Trust over performance: Hiring the Navy Seal way

It’s an ideal situation to get a person who is high on both – performance and trust. But what if one has to choose between the two. Senior HR leaders share their opinion on this

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In the United States Navy Sea, Air, and Land Teams, commonly known as Navy SEALs, preference is given to trust over performance during hiring and promotions despite the fact that they have a high performing job and in high pressure situations.

However in the performance oriented corporate sector, does the same rule apply. In fact it will be interesting to gather opinion from Indian corporate leaders, whether or not they believe in this proposition – Trust over performance.

Every company would like to hire a person who stands tall on both the parameters –performance and trust. However, that’s a very ideal person to have – many times the hiring manager may come across a person who is high on performance but low on trust or the vice-versa. Who would he/she go for?

“We have developed a hundred tests and skills to identify the ‘High Performers’. However, we have not developed any meaningful and significant tests to identify ‘High on Trust’ people”

Adil Malia, CEO, The Firm

Rahul Matta, CHRO, Quick Heal is in favour of the latter. “A low performer with high trust is always recommended. The person can be mentored and coached to improve performance.

However, on the other side, a high performer with a low trust will be more focussed on self-goals and will prioritise himself than his team members, which is not a healthy situation,” he says.

“Therefore, I believe, trust is a very critical part of the formation of a successful team,” Matta adds.

Senior HR leader and now CEO of The Firm, Adil Malia, has an interesting take on this. He compares it with the quintessential ‘Volume versus Values’ debate particularly in the people and leadership space.

With ‘volume’ he refers to numbers and performance and with ‘values’, he means trust.

“Despite the ultimate outcome being known and well-rehearsed in our minds, the debate keeps coming up every day,” he quips.

“Trust is reciprocal and happens over a period of time while working together”

Emmanuel David, MD, Grid International India

According to Malia, performance has direct association with the ‘balance sheet behaviours’, those that contribute to business such as numbers, delivery of results, profits, EPS, ROCI, sales numbers, market shares etc. On the other hand, values are associated with the critical ‘off the balance sheet behaviours’ of leaders and people such as trust, confidence, empathy and interpersonal skills which underlace and drive the morals and morale of the people in the Company. “The former is a short-term winner and the latter is the long-term winner,” Malia asserts.

Jayesh Sampat, a former CHRO, and senior HR leader voices a similar opinion, “Performance can be taught, learned, and improved. Trust can only be earned and is much more valuable. Performance is about competence, and trust is about character,” he says.

“Would you work with someone who’s very good at what he does but can’t be trusted?” he questions.

Elaborating further, Sampat says, “It’s a specific type of trust that’s important.”

He refers to vulnerability-based trust which means that the person is open, and respectfully honest with others, thus creating a psychologically safe environment within the team to assure its success.

“Performance can be taught, learned, and improved. Trust can only be earned and is much more valuable”

Jayesh Sampat, a former CHRO, and senior HR leader

“It is trust that goes beyond ‘I trust that he’ll finish the work on time,’ or ‘I trust that he’ll do a good job.’

Another senior HR leader and former director, Tata Management Training Institute, and now MD, Grid International India, Emmanuel David opines that trust is reciprocal and happens over a period of time while working together.

“It takes a little while to discover someone as trustworthy,” he says.

But how do you develop trust?

“We have seen in situations, some people say that I didn’t trust someone. Whenever somebody is able to show his vulnerable side, the other tends to trust. When one is vulnerable, people tend to see your authentic side. And the other takes up the responsibility to cover up that vulnerability, and that builds and increases trust between them,” David says.

Malia compares a high performer and low on trust person to a toxic leader or the influencing inspirer.

“Consciously hiring such toxic leadership is like knowingly watering your tree by pouring contagion in the roots. Such a tree will collapse, ultimately. It’s just a matter of time,” he quips.

“High performer with a low trust will be more focussed on self-goals and will prioritise himself than his team members, which is not a healthy situation”

Rahul Matta, CHRO, Quick Heal

Malia raises an important question, “We have developed a hundred tests and skills to identify the ‘High Performers’. However, we have not developed any meaningful and significant tests to identify ‘High on Trust’ people.”

This is why often companies end up hiring people in critical and important positions who get subsequently eliminated for toxic styles or ethics and Code violations.

The recent NSE fraud where arrests are made, the ICICI CEO scam that was unearthed, the former Mckinsey head arrested in US for Insider Trading – don’t they all evidence the proven hypothesis?

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