July 7, 2022

By now, I’ve published a bunch of articles on Riverbank’s blogs, and I’m genuinely proud of them. But I was a bit nervous to start working here at Riverbank. I had my first run-in with imposter syndrome when I thought about how I’d be the one creating much of Riverbank’s content, when many of the people I’m working with are the ones writing the books I’m learning from. I put off writing any articles for a while, doing an excessive amount of research to try and bolster my confidence in my ability to add value. So how did I make the jump? I could tell everyone at Riverbank trusted me.  


Even just in my first weeks, it became clear to me that Riverbank has a strong culture of trust. Chris often tells me that he trusts my judgment on different decisions, which initially surprised me as the newest and youngest Bankie. In our recent strategy meeting, he also expressed deep appreciation for all of our executive consultants, since he knows he can trust them to follow through on their commitments. He doesn’t have to worry and can instead devote that energy to moving forward. 


Trust is crucial if you want your organization to thrive. According to neuroscientist Paul Zak 


Employees in high-trust organizations are more productive, have more energy at work, collaborate better with their colleagues, and stay with their employers longer than people working at low-trust companies. They also suffer less chronic stress and are happier with their lives, and these factors fuel stronger performance.” 


But sometimes creating a culture of trust can be hard. Chieh Huang, CEO of Boxed.com, learned this through some trial and error. In his hilarious TED talk “Confessions of a Recovering Micromanager,” Huang describes how difficult it was for him to let go of control as he went from a one-man company to being a CEO a few steps removed from the shipping floor. At first, he sought the control he was used to by micromanaging, telling his employees exactly how to write personalized notes to customers:  


I’m going to tell these folks how to write these notes. What pen to use, what color to use, what you should write, what font you should use, don’t mess up the margins, this has to be this big, this has to be that big. And pretty soon this goal of raising morale by breaking up the monotony in the fulfillment center actually became micromanagement, and people started complaining to HR.” 


After this feedback, Huang changed tactics: 


“So it was at that point in time, we said, “OK, you know? We hired these great, wonderful people, let’s give them the mission that’s ‘delight the customer,’ let’s give them the tool to do so, and that’s these notes — have at it.” 


Because Huang wasn’t dictating what each note should look like, they started to change — in great ways, like when some people brought their artistic talents to the task, drawing beautiful “minimurals” on the cards. Of course, there were some missteps, but Huang reflected and realized that failure is inevitable to some degree when you’re trusting people to develop their own ways of accomplishing goals. But he sees failure as “a milestone along that mission towards success,” where each misstep helps the organization learn and recalibrate. 


Huang recounts the ways Boxed.com has grown in ways that he never could have expected or would have been possible if he hadn’t decided to stop micromanaging and start trusting his people. When there’s a culture of trust, people are able to bring their passions, talents, and creativity to work and help the organization to flourish beyond the sum of its parts, and way beyond what any one person could direct.  


As I’ve spent more time with Riverbank, I’ve noticed that we follow all of Paul Zak’s strategies to manage for trust. In addition to explicitly saying that we trust each other, we have a culture that encourages us to get to know each other as whole people — because it’s a lot easier to trust someone you know. And the trust is genuine. I’ve had a bunch of latitude to job craft my role into exactly what energizes me — from seeking out learning opportunities to having a large amount of creative freedom to deciding when I want to write (I’m a night owl, so it’s midnight right now). So sometimes I still feel a twinge of nervousness, but knowing that everyone at Riverbank trusts me helps me trust myself. 


Alicia Haun is a content marketing intern at Riverbank Consulting Group. Alicia is a senior at the University of Michigan, where she also works with the Center for Positive Organizations at the Ross School of Business. Alicia is passionate about the field of positive organizational psychology and looks forward to helping work become a place of flourishing. 

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