Rick Blabolil
President
February 14, 2017

How to Build a Culture of Trust and Why You Need It

At a time when “fake news” captures headlines and eyeballs, concerns about trust have raised anxiety and confusion in our political sphere. I see this as a wake-up call for the business community as well. Imagine what would happen in your own organization if your employees had to sort out what they could trust as “real” and what wasn’t in the workplace. Chaos, confusion and disengagement are likely outcomes. 

It’s time to re-examine the levels of trust in our own organizations’ cultures and if there are issues, fix them.

Assess levels of trust

There are many assessment tools, but I’ve found that a good place to start is The Speed of Trust, by Stephen M.R. Covey. The book addresses characteristics of both personal and organizational trust, and examines the business benefits of high-trust organizations and the negative impact in low-trust environments.

You might also want to look at Speed of Trust measurement tools which assess trust at the organizational, team, and leadership levels. The Institute for Public Relations also put out multi-dimensional measures of organizational trust, including competence, integrity, reliability and mutuality.

Every organization is unique, and you will want to determine the measures most appropriate for yours, but these sources will give you some ideas to start with. After you’ve assessed your organization’s level of trust, you’ll know where you need corrective action. We’d suggest sharing the findings of your survey company-wide, and developing a plan with specific goals, a process for continuous improvement, and rewards and recognition for teams that meet those goals.

Improve organizational trust

Over our 39-plus years of working with large and small companies, we’ve seen several recurring behaviors that have a positive impact on trust. These are:

  • Listening. If employees don’t think they are heard, it will be hard to build a trusting relationship. Listening and hearing what is on the minds and in the hearts of your people can come from every touch point with them—emails, intranet, texts, posters, newsletters, network messages, events/town halls, team meetings, corporate games, videos, social media/collaborative apps, and even bulletin boards. Providing channels for feedback is critical. Companies can start the conversation and make it safe for people to express themselves. Be open to constructive criticism—we learn and grow the most from our mistakes.

  • Caring. Genuinely showing employees that you care about them is a huge trust-builder. Caring is being aware of what goes on in their business life, but also something about their world outside of work. It’s not about being nosey, it’s about caring. Support your people by encouraging them, and responding with the assistance they need to develop and achieve at home and at work. That includes the obvious birthdays and anniversaries and the more complicated family/relationship stresses and work/life balance demands.

  • Following through. If management makes a promise or commitment, it must be kept. Lack of follow-through, or inconsistent follow-up, is a trust killer. It can lead to cynicism or even employee disengagement. It role models a message that employees don’t have to follow through on their commitments either.

  • Respecting employees as individuals. When you listen to employees, demonstrate caring, and follow through on promises and commitments, you are showing that you respect your employees and you are reinforcing an environment of authenticity, trust, openness and understanding. That is a culture that builds on itself and harnesses the power of your people.

The process of listening and turning what you hear into action can seem difficult and time consuming. However, if your approach is genuine, your people will be compelled to participate and trust will “go viral.”

Reap the Benefits of a High-trust Culture

We know that trust strengthens employee engagement, and a Gallup poll places the cost of disengagement at $300 billion annually. We also know that trust increases retention, something that employers should be concerned about these days. Despite the economy continuing to improve, more than two-thirds of employers surveyed by Towers Watson said turnover has increased recently and one-third of employees are jumping ship within their first six months on the job. These are staggering trends. Employees are looking for the right jobs and the right corporate cultures.

In an earlier blog, we looked at how high-trust drives high performance. Here are a few reminders of the data that supports how critical it is to establish trust in your organization:

Two-thirds of the questions on the respected survey “100 Best Companies to Work For” (produced by Fortune magazine and The Great Places to Work Institute), focus on trust. The reason is, high-trust organizations outpace “the average annualized returns of the S&P 500 by a factor of three.”

Interaction Associates reports that high-trust organizations are two-and-a-half “…times more likely to be high performing revenue organizations” than low-trust organizations.

The benefits of a high-trust culture are many. Some go directly to the bottom line, while others are less tangible and indirectly impact the bottom line. The true bottom line is that we all want to work for an organization that has our best interests in mind and clients want to hire organizations that have their best interests in mind. Trust is the centerpiece for this continuum of relationships. Trust me on that one.

Do you want to explore how your employee engagement initiatives can support a high-trust work culture? Contact a Marketing Innovators solutions expert to see how.

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