A while back, Charles Green responded to my post about the knowledge economy being a trust economy:

Your title captures an important insight; the knowledge economy allows significant distribution of nodes of knowledge, means of production, etc. To get the value of that, resources have to be distributed. If people can’t figure out how to trust other people, all that value goes unachieved. Or, more likely, it accrues to other organizations or networks who HAVE figured out how to trust each other.

I’ve referred several times to articles at the Trusted Advisor because trust is such an important factor in knowledge work as knowledge and innovation cannot be effectively coerced from workers.

Here’s Charles on Measuring and Managing:

If you can measure it, you can manage it; if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it; if you can’t manage it, it’s because you can’t measure it; and if you managed it, it’s because you measured it.

Every one of those statements is wrong. But business eats it up. And it’s easy to see why …

The ubiquity of measurement inexorably leads people to mistake the measures themselves for the things they were intended to measure.

And a post on measuring ROI for soft skills training [because we don’t trust workers] and the perversion of individual measurement:

Most soft skills deal with our relationships to others. The drive to individually behavioralize, then metricize, has the effect of killing relationships—an ironic outcome for relationship-targeting training.

In the learning & development business there is much focus on compliance training, especially since regulatory compliance accounts for a significant amount of learning content development and learning management technology sales. However, there are few sales pitches that say, go ahead, let your employees decide what’s best for them. Trust, it seems, doesn’t sell stuff. If you trust workers to manage their learning, you don’t need an LMS. If you trust them to get things done, you don’t need a tracking system. If you trust them to learn you don’t need as much pre-programmed training because they will find what’s best. If you trust them to be self-directed or group-directed learners they would have a say in their own training budget and I doubt they would vote to buy an LMS.

There is little doubt that organizational structures need to change and that management models need to adapt to deal with increasing complexity. Shifting from a hierarchy to a wirearchy requires a foundation of shared information, knowledge, power and trust. Trust shifts not only how an organization works but also many of traditional relationships with customers and suppliers. If all businesses trusted employees, how many training companies would go out of business?

9 Responses to “Trust”

  1. Andrew Hill

    Hi Harold,

    Trust, the cornerstone of Social Capital, the mantra of Knowledge Management, and an implicit foundation of our learning guides.

    I’ve always agreed with Einsteins words on measurement, ‘All that is measured does not matter, and all that matters cannot be measured’, or something similar. I’ve had issues with providing ROI metrics for KM initiatives – but maybe ROI is clouding the issue of measurement?

    I admire the Bhutanese instituting a Happiness Index rather than concentrating on a GDP. If we trust a work environment that provides meaningful, and appreciated work, motivates effort, accelerates learning and provides engagement, then shouldn’t we try and track improvements on those goals? Take it away from a focus on individuals and onto the collective, thus actually giving dignity back to the individual? Won’t a shared HI measure increase trust in the organisation?

    • Harold Jarche

      Good points, Andrew. Indicators that help us see patterns are more helpful than quantitative-looking (but not really quantitative) ROI calculations. For instance, what’s the ROI on democracy, or what’s the ROI on good morale and how do you measure it exactly?

  2. Lee Kraus


    Thanks for the post. I do believe that trust, particularly in a cloud-based, collaborative world we are in is so critical. SMB and IT departments will have to learn to figure this out, loose partnerships will have to grasp how to establish enough trust across space to deliver value in this new world.


    Isn’t managing compliance training about compliance, which is about the ability to prove that you have complied? I don’t think its about trusting people. I might be mis-reading your point, but I don’t think buying an LMS increases or decreases the amount of trust I have in my organization?

    • Harold Jarche

      No, it’s just one more indicator of the amount of trust that organizations and regulatory agencies have in workers. The default position is don’t trust; regulate. The opposite is often the case in families, where the default position is to trust each other.

  3. Andrew Hill

    Do you measure morale, democracy, or other ‘soft’ ideals with a random (or selected) sample of answers to a well designed semi-structured (anonymous – pro’s and con’s here I think) interview? Could you also then crunch all of these qualitative responses into quantitative boxes, so Executive have some metrics in the language they understand, i.e. spreadsheets and charts?
    Can a dynamic tension between Management and Creativity help progress the negotiated meaning of a matrixed organisation?

    • Harold Jarche

      Crunching qualitative measures would likely make them meaningless, I think. Management is a craft, not a discipline. Management without creativity is automation.

  4. Charles H. Green

    Great diaogue, all; thanks to Harold for kicking it off. As you noted, I’m certainly with you on noting the occasional jagged disconnect between our automatic instinct for measurement and the qualitative aspect of the things being measured.

    It’s not that you can’t measure things like trust, love, democracy, or happiness; I believe that you can measure those things and just about anything else. But the more pertinent question is: why would you? Measurement is simply one route to broader goals; depending on the situation, it may be the best route. Or, it may not be.

    And Andrew, I love your line “More managers should approach their workplaces as canvases rather than as machines.” Amen to that.


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