“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” Ernest Hemingway
Building a Culture of Trust
The first article in our series on trust addressed why trust in the workplace is vital. In short, employees who trust their employers feel more committed, more supported by their bosses, and believe company leadership fairly allocates resources, treats others well, and follows procedures transparently.
So, the question becomes, how to create trust in the workplace? Genuine trust is based on mutual care and concern. As post-COVID employer landscape continues its rapid evolution, renewing the focus on creating and sustaining trust seems like the best way to address today’s challenges and ensure a strong workforce in 2022 and beyond.
How can leaders build a culture of trust among their employees and teams? PricewaterhouseCoopers’ August 2021 Trust in Business survey of 500 business leaders and 1000 consumers said “To boost trust in your company, you need actionable information on how your customers and employees think. You need to know what exactly ‘trust’ means to them, what their priorities are, what drives trust for them and where you stand today.”
It starts with four steps:
- Defining what trust means for your employees and company
- Examining leaders’ behavior—including your own
- Creating an actionable plan
- Trusting your employees
Defining Trust for Your People
Trust works in different ways, depending on where a person works in an organization. Entry-level employees define trust differently than C-suite leaders. Also, changing employee expectations are complicating matters in the post-pandemic workplace. Workers still want competitive pay and perks, but now value flexible scheduling and career growth/upskilling opportunities just as highly. Keeping up with shifting demands takes time and thoughtful effort.
Step one, then, becomes finding a definition of trust that resonates with all stakeholders. Research shows that trust is highest between employees and their direct managers and declines as you move up the ladder.
The good news is that drivers of trust are fairly clear: accountability (both among peers and leadership), clear communications and admitting mistakes. While nuances will exist, these three factors are crucial in any trusting employee-employer relationship. The challenge becomes how to prioritize and ensure your workplace reflects these values.
Changing your behavior
Leaders can build trust by making processes fair and transparent, treating people equally, and allocating resources in an equitable way. In The 3 Elements of Trust, authors Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman define key behaviors of leaders to inspire trust:
- Create positive relationships. Take the time to forge personal connections with employees, which in turn helps you resolve conflict, give honest feedback, and check in with team members about their concerns.
- Demonstrate expertise and judgment. Employees trust leaders they believe have the technical skills and experience to make good decisions on behalf of the team.
- Be consistent. Be true to your word—keep your promises and follow through on commitments to employees. Managers who fail at this task will quickly erode a team’s trust.
Creating an Action Plan
Though trust is recognized as vital in today’s workplace, less than half of employers surveyed have implemented initiatives aimed at critical trust-building factors. With most employers experiencing higher-than-normal turnover rates recently, trust is an important factor in improving employee loyalty and retention.
Consider the best way to approach trust initiatives in your organization. Maybe it’s starting on the manager level, providing training on how to build successful teams. It likely includes C-level buy-in and top-down initiatives, which can be challenging to implement. It requires organizational change, such as crafting proactive plans for employee communications or building a trust steering committee.
The PwC survey boiled it down to four “big ideas” to create and nurture trust: be deliberate, consider all stakeholders, deliver on actions, and rethink technology
Trust Your Employees
We saved the easiest one for last. The best way to earn trust is to give it. Trusting your employees is critical for them to trust you back. That means giving them leeway to take risks and develop new processes—steps that often lead to innovation. Provide guidance, but don’t micromanage. Listen to your employees and let their ideas share equal space. Be fair when those ideas fail, too. Demonstrate you value them by investing in upskilling, trusting they’ll grow their careers alongside your company. Be willing to grow, adapt and change alongside them, and it’s likely they’ll trust you enough to come along for the journey.