The MPW Insiders Network is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for, “How do you build trust with employees when you're the new boss?” is written by Judy Marks, CEO of Siemens USA.
I’ve been the “new boss” many times now during my career, and have a principle that has guided me through every transition: The best way to build trust with employees is to prove that you, the boss, trust them.
Here are three ways I’ve applied this principle over the past 30-plus years working for global U.S. businesses:
Ask for help
I started my career at IBM’s former federal systems division. I was a systems engineer, and after a few years there, I was given the opportunity to manage a department I had been working in. We specialized in product support.
This was a fascinating challenge. Up until that point, I had been focused on my own work and assignments. Now, I had to get work done through others and learn how to delegate. Plus, I had to do that with colleagues who were far more experienced and older than me.
At first it seemed like a recipe for disaster, but I quickly saw it was the opposite. I just had to accept that it was okay not to be the smartest person in the room. And as I came to terms with this, I realized how lucky I was: I saw that I was surrounded by people who could teach me how to be a strong leader. I went to the most senior, experienced employees and asked them for guidance. I was the boss, yet they were the mentors. That really helped show me the way.
What I learned was: Never stop asking for help. We all have to be committed to lifelong learning. And this shouldn't come across as a weakness. It builds trust, too, because everyone on your team feels valued. They’re not only engaged in the process of making decisions; they’re actually making them. When I ask for their help and gather a recommendation from them, I act on it, and we work together to implement it.
Motivate your team
I've always had a passion for startups. I like to grow businesses within large enterprises and figure out how to enter new markets. I’ve found that in order to be successful at this, you need to bring together talented people, have a lot of allies, and do a lot of motivating. It should never be about just telling someone how to do their job. If you hold your employees accountable and simultaneously treat them with respect and trust them to excel and serve customers, they will not only reciprocate that trust; they’ll also deliver the results that your customers and shareholders are expecting.
My responsibility comes down to setting clear goals and removing obstacles in the organization. I also have to know when to push and how far to push. The question then is: How do you really motivate people?
What has worked for me—and what has been a lot of fun—is celebrating small, early victories. In other words, don’t wait until the end goal has been achieved. Instead, revel in the progress you’re making. It’s impossible to grow into a billion-dollar business a billion dollars at a time. You have to start somewhere and build it. But if you celebrate milestones along the way, your employees can feel the momentum. And if you can maintain that momentum and scale it up, it’s magical. Your team continues to have a startup mindset and your business continues to grow.
It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. For example, we hung a bell on the wall of the office. When you had an order, you’d go ring the bell, and everyone on the floor would hear it and get excited. I was really happy recently to see one of our offices using this same tried-and-true technique. This may sound outdated in our digital world, but small actions make a difference.
Walk in your employees’ shoes
This year has already brought me my biggest challenge yet. For the first time, I’ve been asked to lead an entire enterprise. I’ve tried to make clear to our U.S workforce that the perspective I value most is theirs. I’m one of them, so to speak—and I really am! I’ve been with them every day these past six years trying to grow the business and deliver solutions to customers, and that’s still what drives me. The only difference, really, is that now I get to work with everyone in the company. I’m really honored to have that opportunity.
Certain things that might not seem like that big of a deal are really important to me. For instance, when I travel around the country and visit offices and manufacturing sites, I try to introduce myself to almost everybody. I go up and down as many rows as possible, walk around the manufacturing floor, shake our employees’ hands, and make it personal. And while I can only take on so many mentees, I’ve always been willing to give anyone an hour. When we talk, I learn about their experiences and offer any advice I have.
It’s not enough to just be in your office, especially when you’re the new boss. Employees will trust you and you’ll get better results if they see you’re one of them and understand their day-to-day reality. Any boss can say this or write this, but ultimately, the way you carry yourself and your interactions will prove whether this is real or fiction. You have to invest your time and energy into being actively approachable. Lucky for me, that’s my favorite part of my job.