Trust, Culture, and Cynicism

Why do people move away from an organization’s mission?

Having worked for the largest sheriff’s department in the country for the past thirty years has provided me some perspective about how some people can lose sight of an organization’s mission.  As a training sergeant for my Department’s Training Bureau, I’ve had the opportunity to train a significant number of people.  Many of those receiving my training are deputies and police officers of all ranks who have been disciplined.  The training is also for professional staff employees that have been disciplined too.  While the classes can be challenging and yet personally fulfilling to teach, they are a greatTrust, Culture, and Cynicismopportunity to understand the ideas and perspectives of a wide variety of people on the Department.  I’ve taught well over a hundred of these classes and each is an opportunity to learn for students as well as myself.

In a class of disciplined employees, the initial atmosphere can be tense.  But students are quickly engaged to provide their perspective on all issues while feeling safe when they offer their opinions.  I ask the following question, “Am I right just because I am teaching the course?” The response is a resounding “no” which is consistent with the culture of line level personnel (people who deliver the services) of the Sheriff’s Department.

I follow up with, “If I present an idea which you don’t agree with, challenge me.  I will challenge you, but we will challenge each other in a respectful manner.”  Students are able to engage the course topics while knowing their perspectives are important because they will be listened to and not dismissed.

We explore several topics in the course as it relates to decision-making, anger, cynicism, and personal choices which affect our lives.  It isTrust, Culture, and Cynicism a great opportunity to see what is important to the people in the class.  The topic of morale usually comes up.  Many in the class state that it is low while others state that it is high at their specific assignment.  I ask the class when they felt that their morale and the morale of those they worked with was at its highest.  Most will say when they graduated from the Academy.  On an almost equal basis, trust in the organization was at its highest too.

It is interesting that we do a great job of onboarding our new deputies into the Department where they have a significantly high level of morale and trust for the Department.  What becomes of this morale and trust once they are working within the organization?  I believe this process is similar to the onboarding practices of most Trust, Culture, and Cynicismorganizations and the departure from an organization’s mission as employees work and gain tenure.

The reasons for the change in trust and morale can be varied. There are a number of questions to be asked by any organization or team manager.  Questions to consider are:
What values are focused upon during the onboarding process to the organization?

  • Are these values practiced in the organization?
  • Do new employees see the organization embracing and supporting the value system?

If an employee does not trust the organization, can it lead to the formation of subcultures in the organization/team?

  • What impact does the subculture group have on the organization and its mission? Its values?  Its morale?
  • How are subculture groups identified? Why do people join or identify with them?

What steps can be taken to improve trust between the organization and its people?

  • How have past practices impacted trust?
  • How are current practices impacting trust?
  • What is currently being done to improve trust?

These questions are just starting points for a manager or team leader to evaluate morale and trust issues within the organization or team.  But if left unattended, low morale and lack of trust will lead some down the path towards cynicism.

Trust, Culture, and Cynicism

Cynicism is the infectious disease which loves company and will work relentlessly to acquire new followers.  The irony of cynicism lies in a perspective I learned from one of my students, a detective, during a group project.  Students were tasked to create a list of causes of cynicism along with the solutions for remedying it.  My student and his group did not create a list as they had been directed.

When asked, my student informed all of us that the causes and solutions for cynicism have a common root.  He stated that a person cannot become cynical in a person, organization, team, etc., unless they initially had faith in it to begin with.  Somehow, somewhere, the person was disillusioned, betrayed, or disappointed by the actions and continued practices of the organization.  His point was that the root cause of cynicism must be identified and alleviated to produce fewer cynical people.  Otherwise, we are dealing with it after the fact.

This perspective on cynicism was one I had not considered.  The faith that a person has in a person, team, organization, etc., can be violated.  If the violation is related to trust and organizational values, then our employees could possibly begin their path on the road to cynicism.  Perhaps this is the disconnect which we see in our employees when it comes to high trust and morale at the end of the onboarding process and their dispositions after working a few years for the organization.  There is likely a connection.

This perspective led me to consider a few more questions to address cynicism, its causes, and potential remedies.  Here are some questions to reflect upon:
What faith do my employees have in the organization, team, or group?

  • Is the “faith” related to trust? Values?  Daily practices?
  • Can a violation of this “faith” lead to low morale?
  • Is there another consideration?

Why do my people have faith in the organization, team, or group?

  • What are the reasons?
  • Do those reasons support the mission?
  • Do those reasons support trust and increased morale?

Can I identify reasons for my employees losing faith in the organization?

  • What can I do to address them?
  • How can I make it better?
  • What is the positive impact on the team by taking action?

Challenge yourself to dig deep in evaluating the culture of your organization.  Use the questions provided, but more importantly, develop your own questions about your team as they relate to trust, culture, and cynicism.  We each have our slice of the pie when it comes to our organizations.  We may not be able to improve the entire organization, but we can impact our slice of it.  We impact those around us and we are directly responsible for it.

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