Cultivating Trust in the Workplace

Posted On: October 28, 2013 by: Doug Lundrigan

Would it surprise you to learn that many dog owners trust their canine companions more than they trust their bosses? Research shows that only 36% of employees actually trust their bosses.

Trust has long been part of the underpinnings of society and can be defined as “confidence in our relationships with others”. Trust is a key aspect of relationships and studies show that creating and maintaining high levels of trust is vital for healthy and sustained company growth.

Despite this understanding, trust is often misunderstood or mismanaged in companies, leading to lost productivity. Creating an environment of trust in the workplace is more important and more difficult to cultivate than ever before. In 1960, 58% of Americans trusted others. Today that percentage has dropped to 40%. Lack of trust in the workplace can lead to confusion, worry, fear, and other emotions that in turn can slow the wheels of progress and profit.

Fostering an environment of trust begins at the managerial level. By establishing relationships based on several key elements, leaders can foster a healthy working environment across all levels, resulting in higher morale, increased initiative, and improved productivity.

In the following model, the key elements of trust are Integrity, Competence, and Compassion. When combined these characteristics serve to answer the question “Am I trustworthy?”

It’s impossible to build trust with others without behaving in a trustworthy manner. For example, your dog might exhibit a high level of trustworthiness in his competence (ability to perform a trick), in his integrity (loyalty), and his compassion (sensitivity to your moods). But trust can also be situational. You might not trust your dog’s competence to drive a car, or trust his integrity to avoid stealing a nice juicy steak off the counter.

In the workplace, we might trust someone in one, two, three of the elements, or none at all. Maybe a co-worker is very competent at her job, and exhibits excellent compassion in her people skills. But if she habitually makes excuses for being late or missing important deadlines, then she loses your trust in her integrity.

“I submit that while high trust won’t necessarily rescue a poor strategy, low trust will almost always derail a good one.”¬†

-Steven M.R. Covey, The Speed of Trust

When management leads the way with their actions solidly in the Trust Model, initiatives they sponsor will result in better outcomes. So how can we cultivate a high trust working environment?

Raising the level of trust embraces three primary concepts:

  • Open and honest communication at all levels.
  • Encouraging a collaborative approach to problem solving.
  • Walking the talk. A clich√© that holds true when striving to improve trust between management and employees.

One way to achieve this is by exhibiting integrity in the form of open and honest communication, regardless of whether it’s to your disadvantage. Also, by fostering a win/win focus, managers can demonstrate compassion for the personal and professional welfare of direct reports. And by seeking feedback from direct reports, leaders can gauge their competence in their managerial role.

Specific ways to build upon this foundation can include creating opportunities for social interactions (group lunches, learning sessions or celebrations of personal and group achievements), taking a strong stance against collusion, destructive criticism, and other counter-productive behaviors, and empowering employees to solve problems by providing appropriate training, resources, and rewards.

So how does your company stack up across The Three Elements of Trust? Do you doubt the abilities of those you work with, or find yourself unsure of your own skills to lead effectively? If so, what actions will you take to cultivate a workplace that fosters open communication and trust?

If you’d like to learn more about trust in the workplace, please download our free white paper, take an assessment, or contact us to see how we can help.

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