The Trust Quotient
Employers would put a high price on guaranteed trustworthiness. It is an expected pre-requisite that any new member of staff joining the team should command the highest standards of trust. After all, they are party to a great deal of information, have access to IT systems and data-sets, and often have direct access to customers. Reputationally, they could, if so-minded, inflict terrible damage on the business.
These same Employers also expect their employees to trust them to run their businesses in a competent way. Otherwise, decision-making will be fraught and commitment will be underwhelming.
Sadly, so much organisational behaviour demonstrates that managers do not trust their staff, and this creates a vicious cycle. If we don’t feel trusted, we are not inclined to trust. Trust involves risk and making ourselves vulnerable. We expose ourselves when we trust, making ourselves easy targets for those who are intent on having a shot at us. So, we are not going to do this, if we don’t feel trusted.
What are the behaviours that tell us we are not trusted?
Keeping company performance data hidden from staff.
Blaming people when things go wrong.
What’s the Problem with Trust?
Don’t keep it under your hat!
A company I supported over a number of years was initially very anxious about sharing its financial data with its staff. This was first excused as a way of protecting staff from information they might find hard to understand: a patronising stance that reinforced a lack of trust in the competence of their people. Then it was excused as a way of protecting staff from information that would distract or overload them. Another demonstration of a trust-deficit. Finally, it was admitted that Directors didn’t feel they could trust their staff with the data. And so, they sought to keep it under wraps.
When staff have no idea how well (or how badly) their business is doing, they are in limbo. They don’t know if what they are doing is working or not working. They don’t have any incentive to do something different. They either have a false sense of security or paranoia. So not sharing vital information about the true position of the business is tantamount to poking employees in the eye and switching off a massive resource.
It’s not enough for leaders to glibly say, “people are our greatest asset” when they subsequently fail to trust them or invest in them. When information is shared, a business can capitalise on the great resources its people bring: when information is obscured or buried, a business undervalues itself.
Eventually, people work out for themselves what’s going on with their business. Keeping financial information under wraps isn’t too far away from lying to your staff about the state of the business, and people never take kindly to finding out stuff that has been kept from them, especially if it has been spun in a more favourable light than the reality shows.
Thankfully, the company in question matured into a more transparent business; benefitting in turn from greater commitment and collective effort to build the business together.
Demonstrations of Trust
Some people are not trustworthy, for whatever reason. Good recruitment practices and good treatment within the workplace should screen these people out. That must be the priority.
And because trust is a two-way street, companies must actively demonstrate the trust they have in their staff. They can do this in a number of ways:
Devolving decision-making authority throughout the business
Keeping staff fully informed about things that affect them
Leaving people alone to get on with their work
Inviting staff to put forward ideas, and genuinely listen to them
Giving staff ownership for the way they want to work
Confiding in people
Owning up to mistakes and seeking the support of staff to help correct them
Respecting the skills and knowledge of staff
Treating people as adults
Entrusting people with tasks that really matter
Expecting people to trust you without taking regular steps to earn and keep that trust, is not only optimistic; it’s misguided. Why should I trust you before you show me you can be trusted?
Trust should never be underestimated or taken for granted, and being good at your job isn’t enough, if people don’t trust you. That’s why it should become a daily ritual to ask yourselves: “What did I do today to enhance trust amongst my colleagues and customers?” It can’t be an option to say, “Nothing”.