Mosher notes that acquisition of this trust requires many good deeds to build, but one incident betraying this trust will knock a person back to square one.
“[Trustworthiness] is very perceptual,” Mosher says. “It only takes a minor offense to lose it. Management may not see an incident as a trust issue while the employees may see it otherwise.”
Decision making can also be impacted by management’s inconsistency. If a policy says one thing, but a manager or supervisor contradicts it: “This is what I’m asking from you [safety], but this is what I want now [a fast load-out].” What’s the employee to think?
“The brain has problems resolving [inconsistency] so the employee will do one of three things: They will follow along with orders and disregard conflict; do it safely or not do anything,” she explains.
This uncomfortable feeling caused by holding conflicting ideas simultaneously is known as cognitive dissonance.
“I think this is an applicable theory — especially in regard to quality,” Mosher says. “If management says, ‘I want all loads accepted no matter how wet they are’ — but they also push grain quality — will an employee accept an unsatisfactory load or reject it? Many employees dismiss what they know will keep corn in condition and choose to go with what they’ve been told. Others choose a third option, non-decision, which follows closely with the theory.”
Mosher reached out to grain handlers to gather supportive evidence for her theories. She presented 400 employees at three Midwest grain elevators with a five-point questionnaire to measure their perceptions of trust, safety, and quality; and then asked them to complete two separate decision simulations. The scenarios were developed by a board of safety and grain handling representatives and involved realistic safety and quality scenarios meant to gauge employee decision-making patterns and the thought process they used to make decision choices.
Three questions guided Mosher’s research:
- Do trust levels affect employee perceptions of safety and quality?
- Are employee perceptions of trust, safety and quality related to the employee’s decision choice in safety and quality decision scenarios?
- What factors do employees use to make safety and quality decisions?
Computerized decision simulations presented safety and quality scenarios to participants asking if they would take shortcuts if their supervisors pressured them to do so; and if they would follow directions or take action to better preserve the quality of a stored grain.
Mosher explored two levels of administration — supervisory and management — to determine the different actions employees take when evaluating management. Since employees have irregular contact with upper management, managers have limited opportunities to make a good impression; compared to supervisors, whom employees have daily contact.
“I found that if employees have positive perception of their supervisor, they do with management too,” she says. “Management makes the policy, but the supervisor interprets the policy.”
To measure the results, the hypothetical scenarios were given four decision choices in a matrix format. (See Table 1.) This structuring required compromise on the part of the 178 employees who did respond since “choices were typically viewed very positively under one factor, but very negatively under another.” Using the information contained within the matrix squares, employees viewed the information and then selected a decision choice allowing Mosher to view each employee’s decision as well as the information they used to make the choice.
Results show connection
Grain elevator employees surveyed on their perceptions of trust, safety and quality provided Mosher with results she found surprising. (See Table 2.)
Many respondents would choose to confront the supervisor or report the supervisor’s unsafe actions to management, both decisions which support long-term safety not only for the individual employee, but for other employees within the organization as well. In contrast, in regards to quality, the cognitive dissonance-influenced decision to “pass the buck” and leave the decision making for someone else was evident.