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The 'X-Factor' To Organizational Effectiveness: How Leaders Can Build Trust Within Your Organization
Show me an employer with a distrustful workforce, and I’ll show you a ship headed for rough waters if it’s not sinking already. When employees distrust leadership to a substantial degree, it affects everything. Decisions are made more slowly, learning curves stretch out, engagement suffers, productivity lags and, these days, workers might just walk out the door.
Yes, as employers continue to grapple with the “Great Resignation”—the trend of many workers voluntarily leaving their jobs—trust is more important than ever. Organizations that can build and maintain a strong rapport with their employees are poised to have a competitive advantage in the months ahead.
In fact, one could say that employers are at a crossroads when it comes to trust. According to the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer, an online survey of more than 33,000 people around the world, 56% of respondents believe that business leaders are purposely trying to be misleading by stating falsehoods. On the bright side, the survey found that “business” is now the most trusted institution, replacing “government.” Of survey respondents, 61% trust business, while only 53% trust government.
What this means is employers have an enormous opportunity to build and fortify their reputations as trusted entities, helping both themselves and their employees. Here are some ways you and your leadership team can build trust within your organization.
Talk about it.
Distrust arises from not only miscommunication but also the lack of communication. That is, when something isn’t talked about and is left to assumptions, those assumptions tend to lean toward the negative.
For this reason, employers should address trust openly. Tell employees explicitly that their trust matters to you and explain the ways in which you intend to build it. To do so, someone in a top leadership role—ideally, the owner of the business, CEO or another widely recognized leader—needs to issue a formal statement to this effect.
Be sure to keep any promises you make in such a statement. Moreover, if you outline various objectives, such as “Hire additional staff to reduce reliance on overtime,” update employees on these goals regularly until they’re achieved or revised. Perhaps the worst way to address trust is to say you’re going to do something about it but then let the effort slide into apathy.
Trust generally can’t exist in a negative working environment, so it certainly can’t flourish. When leadership establishes and actively encourages positivity, an “ecosystem of trust” can develop. This means that employees will more likely trust each other, as well as ownership and management.
Contrast this with working environments built around unhealthy competition and political (in the office sense) alliances. Pitting workers against each other, or looking the other way when this dynamic occurs, can produce some short-term results. However, in the long run, the toxicities that result from these experiences tend to lead employees to distrust each other and leadership.
To promote positivity, train workers to cooperate by teaching skills such as recognition of bias, active listening and effective communication. Reinforce your HR processes to resolve conflicts between employees quickly and fairly. Immediately investigate inappropriate behavior. Use 360-degree performance feedback to honestly tell workers how they’re doing so they can give you insights into leadership’s effectiveness.
To go the extra mile, check in with your people managers regularly to determine whether their teams are sliding into negativity. If necessary, confront the problem through team-building exercises or special meetings aimed at boosting employee morale and refocusing them on your mission.
Demonstrate employer expertise.
Sometimes the source of distrust within an organization isn’t so much that employees believe leadership is actively lying or unethical; it’s that they suspect those in charge lack competency as an employer.
This may sound harsh, but let’s face it, being a good employer today goes far beyond simply cutting a paycheck every couple of weeks. Particularly at a time when workers are leaving their jobs in droves, you’ve got to convey to them that you know what you’re doing. This includes:
• Engaging in a hiring process that respects applicants’ time and need for clarity.
• Providing an onboarding process that welcomes new hires to the organization and acclimates them to their working environments quickly and positively.
• Training employees thoroughly so that they can get up and running and feel good about their contributions.
• Administering payroll and benefits seamlessly with minimal complications or disruptions.
• Giving workers the equipment and technology they need to do their jobs well.
• Communicating frequently and transparently about the state and direction of the organization.
• Recognizing employees as “whole people”—not just workers—who need work-life balance, mental health support and, every so often, some fun.
When your workforce trusts you to care for them, they’ll also be more likely to trust your strategic plans and go the extra mile to perform their job duties at an optimal level. In short, engagement and productivity will likely rise.
The Power of Trust
Trust has always been important. Results of a 2017 study on the neuroscience of trust, published in a Harvard Business Review article of the same name, found that employees who work for “high-trust” companies enjoyed their jobs 60% more and were 70% more aligned with their employers’ purposes than workers at “low-trust” companies.
The power of trust is only increasing. In fact, trust may be the X factor that enables some organizations to endure and thrive in today’s chaotic, shifting environment of pandemic-inflicted changes and evolving attitudes about employment. Work with your leadership team and advisors to put your organization on the right side of this trend.
Lynda Silsbee is Founder and President of the Alliance for Leadership Acceleration. She has spent more than 30 years creating and leading high performance teams. Along with the other LEAP Certified Coaches, she reports that helping managers make the LEAP to leader is one of the most fulfilling aspects of her work.