At the end of last year, I finally got the one thing I’ve wanted for absolutely ever – a four legged furry friend otherwise know as a dog! As we had our first few walks together, I observed the importance of trust in our relationship and considered how we were managing to build this.
I noticed the process we were going through as I first let her off the lead in an enclosed space where I knew I could reach her if she didn’t come back to me. As we played together with our ball, I was able to see that she wasn’t looking to get away and so I could move the boundary to give her more space. Now, I don’t worry at all, I feel confident to let her off the lead in the park because I know she will watch for me and come back if I call.
In my view, it’s similar in all relationships including those at work. The best way to build trust is through trust itself. Leaders and managers must offer some space for people to show they are trustworthy. Set the boundaries and be clear about expectations. After that, you only need to keep a watchful eye in case they need your support but otherwise, you can let the team get on with it. This way, you allow people to show you that your faith is well placed.
When I interviewed someone a few years ago about agile working she said something which has stayed with me ever since: ‘why would you hire someone you don’t think you can trust?’. She also made the point that people have families to take care of and mortgages to pay so why on earth wouldn’t they be able to take responsibility for their work? If there are performance issues, it’s far more likely to be a problem with management than anything else.
In the workplace, trust has been a key theme for organisations over the last few years. In 2014, HR magazine said ‘trust – or lack of it – is going to be a big issue this year’. Why? Because a command and control style of management and a theory X point of view creates an environment of distrust. As a new generation joins the workforce, the leadership debate has developed and new management styles are emerging. Millenials expect some thing different and trust is a central part of the deal.
According to the CIPD, 37% of employees do not trust their senior managers and 33% think trust between employees and senior management in their workplace is weak. If this is your organisation, you probably notice low morale and a lack of employee engagement. It’s also likely that performance and productivity are suffering as a result.
So what exactly do we mean when we talk about trust in organisation and how can we get more?
An article on the traits of trustworthy people suggests that they are authentic, consistent, compassionate, have high levels of integrity, are kind, resourceful, humble, available and connected. Research from MIT also identifies integrity and consistency as ‘the key differentiator between companies that violate trust and those that sustain it’. In the popular book, The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, Lencioni cites trust as the number one reason why teams (and, in turn, organisations) do not succeed.
The solution for organisations, I believe, is to demonstrate trust so that it can be seen in return. Put the right framework in place to monitor what’s important and ensure you appoint leaders who are able to live up to the values that allow trust to develop. It is also useful to make your leaders open to feedback from employees and other stakeholders by practicing listening on a regular basis.
Overall, the concept of trust and how it is built reminds me of a song I learnt in primary school:
It’s just like a magic penny, hold it tight and you won’t have any. [Trust] is something if you give it away, you end up having more.
For more on listening, try ‘Listen hard, even to what they are not saying’.