch managers join video conferences with no idea about how to use even the basic functionalities – camera settings, screen sharing, mute and so on. They join late, because “I couldn’t get the connection to work.” Then they appear: starry-eyed, amazed at the technological possibilities. It takes them another five to ten minutes to get focused.

Add that up over a weeks or months… It makes for a lot of inefficiency across the company and does nothing to boost my confidence in the competence of that person. (And we know that confidence in others’ competence is a key component of trust.)

Being comfortable with meeting on different video-conferencing platforms is a must, not an optional extra. The CEO and CFO are highly competent with the technology. It makes others feel confident, safe and believe them more. (Note: these are all core components of trust.)

They trust in efficient processes
In virtual working, increasing control is the enemy of efficiency. From a diner’s point of view, there are two control points: we order the food, then we taste it. If there’s a problem, it’s either with the order or the taste of the food. Everything else is secondary. Those two control points clearly come at the start and the end of the process. We trust the master chef to take care of everything else.

Back to the CEO and CFO… What was unique was how they clearly set goals and control points, and expected me – as the process expert – to figure out the best way to achieve the goals. You could see that this was their modus operandi. When leading executives trust the people they lead like that, virtual work becomes ten times easier.

The point is: the CEO and CFO fully trust their own people. Employees are more competent that we think. Global executives must set the goals, make the control points clear and then get out of people’s way. When anyone lead like this, we create the space for master chefs and remote employees produce amazing results.

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Client Testimonials

You have brought a direct positive impact on our sales… because people work more customer-oriented. Our efficiency levels... are continuously growing.

AL Managing Director

Leading this product launch has taught me to be effective doing what I find naturally easiest – using trust and supporting people each step of the way. It augments my chances of making sure future product launches are as successful as this one.

MN Vice Director - Medical Marketing Europe

This process allowed people to re-appraise how this [senior team of managers] group was functioning or, rather, not functioning correctly. The tendency for each member of our group to see himself as an isolated beacon of excellence – which acted against the vital need for cooperation between members – were eased and communication is already becoming more 'normalised'.

RS Senior Director

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