When productivity is measured, productivity improves.  When productivity is measured, reported, and shared the rate of improvement accelerates.  How many of you believe this quote?  I have proof that it’s true!

Back in the early 1990s I had the pleasure of taking a job with Garber Bros. Precision Concrete in Ohio. The owner, Steve Garber, and I began a quest to completely transform our operations through information. What we realized was that the lack of facts when looking at costs and overruns created many opinions. Most of the information was fabricated to hide the truth and caused focus to be directed to the negatives rather than on fixing the problems. What we needed was a measuring system based on real units of measure for the tasks our employees were doing. Percentages lie—they were little more than guesses of where we were on a project.

We decided first that the information had to be accurate and second that it needed to be timely. Asking a construction worker to do “paperwork” was just crazy—they hated doing it and therefore their reports didn’t reflect reality. Accurate meant that we had to build a system that was consistent and simple for field workers to learn and use. Timely meant that all the data had to be included. As most of you know, when looking at accounting system reports the current week’s hours are always missing. How can we make good decisions based on yesterday’s news?

For all of this to happen we needed to build trust. We established three simple principles to earn the trust of our employees—basic human values that are easy to overlook, but essential in building loyal employees:

  1. Never mess with an employee’s money.
  2. Never ask an employee to do something that you couldn't, shouldn't, or wouldn't do.
  3. Never lie to an employee.

Most company owners would say they’d never break any of these principles, but many times we don’t realize we’re violating them because we don’t put ourselves in our employees’ shoes.

For example, with Principle #1, how are employee hours collected? When overburdened supervisors are rushed for time and make reporting errors, payroll has incorrect information and checks are then short. Sure, those errors can be corrected, but the employees have to wait to get the money they've earned. And for those who are living paycheck-to-paycheck this can create the feeling that the company doesn't care. For companies to build employee trust, they need to make sure that everyone is paid accurately and on time.

Principle #2 is often unconsciously overlooked as well. Management sometimes forgets what it was like to be in the field. When budgets constrain, managers may send four employees to do a job that requires six. Again, employees will feel that the company doesn't care and is working them beyond reason, or even putting them in harm’s way if safety practices are being compromised. Management must always be realistic about an employee’s capabilities.

Principle #3 is perhaps the most important. When you lie, even if it’s just a “white lie,” employees will see the truth and doubt your word from then on. When you tell the truth, even when it’s uncomfortable, employees will respect you. Be honest and you can expect honesty in return.

Trust is the foundation of our measuring system, which was designed based on these three principles. Next week we will begin discussing in detail the solution we built using technology and the benefits it has provided for over 25 years.

We welcome your thoughts and comments.

Lee Clark and Steve Garber are founders of Gocorp, LLC (copyright 2014) and PayCrew (copyright 1999).