Cold War Culture

Cold War Culture

Ronald Reagan popularized the phrase “trust but verify” in 1987 after signing the INF treaty with Russia’s Mikhail Gorbachev. Sometime between then and now, it crept into the world of management. Trust but verify suggests that while managers should trust their employees to do their job, they should also verify that the work is being done correctly. This sounds reasonable on the surface, but recent studies suggest that this approach can be detrimental to teams and the motivation of employees. In this quick tip, we will explore why the “trust but verify” approach is not the best way to manage a team.

First, the “trust but verify” approach can create a culture of distrust. When employees feel like they are being constantly monitored and checked in on, they can feel like they are not trusted to competently complete their work. This can lead to resentment, decreased motivation, and potentially higher turnover. A study conducted by Accenture, a multinational professional technology services company, highlights this. The study found that employees who do not feel trusted are less engaged and less likely to stay with the company long-term (Accenture, 2019).

Moreover, the “trust but verify” approach can quickly morph into micromanagement. Constantly checking in on employees can be very time-consuming and will likely prevent employees from being able to work efficiently. Beyond the impact on efficiency, the “trust but verify” approach may lead employees to feel like their manager does not believe that they are capable of working independently. This will likely lead to a decrease in both job satisfaction and intrinsic motivation. This was further emphasized by Gallup, a global analytics and advice firm. In their 2017 study, Gallup found that employees who feel micromanaged are much more likely to be disengaged and have lower job satisfaction (Gallup, 2017).

Finally, the “trust but verify” approach can be detrimental to employees’ sense of ownership and accountability. When employees are trusted to do their job, they feel a sense of ownership over their work. This can motivate them to take pride in what they do and to hold themselves accountable for their actions. When managers constantly verify their work, it can create a sense of detachment from the work and lead to a significant decrease in motivation. A study conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) validated this concern. In this study, SHRM found that employees who feel a sense of ownership over their work are more engaged, more productive, and more likely to stay with the company long-term (Society for Human Resource Management, 2019).

As with nearly everything, there are always exceptions to the rule. Some instances where the “trust but verify” approach may be acceptable are:

  1. New employees: When a new employee joins a team, it may take some time to establish trust. In this situation, a manager may need to verify that the new employee is able to perform their job to the required standards until they have established a track record of successful work.
  2. High-risk work: In certain industries or situations, the consequences of errors or mistakes can be severe. In these cases, a manager may need to verify that their team members are following procedures and protocols to ensure that work is being done correctly and safely.
  3. Underperforming employees: If an employee is underperforming, a leader may need to temporarily revert to the trust but verify approach while working through the employee’s performance improvement plan.

While the above situations may call for a little more attention to be paid to the tasks an employee is completing, the use of the “trust but verify” approach should still be limited. When navigating through the above exceptions, it is vitally important to convey to the employee why the increased attention to detail is necessary. This is important to help avoid the perception of micromanagement.

In conclusion, the “trust but verify” approach to management may seem like a good idea in theory, but it can be detrimental to teams and the motivation of employees. Instead, managers should focus on building trust with their employees and empowering them to take ownership of their work. Afterall, Covenant Health is looking for our employees to be owners, not renters.



Accenture. (2019). “Building Trust in Business: Why it Matters and How to Achieve It.” Retrieved from

Gallup. (2017). “The Manager’s Role in Employee Engagement.” Retrieved from

Society for Human Resource Management. (2019). Retrieved from

News & Articles

Covenant Health