High-Trust Culture #7: Don’t Fear Sacrifice


March 3, 2014 /LinkedIn/ – We make sacrifices for the things we care about most.

Determined students spend late nights poring over books and grinding out papers, missing out on fun and often racking up debt.

Young entrepreneurs forgo a normal social life, locking themselves in to gain the hundreds of extra hours they need.

Parents give up valuable mid-career time to be closer to their growing kids.

It’s difficult to make a lot of progress in life without sacrifice. No one’s development is complete without learning how to make trade-offs, to steer away from easier, safer choices; to sacrifice the present for the future. People make sacrifices everywhere: in all organizations, in healthy relationships and at every stage of life. In most functional families, bonds grow and strengthen precisely because so much is required, and given.

So, if you want to build a high-trust organization, don’t be afraid of asking people to sacrifice—as long as you’re willing to sacrifice, too.

Naturally, this always feels a bit risky—you don’t want to be a slave driver, or to demand more than people can reasonably give. But if your vision is clear, if you have integrity, if you show respect for others, if you empower them and hold them accountable, you’ll be surprised at the sacrifices people are willing to make. If people trust their leaders, their colleagues and themselves, they’ll be more than willing to take the extra risk, to stay the extra hour, to sacrifice the tepid for the torrid and the routine for the remarkable.

People don’t choose their sacrifices lightly. Here are a few ways to ensure that what you’re asking of them will be worth their while:

1) The experience will be irreplaceable. People need to know that, if they give up something to work with you, it will mean clear and valuable progress for their life and career. If you ask for sacrifice, make sure it’s motivated by a goal the team would be proud to achieve. Whether it’s building a great new product, creating innovative new policy, or serving a community in need – people want tangible, compelling goals to move towards, not vague problems to move away from. If the goal is simply to avoid a bad outcome, the results of sacrifice are less reliable, less motivating, and less likely to result in enduring trust between colleagues.

2) Sacrifices aren’t about quid pro quo. Making sacrifices just to build up chits can be toxic, and result in resentment down the road. If you find that you’re promising outcomes with numbers attached, or this favor for that, watch out – that’s not true sacrifice. If people are always “keeping track” and expecting to “even accounts”, they’re not really sacrificing: they’re investing in a reward. When team members are building trust, the rewards of sacrifice include deeper relationships, stronger teams, greater opportunities and more meaningful work. These kinds of sacrifices have intrinsic benefits.

3) Don’t ask for too much. Your team members are parents, partners and children themselves, so choose carefully what you ask of them, and make sure they want to give it. You can’t compel constant sacrifice without wearing people out, frustrating them, and eventually blowing up all your hard-won trust. Although this article is part of a trust series, asking for sacrifice is not a “technique” to build trust. Life in organizations is not a blind trust kind of exercise, where you ask people to close their eyes and lean backwards, or follow you into a forest. Instead, you’re asking people to give of themselves for something they believe in, that will benefit them, and that will be an experience they’ll remember and value.

Asking others to sacrifice is not something to take lightly. It should come with an ironclad commitment from you, the leader, to do the same. A leader willing to sacrifice will find that others are far more willing to follow suit. Sacrificing something short term for something that will last, that will bring meaning and camaraderie, feels less like a burden than an opportunity to grow. That’s the kind of sacrifice that builds trust within your organization.

By Joel Peterson