Importance of trust in creating committed employees

The view that staff are a company’s most important resource is, in theory, a vital part of today’s corporate model. However, this has proved difficult to implement in reality. Active leadership is worth the effort as it has many corporate benefits. Recent research indicates that, for example, trust between employer and employee is crucial in creating employees’ commitment. This is one of the findings of social scientist Richard Berglund at the University of Gothenburg.

Background

Richard Berglund, a social scientist at the Department of Work Science at the University of Gothenburg, followed three companies during four years for his doctoral thesis while these companies introduced ‘lean production’. Lean production entails a continuous process of quality and improvement and ‘just in time’ logistics. Respect, teamwork and the participation of a supervisor are also important parts of the concept. This places high demands on the whole organisation to be active in its own development. Therefore, involving the employees is of vital importance when introducing lean production.

Aims and methodology

The three companies which Berglund studied stated that they wanted to introduce lean production and stressed that this development would depend, to a high degree, on the commitment of the employees. Berglund states that the notion of the employees as a ‘company’s most valuable assets’ is widespread, even though employees in the industrial sector describe their work as more monotonous and with less options for career development compared with other sectors. This prompted Berglund to study how the companies went about introducing these changes, how well they managed it, and the factors which influenced their success.

The studies were conducted during 2006–2009, utilising interviews, seminars and surveys in order to measure the level of employees’ commitment and how the introduction of lean production progressed. The companies were chosen, not for their representativeness, but for:

  • their explicit commitment to introducing lean production and to including their employees in this development;
  • creating an opportunity to improve knowledge on how companies work with and encourage employees’ commitment.

The study includes a brief literature background of the importance of employee commitment, which indicates that it has a ‘positive influence on productivity, quality and success in change activities’. However, Berglund stresses that the relationship does not necessarily indicate that commitment is always profitable, simply that is possible to create a situation where commitment is profitable.

Findings

Berglund’s findings were analysed based on ten theoretical themes, which were derived from literature on organisational development. These 10 themes were: vision and strategy, mutual trust, top management’s active participation, long-term thinking, individual adaptation, responsibility and authority in teams, influence, challenge, learning and sharing the benefits.

The results indicate that these themes interact and create synergies. The second theme, mutual trust, is especially important as it reinforces and is reinforced by the others. Berglund also stresses the importance of the third theme, the top management’s active participation, for enabling many of the other themes. Concepts such as organisational culture and corporate culture are difficult to influence as they are results of multiple simultaneous processes, which can be both independent and dependent on each other.

Changing to lean production creates a huge challenge for the management of the company, although the findings suggest that building on positive forces in the beginning can improve other aspects of the organisation in the long run. The key words are consistence and persistence to ensure that the ‘new way of thinking’, which lean production entails, builds on the traditional way of thinking and enriches it, thus creating a positive synthesis.

Commentary

The research provided by Richard Berglund provides a unique insight into the world of organisational development and what is needed for lean production. This research shows how complex this process is, that the culture of an organisation and the commitment of the employees depend on so many factors and therefore are difficult to influence. This research answers questions regarding the importance of the relationship between the employees and the employer, yet gives rise to more questions on how to create and maintain this benign relationship.

Reference

Berglund, R. (2010), Commitment wanted – How three manufacturing companies seek their workers’ contribution when implementing lean production (21Kb PDF), University of Gothenburg, Department of Work Science.

Mats Kullander and Kristian Holmberg, Oxford Research

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