Pick anyone in your company and I guarantee you that they will have some sort of a mental model; an unspoken contract or arrangement they have with the company that goes way beyond their monetary compensation or title.
This mental model will consist of
- What do they see as their current role in the company
- How they see their role evolving in the company
- Their assessment of how their manager and teammates perceive them
- Their assessment of what their manager expects from them
- Their view of what unique value they bring to the company and the kind of work they desire to do in line with that value
These mental models may or may not have to do with the title or designation the employee holds.
For example, one employee might believe this:
"Since I'm still an associate, the only way for me to get noticed and promoted is to do good quality work."
A more disgruntled employee might believe this:
"Even if I work hard, nothing good will happen to me, as only those who cosy up to their bosses make it to the top here."
If you're a manager, your employees build a mental model of many such unspoken rules of engagement, attitudes, and behaviour in the company using your actions as the starting point, and then fleshing it out with your words and actions in the past to build a coherent model.
An employee’s mental model may or may not be correct. If it’s incorrect, she will get frustrated, lose motivation, and disengage whenever there is a discrepancy between what she thinks should happen and what did happen in the real world.
If an employee thinks she needs to do A, B, and C in order to progress at the company but the reality is that she needs to do X, Y, and Z, then she will feel betrayed when things don't pan out the way she hoped them to and lose motivation as a result.
So, a significant part of your job then as a manager is to make sure that the mental model your employees have in their minds is correct. This is the only way to build trust over time: make sure you're upholding their mental model. Or if it is the incorrect one, ask them to change it via clear and unambiguous communication.
If you aren’t clear with your words and incongruent with your actions, your employees will fill all the ambiguity and grey areas with their own preconceptions. You won't know what they are. And what you don't know, you can't respect or uphold.
The difference between a good manager and a manager disliked by her employees is this:
A good manager helps her employees build an accurate mental model around their relationship with herself and the company, and then tries to respect it. The not-so-successful managers, in contrast, are oblivious to the mental models their employees hold, and hence, cannot create alignment with them.