In leadership circles, it’s well known that to move people from where they stand today to a better place of tomorrow, a leader not only has to paint a compelling vision of the future but must also convince them that standing in their current comfort zone is unacceptable. If you agree with this concept, you may be asking how does this apply in building organizational trust. I’ve heard managers and functional leadership agree they “want more trust,” then make decisions and act in ways that show their employees they don’t value trust. They’re not uncomfortable enough with the level of distrust operating under their leadership. Why? Perhaps, they haven’t suffered from or come to appreciate the magnitude that distrust has in undermining their business’s vision, mission, and goals.
Why Trust Is So Important
Without trust, you can’t build anything of sustainable value. Since trust is the foundation on which business relationships are set, creating trust should be a business’s number one priority. Without trust operating throughout its culture, a business is vulnerable to silo-ed decision-making, information hoarding, and higher employee and customer turnover to name a few. These behaviors directly increase costs and slow down response time. Employees, customers, and suppliers come to realize that for someone to win, another must lose, so everyone makes decisions to protect their position.
After food, water, clothing, and shelter, Maslow’s second hierarchy of human need is safety (security). In business, colleagues, customers, and suppliers first seek to answer the question, “Can I trust you?” If someone can’t affirmatively respond, a healthy relationship won’t develop.
When enough people on a team feel they can’t trust one another, the culture becomes distrustful and then toxic. Interactions become finely crafted dances to ensure that neither is hurt in the process. The energy of the organization goes into managing distrust as opposed to creating value and meeting goals.
Why Trust Is So Valuable
In a trusting business culture, people feel connected. They know that for someone to win, somebody else doesn’t have to lose. They’re a team working collaboratively with transparency and driving on their individual strengths. When people feel respected and appreciated, they go the extra mile. They don’t hoard information like a distrusting culture where information is power. A collaborative culture achieves increased creativity and problem-solving, resulting in more satisfied customers and profits to the bottom line.
How To Build Trust
Some think building trust is treating people well, forgiving mistakes, and giving lots of praise. Not exactly. Although these behaviors exist in cultures of trust, Brown (2017) describes specific elements that must be consistently practiced and reciprocated over time to build trust.
- Boundaries: Communicating and honoring clear expectations
- Reliability: Doing what you say you will do again and again [Note: It’s important to understand your limitations and not over-commit]
- Accountability: Making a mistake, owning it, apologizing, and making amends
- Confidence: Not sharing with others what is shared in confidence
- Integrity: Practicing, and not just professing values, in which you may have to choose courage over your comfort or right over fun, fast, and easy
- Non-judgment: Helping when another falters and being vulnerable to ask for help when needed [Note: One-sided help sets the giver up to feel superior over time]
- Generosity: Believing in good intentions when the behavior is a mistake
Do People Trust Me?
This is one of the most difficult questions in which to get an honest answer, because if you have trust, people will say yes, and if you don’t have trust, people will still say yes for fear of repercussions. Because of anonymity with individual finger-pointing, it’s easier to get an honest answer by asking the question, “On a scale of 1-10, how much does trust operate within this company?”
If you’re a leader challenged with growing trust within your business culture, I suggest two approaches:
- Honestly answer for yourself how much capacity you have to trust others. You can’t give what you don’t have. Work on improving your own insecurities and behaviors regarding trust.
- Know what behaviors garnish trust and hold yourself and others accountable to make the right decisions and lead with those behaviors.
Changing culture is possible, and it takes time, patience, and thoughtful words and actions. You must trust the process that will take you from where you stand today to a more trustworthy culture of the future.
Brown, B. (2017). Super Soul Sessions Video: The Anatomy of Trust. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ewngFnXcqao
About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach and consultant with an extensive background in leadership, business development, and sales. She coaches individuals as well as designs and facilitates workshops. She has a passion to help organizations engage all their colleagues. You can learn more about Sandra by visiting her website at www.shinecrossings.com.