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Building Trust: A Key Element in Worker Productivity
By Gregory P. Smith, President, Chart Your Course International



Building trust between workers and management is a critical element in building a productive and innovative organization. In the 1970's and the 1980's, American auto makers were fighting fierce competition with Japanese imports. Like molten lava, the chaos flowed downhill to all auto parts manufacturers including, Wainwright Industries.

Wainwright Industries is located in St. Peters, Missouri and has 275 associates and $30 million dollars in sales. They manufacture parts for the automobile and aerospace industry.

In the 70s and 80s Wainwright discovered they were no longer competitive. Facing a recession, sales dropped from $5 to $3 million. Operations slowed to three days a week and tensions grew between employees and management. The work environment was deteriorating. The workers were frustrated and a riff was growing between the front-line worker and management. So they started changing. The first step was to start calling the workers, "associates." This one small change lead to even larger and more meaningful changes. They eliminated time clocks and everyone was put on a salary. Today, associates are paid even if they miss work and paid time-and-a-half for overtime. Trust between worker and management took a giant leap forward.

Next came the uniforms. No more ties and white shirts for managers and blue shirts for the workers. Everyone in the organization now wears a uniform, including the chairman and the professional staff. The uniform consists of a pair of black slacks and a white pinstripe shirt. On the shirt each person has their name emblazoned on one side and the other side has "Team Wainwright." Of course, not everyone liked the idea at first. Now everyone accepts it and feels it is more practical. A team of associates developed a profit sharing program for everyone at Wainwright. The team consisted of one manager and seven non-management associates. Ownership developed propelling them down the track at a faster pace. Yes, even the books are open for everyone to see. No secrets...everyone has access to the financial records.

As in most industries, training remains the discriminator between average businesses and those that are exceptional. Wainwright's emphasis on training created "employability security" within each associate. Even when the economy dips and work slows down, Wainwright does not automatically layoff workers. They attempt to reassign as many of them as possible--no promises made. If they have to let someone go, they have at least provided them with training and skills making them more employable for other jobs or in another industry.

The feeling of trust and equality they have created has paid back in many results. Attendance records show the proof. Except in 1994, when attendance dipped to 98.9%, but ever since 1984, attendance has consistently averaged 99 percent. Not only is there an increased feeling of trust, equality and ownership, but profits have grown from $5 million to $30 million. Here are a few other ways to help build trust.

Do:

  • Look out for people and their best interests
  • Treat people with dignity
  • Show confidence in their ability
  • Listen carefully to what people are saying
  • Deliver on the promises you make
  • Be authentic and share yourself openly
  • Feel free to admit your own mistakes
  • Include others in decision making processes
  • Always tell the truth

Don't:

  • Jump to conclusions before you have the facts
  • Blame people for problems they have no control over
  • Hold back information although it is bad news
  • Avoid taking responsibility
  • Feel like you have to have all the answers
  • Make excuses when it doesn't work the way you wanted
  • Be a perfectionist


Gregory P. Smith, author of The New Leader, and How to Attract, Keep and Motivate Your Workforce. He speaks at conferences, leads seminars and helps organizations solve problems. He leads an organization called Chart Your Course International located in Conyers, Georgia. Phone him at (770)860-9464 or email greg@chartcourse.com. More information is available at http://www.chartcourse.com.

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