Maintaining Trust During Uncertain Times: A One Minute Interview with David Bugea of Arvest Bank

David Bugea manages leadership development and diversity training programs for Arvest Bank, a full-service financial institution that operates over 230 locations in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma. In this One Minute Interview, Bugea discusses the importance of trust and collaboration during uncertain economic times.

Q.  What are the top issues you are looking at in 2010?

A.  Obviously, what lies ahead in our economy is on everyone’s mind. Beyond that, as a financial services organization we wouldn’t be surprised to see more frequent and more significant changes to our industry’s regulations in the coming years. While it’s something we’re accustomed to, the magnitude of these regulations may require more careful communication to our customers, as well as internally.

From the viewpoint of one who develops organizational talent, it doesn’t matter which industry you’re in – issues such as labor law changes, generational differences and the ever-changing rate of unemployment require new competencies from both leaders and the individuals they serve.

The lessons of Situational Leadership® II teach us that individuals often experience regression and performance issues when faced with personal and professional distractions. Our associates (employees) are no different than other people who work in our economy. As much as we may reassure them of their job security at Arvest, their thoughts may be focused on what will happen if their spouse loses a job, or if their home decreases in value.

That’s why it’s vital that open communication continues to be a part of our corporate culture and environment here at Arvest. While it may sound unusual for business leaders to be aware of personal issues in associates’ lives, it’s often an important part of understanding why regression is occurring. 

Q.  From your perspective, what are some of the barriers that get in the way of trust and collaboration in organizations?

A.  As some businesses – and entire industries – have endured losses in recent years, there is a natural tendency for business and government leaders to try preventing or limiting losses in the future by building checks and balances into the system. If we define this action with terms used in SLII®, we’d realize that any sort of checks and balances, limits or regulations – whatever you want to call them – are simply a form of increased direction on the part of a leader.

Now take a second look at SLII®; in particular, the Needs Model. When people perform satisfactorily and suddenly their performance comes up short, they need more than just direction. They need direction and support. In other words, people need leaders who listen, not just someone to tell them what to do. Most importantly, this is a time when people need to know why.

Leaders don’t always do this, and there is a risk of weakened trust any time you take away an individual’s autonomy and introduce limits. It sends a message of, “Hold on, you’re doing something that requires me to make sure you’re not messing up.” But if leaders simply take the time to explain that certain limits protect the individual and the organization’s long-term ability to provide them with a livelihood, such limits may be met with less resistance. Bottom line: Never underestimate an individual’s ability to see the big picture! 

Q.  If you were going to offer some words of advice to your peers as possible ways to stay ahead of the curve for 2010, what personal suggestions would you have?

A.  Professionalism is important, but don’t let that make you blind to the fact that, like you, the individuals you serve have passion and emotion. That’s a double-edged sword; the passion and emotion you value in an individual’s approach to a task can also stand in the way of performance when personal issues affect commitment. So my advice is to be aware that economic and employment trends affecting your business will often have a similar impact on your team members and their families. You can’t always change that, but you can be supportive.

Finally, it’s natural for leaders to provide more direction – more handholding, more rulemaking – both during and immediately after challenging times. Such behavior may actually be expected. But don’t forget that a return to directive behavior makes individuals feel more scrutinized. When this happens it can put the individual on the defensive; if a leader fails to be supportive and listen, trust will inevitably suffer. And when trust suffers, the resulting barrier of communication results in an environment where things get done not because of collaboration, but in spite of it.

That’s why it’s essential for leaders to pause, step back and focus on the use of supportive behaviors to build trust and collaboration. Yes, we’ve got to keep an eye on the bottom line to ensure our organization’s long-term success. But don’t put aside the importance of engaging with associates in two-way conversations. Now more than ever, it’s time to let those you serve know that you listen to their concerns, and most importantly, that you care!

The One Minute Interview is LeaderChat’s new monthly series featuring interviews with some of today’s most intriguing HR-focused thought leaders and practitioners. David Bugea is a featured speaker at this year’s Blanchard Summit 2010.

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