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During arms-control summit meetings with Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev in the late 1980s, President Reagan often used a favorite Russian “doveryai, no proveryai,” that is “trust, but verify.” Reagan had come to realize that the evil empire might be a negotiating partner. The path was rocky, but the two managed to reduce the nuclear arsenals that were both the threat and the stabilizing factor of the Cold War.

“Trust, but verify.” Give people room to get things done without looking over their shoulder, but do make sure to double-check the work.

Finding that balance is hard in any environment, but doubly so for remote teams. Instead of calling or emailing everyone for status updates, one can use VComply to map responsibilities and tasks to each other. Later on, the management can monitor the progress from a remote location at anytime. Thus, one can establish trust.

Trust but verify

Balancing Autonomy and Oversight

A little basic psychology explains why it’s so important for managers to give their employees the freedom to do their work. The Self-Determination Theory says that to be happy at work, people need just three things.

Autonomy: control over how they manage their time;

Competence: the opportunity to master their skill, and;

Relatedness: “a feeling of connection to others.”

Trust, but verify as a management tool supports the Self-Determination Theory in two key ways.

Trust = Autonomy

It allows people the freedom to do their work makes it easier for them to complete the work and feel satisfied with it. Happy employees have ownership of their work.

Verify = Relatedness and Competence

Done well, verifying your team’s work is an opportunity for constructive feedback and growth. Everyone moves forward when managers push their employees to do great work and offer helpful feedback on their progress. As everyone gets more comfortable with the process, job satisfaction and the quality of work increases, while the temptation to micromanage decreases.

It’s important to remember that, in this case, trust isn’t useful without verification. Complete autonomy creates an environment where people are working without context. All spokes need a hub. When team members trusted each other too much, the quality of the work suffered.

When these team members trusted each other, they tended not to monitor one another much. As a result, they had relatively low awareness of each other’s activities, which affected performance, probably by hampering processes and coordination. Management is both art and science. It takes practice to achieve the right balance. Here are a few suggestions from our own experience to help along the way.

How to Implement “Trust, But Verify” as a Crucial Management Tool

1. Use Work Logs to Verify Passively

It’s a waste of your time to call every individual to check on their work. Perhaps more importantly, it would also place undue stress on the employees. When each employee completes the responsibility for the day, it’s extremely easy to keep tabs on it without singling anyone out.

Islands of information form. People start to lose track of what projects are important and what needs to be done to finish them. Without a system in place to collect all this information, it’s easy to get off track.

Everyday coordination costs have the potential to get worse and worse as the team scales up. One can save costs by investing in tools that enable passive, asynchronous communication. Passive verification, a friction-free way of communicating proves to be an excellent management tool.

2. Default to Transparency

Transparency breeds trust. Also, trust is the foundation of great teamwork.

Instead of singling out employees who aren’t doing their best work, consider asking everyone to share information on their work in a place where everyone can see it. Asking just one employee to update you on their work could make them resent you. This avoids that problem while also giving you insight into how your best employees get their work done. There’s so much to learn from both ends of the spectrum.

3. Offer Constructive Feedback

As you verify your employees’ work, you will inevitably find that some just isn’t up to par. Giving constructive feedback is perhaps the most difficult part of making the “Trust, But Verify” model work effectively.

At the same time, this presents a great opportunity for growth. The third component of job satisfaction is competence, defined as the opportunity to master a skill. No one masters a skill alone, so the opportunity to help an employee improve their work helps them achieve satisfaction in their work.

If you discover an issue that needs to be addressed, don’t avoid it. A conflict avoidance cycle  is a dangerous and difficult environment to navigate.

Monitoring on a daily basis with VComply is a sure shot way to mitigate various risks. Frequently updated, transparent work logs keep both successes and challenges at the top of everyone’s mind. It’s important that one creates an environment where the pursuit of mastery is not only expected but facilitated.


If you trust that your employees are working towards mastery, expect that they will stumble along the way. Everyone should be comfortable failing. If your long-term visions are aligned, it will make it easy to learn from these experiences and move a step closer to mastery.

4. Micromanage the process, not the people.

“Trust, But Verify” may be a simple management tool, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to implement. It takes practice, failure and buy-in from the whole team to work. But when it does, it creates a workplace that people are invested in.

Everyone manages, no matter your job title

Source: Lulofts, Roxanne S., and Dudley D. Cahn, Conflict: From Theory to Action, Allyn and Bacon, 2000

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