Archive | September 2009

Trust but Verify

I’ve never liked the phrase “Trust but Verify” (especially in organizations). To me trust means you firmly believe in someone’s integrity and their ability to do something. It means when they say something will be done, you, personally, know it will be done. No need to check. It’s money in the bank.

When you feel you have to verify someone’s work, you’re essentially saying “I’m not sure if you’re gonna do this right”. When you feel you have to look over someone’s shoulder to make sure the work is ok, you can’t really say that you trust them.

Some people may think what I mean by “trust” is “faith”. While close, these are not the same. Faith is like trust except you believe without proof. Trust is something that builds up over time. Trust develops when you’ve seen evidence of someone’s performance and abilities, repeatedly, in many different situations. Trust takes time— it’s a key part of a strong relationship.

When someone says “trust but verify”, I take it to mean they don’t really trust someone’s ability yet, but they’re in the process of observing how someone works and what they’re able to do so that they can get to a state where they can trust this person.

On the other hand…

A less charitable take on “trust but verify” is that someone is pretending to trust, and hoping that people will believe them, when in fact, they don’t really trust people at all. I believe there are people who are unable to trust others in the workplace. These are the micromanagers, or worse: highly political people with closely-held personal agendas. Because they are unable trust others, they can never develop mutual trust with their reports or their managers. While they may reach positions of power and be able to flex and distort organizations, their ultimate impact and potential will always be limited. They may be skilled and successful within an organization, but they will never be truly great contributors or leaders.

In any case…

Whenever you hear someone say “trust but verify”, watch out! Trust me 🙂