Against Trust

Work is generally better in high-trust environments, it is one of those success breeding success things. However you cannot simply get to high-trust because it is mutually beneficial to both parties. During the trust gaining stage things must be proven.

One of the nice things about working in IT (rather like studying for a Maths degree) is that things don’t have to be taken on trust. Sometimes it is convenient to but if needed to you can often make the effort to show that some thing happens exactly as you said it does. That’s the joy of unit-testing for example. Scala language advocates have also talked about the determinate nature of its static code checking. The code has to be right, otherwise it wouldn’t compile.

So in general I like trust, because its productive; but I don’t like to trust because I don’t feel I should have to. It should always be possible to show that what you are saying is true. Of course in consultancy that kind of proof is hard to come by so instead of absolute proof you instead have to come up with metrics that you can measure to allow you to fail fast instead of wasting a lot of time (and trust!) on an idea that isn’t going to pan out. This means you do not have to ask people to trust your ideas, merely agree some criteria for judging success and failure at minimum cost.

These ideas are some touchstones of how I have come to see effective IT within organisations. They are also what I feel informs me in a recent debate going through ThoughtWorks about Pay Transparency. You can find an effective starting point in Matt Buckland’s blog and what I think is an excellent statement of why Pay Transparency is a good idea in Francisco’s blog.

For me trust is good thing but should never be a necessary thing. Matt’s final point in his post is the most important as I think it is what really informs his view on pay transparency:

In all of these discussions the culture of transparency is held as the ultimate goal of an organisation and I’d wonder if this is the case. In my opinion it is a culture of trust we should strive for. Employees who feel they are paid fairly, because they have effectively sold the “exploitation of their labour” with full knowledge of the market in which that labour is sold will be better able to realise their own position … but instead trust they are given a fair salary based on their own personal circumstance and that the company they work for will aid them in their strive to grow and develop as an individual – salary, the nuts and bolts measure of their value, will become secondary.

From my point of view I want a culture of transparency because I believe that from it a culture of trust emerges. I don’t want to have to trust anyone, I would rather they proved what they say. In exactly the same way as I have to build trust with clients. In exactly the same way as a client perhaps trusts my code but can inspect my test reports at any time.

In my experience the processes and procedures around pay in the industry have been exceedingly opaque. There are so many variables and factors that pay is effectively arbitrary. I have often thought that pay really only reflects the ability of an organisation to function effectively without you.

In this context salary transparency is really the most important thing you can do to build trust around pay as few organisations can articulate the process behind salaries except that it is down to the abilities of individuals to negotiate for themselves and devil take the hindmost.

This post title says “Against Trust”, but it is really “Against Blind Trust” which is what people who reject Pay Transparency but forward no alternative mechanism are really asking for.


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