Trust is the cornerstone of success

It doesn’t take much thought to see that trust in our governance systems is cracking like an eggshell. We saw this with the recent reversal of voter support for Prime Minister Theresa May in Britain, as well as last year’s vote for the U.K.’s exit from the European Union. Meanwhile, U.S. President Donald Trump’s first six months in office sees him challenged by three investigations into issues surrounding his campaign as well as his unseemly "unpresidential" behaviour. Canada isn’t immune, as the recent British Columbia election seems to suggest.

A recent survey shows our faith in the established authorities is declining across the world to the extent that two out of every three countries included in the survey are now at the "distrust" level. This includes government, non-commissioned officers and the media. This is certainly being played out on television as accusations of "fake" news is tossed about every day.

Businesses are not immune to this growing negativity, either. For instance, survey results indicated that not only had participants found the pace of change in business to be too fast, they had lost trust in the CEO. Therefore, at least 50 per cent of survey participants declared concerns about losing their jobs to automation, off-shoring and cheaper incoming labour.

Issues that led to the loss of faith included paying bribes, excessive executive pay, tax-free accounts in foreign countries, overcharging for products and lowering product quality but charging the same price. On the other hand, another study identified trust issues such as supervisors who show contempt for top management, inconsistent messaging by executives, inconsistent operational standards and a general reluctance to deal with human resource issues.

In the view of these study authors, it is the simple "old-fashioned" virtues of consistency, clear communication and a willingness to tackle tough problems that will help to build trust and integrity. Others, such as leadership coach Gary Cohen, suggest that trust involves a combination of seven drivers — capability, commitment, capacity, connection, commonality, character, and consistency.

So how exactly does a manager go about turning around a dismal trust issue? First of all, keep in mind that building trust is a journey, it will take some time to right the ship, so to speak. Several of the following tips will help you on this journey.

Pay attention to conversations

Like it or not, there is no such thing as a private conversation. In other words, you must assume that anything you say probably will circulate across the organization in one form or another. When this happens, people will read into the message and will hear what they most fear and therefore jump to conclusions. Be as public as you can with the clearest communication you can manage. Create Q&A sheets with questions you would anticipate being asked and provide the answers.

Hold group meetings

Where possible, create opportunities for communication and dialogue among employees, inclusive of the management team. Give employees a voice, encourage all comments and respond to them. Ask for their opinion on making improvements; you’ll be surprised what good ideas will come forward. Open up discussion so everyone is able to begin building a shared sense of ownership in the company mission, vision and goals. Help employees relate to the organizational purpose.

Revisit organization values

If you look at an organization’s website, you might find its organizational values. Yet these values are not understood in terms of how one does their everyday work. Often, many new staff have not been oriented to the values. Hold a values discussion, allow challenges to the values and help participants understand what this means in terms of work and personal behaviour.

Avoid speculating about the future

Be open and honest with employees and avoid making promises about such things as "no layoffs." Discuss and share what you are doing to manage any crisis you are facing. Communicate on a regular basis and make every effort to help employees feel safe from a career management perspective.

Ask for help

Trying to right a distrustful workplace perception is stressful in and of itself and so it is important that a manager seek their own personal help. Work with a personal counsellor or executive coach to help you continue with a strong, positive personal presence. Remember, you are the role model and employees are watching you with the keenest of eyes.

Fix the systems

If there are system issues that resulted in distrust, it is important to fix them as quickly as possible. This could range from purchasing resources that people have been asking for, changing processes to make them more effective and removing naysayers that continue with their negativity. Conduct some team-building exercises, but remember, team-building without fixing structures and systems is simply a Band-Aid that won’t last long. Once again communicate, communicate, communicate!

Be accessible

A typical response for management is to withdraw behind closed doors while you try to fix the problem. However, it is more important to be physically and emotionally accessible to staff and to be open and honest about your own feelings.

Recognize and reward

As you continue to move toward a more trusting environment, be sure to recognize those team achievements that are helping you to meet your goal. At the same time, you’ll encounter employees who have hidden skills and will jump in and show their courage and capability. These are the people you can count on and who, surprisingly, may be your next set of managers.

Trust in organizations is the foundation for effectiveness and success. High-trust organizations have higher productivity and higher levels of employee engagement. Yet as indicated, building, maintaining and even rebuilding trust requires a consistent and positive approach.

Unfortunately, the recent events in our world, both politically and in business, suggest that trust is being severely undermined. In my view, this forces employees and leaders into the negative psyche of "every man for himself" or "isolationism". This, in turn, destroys teamwork, impacts on personal productivity and leads to significant negativity and conflict in the workplace.


— Sources: Where has the trust gone? (Human Resource Director, Issue 5.02, June 2017); The Enemies of Trust, Robert M. Galford and Anne Seibold Drapeau (Harvard Business Review, February 2003 issue)

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