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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Create conditions of trust
Article Type: How to … From: Strategic HR Review, Volume 11, Issue 5
Practical advice for HR professionals
Chris WelfordChris Welford is based at Serco Consulting.
According to recent research by recruitment services firm Kenexa (2011/2012), just 48 percent of employees trust their leaders. It is a worrying statistic. With uncertainty and change prevalent in many organizations as they struggle to cope with the new economic reality, now is a time when high levels of trust are more important than ever.
Trust is the foundation for effective relationships that allow people to work more productively together. A high degree of trust allows leaders to provide employees with the power and autonomy to get on with their work unsupervised. It means that leaders can willingly handover assignments with more risk attached that are likely to stretch and motivate employees. At the same time trust provides employees with the confidence to challenge the views of their leader (in a constructive way).
Indeed, a good proxy measure for the presence of trust in an organization is the level of creativity. The more that people are prepared to stick their necks out and come forward with ideas and solutions to problems, the higher the levels of trust.
Building trust is not easy, though. Restoring lost confidence is even more difficult. Trust is a complex construct. For example, the seeds of mistrust and doubt are usually planted as part of normal societal conditioning, long before most people can spell “workplace.” Organizational psychologists say that we “bring our family to work,” and it is true that many of the social and emotional dynamics exhibited in the workplace reflect the emotions and behaviors experienced when growing up. That includes trust.
It is easy for organizations to unknowingly harbor mistrust and fear. Fortunately, though, the following actions are ways that organizations and leaders can help create a more trusting environment.
Develop multidimensional leaders
The leader’s behavior has a major impact on levels of trust. People are more likely to trust a leader that is multidimensional. For example, a leader that is fallible and does not claim to have all the answers; that is reasonably comfortable with personal vulnerability; and that through their actions demonstrates that their behavior is not primarily self-serving and bound up with their positional status.
Show tolerance of mistakes
Another driver of trust is a tolerance of mistakes. People who are skeptical and mistrustful are often overly self-critical. This tendency to be self-critical can be deep rooted. It often stems from childhood interaction with authority and a desire to impress authority figures and gain a sense of self-worth through working really hard and striving for perfection. People who exhibit overly self-critical behavior need to be shown that they can make mistakes and still be successful. If leaders foster a critical and oppressive environment, where mistakes are frequently pointed out and performance constantly highlighted, this will only serve to destroy trust.
Be authentic and consistent
It is essential that a leader is authentic and that their actions are consistent with their stated beliefs and values, and the espoused beliefs and values of the organization. If people see a disconnect between what the leader demands from others and the way that the leader behaves, it erodes trust.
Create a safe environment
Trust is also undermined by fear. Leaders, therefore, should create an environment where people feel relatively safe and have a degree of control over their working life. Consistency and stability are important here. Inconsistent behavior makes people fearful –it is a real killer of trust. It is even preferable to deal with someone who is habitually unpleasant than someone who is unpredictable. At least then people know what to expect, rather than being perpetually on edge.
Work on mistrustful perceptions
There may also be a group of hard-working but mistrustful employees who tend to misconstrue stimuli in the environment, and who are made uncomfortable by things that other people might not even notice. Here the solution is not to belittle people who feel this way, or tell them to stop worrying. Managers must engage with them, helping them to use evidence to challenge their perception of situations. So, for example, encourage them to try things out and tell them that it’s acceptable to make a few mistakes along the way and do not overdo the performance management system by putting undue emphasis on “more” and “better.”
Trust essential for success
These are just some of the issues that organizations and leaders must attend to if they are to close the trust divide between leaders and employees. Without trust, organizational life is much like the state of nature according to English philosopher Thomas Hobbes – nasty and brutish. Without trust what do you have? Worse case, you have rebellious and hostile employees –a good way of allowing the competition to gain ground, while people are focused on quelling internal dissention. Or, alternatively, you have unthinking compliance – the enemy of creativity. Either way, it makes for an unhealthy and poorly performing organization.
So although closing that trust gap may be difficult, if organizations want to be successful in the long term they have little choice. Building a high trust environment is paramount.
About the author
Chris Welford is a Director at Serco Consulting. He is a Chartered member of the CIPD, a member of the British Psychological Society (BPS) and the European Coaching and Mentoring Council (EMCC) and an experienced management consultant and coach. Chris Welford can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Kenexa (20112012), “How much do you think trust matters to your company?”, Research from the 2011/2012 Kenexa High Performance Institute WorkTrends Survey