[Opinion] A New Mental Model of Trust

The mental model for trust is broken in workplaces.

The old model looked like this: I (an employee) work for you (the employer) loyally for a period of time (X) and, with enough reciprocation, I stay with you for the remainder of my career.

That mental model is one that only works under the specific economic conditions of the 1940’s through the 1970’s in America. However, since there is one thing that America does really well (the marketing of America to every other country in the world) as the mental model rubs up against changing economic reality, there is friction everywhere, between those people who want that model, and those people who are trying to create a new model. Employees at organizations of all kinds are in the midst of a great cultural, economic, philosophical, and social destruction of that old mental model and at the same moment are carving out a new mental model.

This new model (right now) looks like this: I (an employee) work for you (the employer) but not so loyally, and I take my accumulated intellectual capital from your workplace to another workplace, whenever it suits me, because you may not be around in five years.

There’s a lot of talk from employees, organizations, management thought leaders, and others about the virtues of disruption, innovation, and change in Silicon Valley, Washington D.C., and the media centers of Los Angeles and New York City. But if you go to places outside of Madison, Wisconsin, or outside of Peoria, Illinois, or travel four hours north of New York City and talk to employees of organizations still struggling to maintain a semblance of the old model, the virtues of disruption, innovation, and change that get talked about breathlessly in those other places, get addressed in tones of defeatism, regret, and anger.

This tone and its lived reality is also a mental model. And the employees who exist inside the new mental model may out innovate, out disrupt, and out change the employees longing for a return to the old mental model; but, there must be ways to develop every potential employee together, without brutal economic and social Darwinism being the answer.

Here are the three ways to shift organizational mental models:

Access to the means of production is the linchpin: As more and more resources, time, and talent gravitates towards developing digital products, services, and processes there are questions about whether “everyone” can be a computer scientist. This is a red herring argument. Access to the means of production means high speed Internet in a neighborhood, whether you’re 50 miles outside of Overland, Kansas, or in the heart of downtown Miami. Such access shifts the mental model of ‘The-Internet-as-an-Entertainment-Vehicle’ to ‘The Internet- as-a- Economic-Development-Vehicle.’

Valuing and incentivizing emotional labor:I talk about this repeatedly, but it bears writing yet again: The mental model of what constitutes work in the workplace has to shift towards valuing and incentivizing employees who can collaborate, get along, and manage conflict in a competent and healthy fashion in a dynamic, globally competitive environment. This is the core of laboring with mind and emotions, versus laboring with hands and muscles. Both can be rewarded, but the incentives toward the labor which can be repeated until a person is on death’s door must be made infinitely more robust in workplaces.

Hiring for mental models rather than personality traits: As algorithms and computers have entered more and more into the hiring matrix of organizations, more and more creative, innovative, and change oriented people with growth-mindsets are abandoning all hope of being hired in some organizations, and are migrating to large cities where their value can be rewarded. Abandoning all of the hiring tools is not the point. The point is, how people perceive their agency in the world, based on what they’ve accomplished in the past (stuff that’s not listed on the resume and doesn’t get picked up by the algorithm), will matter more and more for discovering and hiring employees of value.

If organizations can shift their own mental models around these three areas, then they will survive and thrive as the century continues to unwind, with employees all over the world, who will be loyal, trustworthy, innovative, and change oriented. This new mental model may share some aspects with the old model, but it will survive future economic, social, technological, and cultural shocks which we can’t see coming.

-Peace Be With You All-

Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT: jsorrells@hsconsultingandtraining.com
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