The Secret to a Successful Business: Trust

​When XPLANE launched our unlimited vacation policy more than a year ago, nearly everyone outside of the company was skeptical.

The responses were typical. “We couldn’t do that here. If I gave my team unlimited vacation, I would never see them again.” “It works for XPLANE because you can trust your team not to abuse it, but that just wouldn’t work at my company. People here couldn’t handle it.”
What makes XPLANE so special? Why can we trust our staff with a completely flexible work environment and unlimited paid time off (PTO) when other companies feel compelled to enforce a stricter “butts-in-chairs” policy?
This may sound too simple, but the difference is we can trust our employees because we do trust our employees. XPLANE believes in what I like to call a “trust-first mentality.”
Unlimited PTO is phased into our employee benefits after the first year, but our completely flexible work environment starts from day one. If you are part of the team, we trust that you are an all-star, and you will always be treated as such.

Our “trust-first” way of thinking is backed by data.

It’s proven that happiness and performance increase when trust is extended. The National Bureau of Economic Research says that a 10% increase in trust in an organization had the same impact on employee satisfaction as a 36% increase in pay.
In an interview with Harvard Business Review around the release of his book Team of Teams, General Stanley McChrystal discussed the importance of extending and displaying trust from day one He told HBR, “I try to exhibit trust in small ways. In a briefing, if somebody asks me for a decision, I might turn to a subordinate and ask them to handle it. I don’t ask for specifics, and I’m very overt—almost theatrical—about it. Everybody else sees it. The message is ‘I trust you guys to handle this stuff,’ and that can grow virally throughout an organization.”

You can’t just say you trust them. You have to prove it.

Importantly, trust is hollow if it’s not extended fully. Many companies say they believe in and value trust, but then they require complicated approvals for a vacation day, or they install video cameras or Internet monitoring. When employers do that, they are verbally touting trust, but their actions say, “I can only trust you if I can see and approve of what you are doing.”
It’s hard to imagine that kind of monitoring outside of work. “Of course I trust my best friend, I just have to watch where she goes all the time and check her phone records to prove I can trust her.” People who acted like that might find themselves friendless pretty quickly.
Employment relationships are the same: if organizations want engaged and happy employees, leaders must find ways to not only extend trust but also expand autonomy. For XPLANE, having a completely flexible work environment is a way to do that. XPLANE employees embrace a culture where we meet client deadlines while delighting and wowing our customers. With the flexible work environment, we convey to our employees, “I trust you to both meet deadlines and produce world-class quality work. Everything else is up to you.”
If employees are confident that we trust them to take whatever time they need to recharge as long as the work gets done on time, the work gets done on time. If they know that leadership believes the quality remains high whether you finish a project from the studio or from your sofa, the quality never suffers.  
In fact, more often than not, our well-rested employees produce even higher quality projects than expected because the more trust that is given, the better everyone performs.  
We were thrilled when Fortune Magazine recognized XPLANE as #3 in the U.S. for flexibility. It is recognition that we are on the right path in providing trust in our employees. Our goal is not to be the anomaly; instead, we’d like to start a conversation that might lead to a movement to change the future of work.   
We’ll start the conversation by encouraging leaders to ask themselves, what would my company look like if we allowed complete flexibility? What behaviors would I have to change or develop to make this happen? How would I feel to work at a place that trusted me even when I wasn’t anywhere in sight?

We invite you to follow our series as we explore workplace flexibility and trust and how we make it work for XPLANE. Until then, we encourage company leaders to look at their current policies and philosophies regarding flexibility and how that may be reinforcing or eroding trust in their organizations.

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November 23, 2016
Katie Augsburger