Trust is an essential foundation to developing healthy relationships in the workplace. Trust affects our perceptions, our attitudes, our cooperation and our overall performance in an organization, but how do we actually define trust? For many of us, it has been easier to determine what trust is not rather than what it actually is.
When changes occur in an organization, individuals can experience confusion, lack of direction and stability, and increased anxiety over uncertainty. This tendency can be exacerbated if trust is lacking or insufficient. Conversely, in organizations where there is a high level of trust, there is an increased ability to become more adaptable, reliable and effective. Change in this type of organization can produce increased opportunities for productivity and profitability.
Foundation for Trust
For trust to become the foundation of an organization’s structure, several characteristics must first be demonstrated by its leaders. These include competence, character and compassion.
Competence: Leaders need to perform well and display a high level of competency. Employees will more readily follow someone who they perceive as capable of consistently achieving the goals the organization has set. They must also see that these realized goals produce positive outcomes. Leaders need to remain committed to the vision of the organization and they need to effectively communicate the vision and mission of the organization. Furthermore, leaders must display confidence in their ability to lead.
Character: It is important that leaders remain consistent in their actions and in their credibility in order to gain a solid reputation with their teams. They must be vigilant in seeing that the organization stays aligned with the values and ethics they want to see displayed throughout the structure. Leaders must also understand that the character of the organization also reflects the degree of integrity of the leader. It is hard to separate the organization from the leader in the perceptions of those observing. Simply put, the leader is a representation of the organization as a whole. Leaders who gain trust realize the importance of their own personal growth and development as much as those in their organization and will regularly work at self-improvement. Trustworthy leaders readily take responsibility for failures within an organization and will be more transparent in their communication with others in the organization.
Compassion: A compassionate leader will genuinely respect the members of the team, will value their input and will help promote a strong emotional bond among all team members. Compassionate leaders are also much more likely to earn the trust and respect of those they lead. They seek to find solutions that mutually benefit all concerned while remaining aligned with the core values of the organization.
Current Challenges Involving Trust
Leaders are faced with a variety of challenges when seeking to build trust within an organization. In uncertain economic times, it becomes challenging for leadership to consistently maintain a confident outlook when it is difficult to make accurate projections about the future. Employees and managers alike can become uncertain about their job security. This is the most critical time for effective leaders to rise to the occasion and strive to excel in the three essential characteristics of trust: competence, character and compassion. Communication that is authentic, honest and assuring becomes absolutely necessary in this environment.
If a leader is brought into an existing situation where there is little or no trust, the challenge is to develop a strategy of communication and behavior that will engage team members emotionally as well as intellectually. Trust must be earned and it will need to be earned over time. This is when consistency and transparency become even more critical components of a leader’s actions and behavior.
One of the effects of the Great Recession has been a severe testing of employer-employee relationships in many organizations. During tough economic times, leaders sometimes have to make tough decisions that can deeply affect the workforce within the organization. This can produce much mistrust in an organization if this situation is not handled properly.
A recent survey conducted by Deloitte produced the following results:
- One-third of American employees plan to look for a new job when the economy improves
- Of these, close to 50 percent attribute this to a loss of trust in their employer and lack of transparent communication from leadership
- Additionally, 65 percent of executives believe trust will be a factor in voluntary turnover
“With a lack of trust and transparency factoring into the employment decision of roughly half of the respondents who plan to job hunt in the coming months, business leaders must be mindful of the importance of both talent management and retention strategies as well as the bottom line impact,” says Sharon Allen, chairman of the board, Deloitte. “By focusing on these two areas, executives may be able to reduce attrition. It could also allow them to mitigate the expenses associated with the hiring and on-boarding process and ensure that tacit knowledge remains within their organizations. Establishing and reinforcing a values-based culture will ultimately help to cultivate employee trust.”
Organizations that operate at high levels of trust will be able to achieve more and remain cohesive during both good and bad times. People want to follow someone they believe they can trust. This needs to apply to all levels of leadership within the organization.
Leaders who are proactive choose to regularly work with professional training and development specialists to assess and develop strategies to raise the level of trust within the organization. This is an essential part of building a high performance organization, especially during times of change and uncertainty.
Lori Ranshaw, HPL faculty member and partner with Innovative Excellence in Leadership, is based in the Dallas area. She specializes in the areas of leadership training and development, team-building, business strategy and development, behavioral analysis, and personal growth.