Would you like to have seriously loyal employees? So loyal that you could trust them with information that could really hurt you? You can, and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has figured out how: Start by trusting them and being completely open. They will reward that trust.
I realize this may sound Pollyanna-like, but it's true and Facebook is the proof. Every Friday, Zuckerberg gathers Facebook employees for a no-holds-barred Q&A where he answers questions about anything and everything. All Facebook employees are welcome to attend, in person or by video stream, and those who can't make it can watch a recorded version for a short time afterward as well. That means all 16,000 Facebook employees have access to inside information about the company's workings and plans, new products under consideration, and anything else they want to know.
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How often do they leak any of this valuable information to curious investors or reporters? Almost never. It's so rare that Recode reported this week on a leak that happened back in July 2015. An employee had told the press about Facebook's plans for its A.I.-powered chat assistant, and Zuck was angry. The responsible employee would be found and fired, he vowed at one of the Friday Q&As. The following Friday, he reported it had been done. It's likely that other Facebook employees helped turn the culprit in.
Now consider Apple. That company keeps its new-product plans carefully secret from its rank-and-file employees and even employs its own private security force to do things such as forcibly retrieve iPhone prototypes that have gone astray. And yet leaks about Apple products and plans (such as the rumored Apple car) are so frequent there are multiple websites devoted to tracking them. One such site, MacRumors, recently published its top 10 list of Apple-related leaks for 2016. Which of the two tech giants has taken tougher steps to lock down confidential information? And yet, which one has actually done a better job of keeping confidential information under wraps?
There are a lot of good reasons why trusting employees leads to greater employee loyalty and can help you preserve confidential information better than strict policing can. Here are just a few of them:
1. Breaking rules is no fun if it's too easy.
I observed this years ago when my boyfriend and I boarded a bus in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It was a cold day, and several of us had been waiting a while at the bus stop. The driver got out to take a break, but rather than leaving us in the cold he simply left the door to the bus open. He'd have no way of knowing who did or didn't pay the fare, but everyone did anyway. Then something amazing happened. As the bus pulled away, one lady asked the driver if today was the day that a new higher fare went into effect. "Yes, it is," he said. She got up and put some extra money into the fare box. And then every passenger on that bus, including my boyfriend (who was paying for both of us), did the same.
It was a great lesson in the power of trust. Make it clear to people that you are leaving the door open for them to do right or wrong without your supervision, and most people will respond by doing right.
2. Your trust is a precious commodity that employees will want to protect.
That's what's happened at Facebook. The company's employees revere Zuckerberg, who is known to be shy and not a naturally good public speaker (as these videos show). But he comes to these Q&As and talks for more than an hour, visibly relaxed and feeling comfortable among his tribe.
Facebook employees set a high value on this opportunity to see and talk to their CEO in this extremely open setting, and they don't like anyone threatening that. This is why many of them told Recode that they tended to police one another, and peer pressure from fellow employees was enough to make most Facebookers keep their company's secrets. That dynamic serves Zuckerberg really well.
3. A company that runs on trust runs better than one that doesn't.
A couple of years ago, a very effective CEO told me that people would ask him why his company did so much better than its peers. The explanation was simple, he said: He trusted his employees. "Trust is the secret sauce," is how he put it.
That's still excellent advice, and it's continued to work for Zuckerberg, in part because he doesn't let the occasional betrayal of that trust, such as the chat assistant leak, destroy the open and honest relationship he's established with the vast majority of the people who work for him. Yes, there will be occasions when someone you've trusted will turn out not to deserve it. And you should react swiftly and harshly when that happens, just as Zuckerberg did. But keep those occasions in perspective and stay focused on the big picture of the confidence you've created with the people who work with you. If you can do that, you'll wind up with employees as fiercely loyal as Facebook's are.
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