It's Always Been a Matter of Trust

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Yesterday, Vala Afshar tweeted out the following

... to which Paul Graham of YCombinator fame responded:

I beg to disagree with Paul, but not how you would expect.

One of the valuable intellectual behaviours one learns from studying Talmud is to analyze a situation from all directions, teasing out all potential logical explanations, no matter how strange or absurd they appear at first.

If all of the following is true:

  1. A company treats employee independent control of time - their own and others' - to a greater degree than cash;
  2. Time is at least as valuable a commodity as cash.

Then you have two options:

  1. "Companies should have someone who watches over time the way CFOs watch over money." (Paul's tweet)
  2. Companies should learn to trust employees with cash the way they do with time.

I do not disagree that employee time is the most valuable commodity. I disagree that the solution is to trust employees less with time; instead we should trust them more with money.

Indeed, that was my response:

Of course, no company trusts any level of employee with unlimited cash or time. A new intern cannot call a company-wide meeting; even the CEO must go to the Board to spend $1BN.

Yes, you want a purchasing department so that you can negotiate the best deals across the company. Yes, you want a CFO so you know how much cash you actually have on hand and manage towards strategic P&L, balance sheet, and cash-flow targets.

But you only will achieve those targets by your employees executing on plans and delivering. If you trust them on time, trust them to a similar degree on cash.

16 years ago, I was hired as VP Enterprise Management for a financial services company. At the time, we were in desperate need for a turnaround in many areas of the business. Yes, I was a VP with my own budget and approval, but it was the first time I had seen someone cut the red tape. Within a week, I went to my boss, the CIO, to ask, "how do I get travel approval?"

His response was classic:

Get on a plane and fly. If you make a mistake, we will resolve it later.

Of course, if I had flown First Class to Sydney, Australia, with no business there, I might have been in some hot water. But I still could have done it if I felt it was right. He was saying, "I trust you with the company's time to do what's right, in exchange for doing what's right; why wouldn't I trust you with our cash?"

It's always been a matter of trust....