In our previous blog (Death of Trust in America), we described the unprecedented decay of trust in America and a few insights as to some contributing factors. For the first time in American history, there is a simultaneous loss of trust in all primary institutions (Government, Corporations, Media and Religious Organizations.) Trust is difficult to earn, but easy to lose. Furthermore, trust is the foundation on which high performance, innovation, and workforce engagement is built. People will comply in the absence of trust, but they will not engage or commit.

Culture of Trust.  Needless to say, building a culture of trust is critical to achieving world-class operations and profitability.  There are 7 elements that are essential for organizations to establish a culture of trust.

  1. Community. Trust is centered around community, consisting of a group of individuals with differing gifts and roles with a shared purpose, vision and core values. Trust is the glue that holds any organization together and facilitates individual commitment and produces organizational results. Unless an organization can establish a sense that “we are all in this together and everyone benefits if we pull in the same direction,” it is likely that silos and divisions will evolve into a tribal we/they culture where engagement and productivity suffer.

  2. Connection. We have lost touch with each other.  The promise of technology and social media to enhance connection has sadly resulted in just the opposite.  Executives stay buried in their offices pouring over computer screens of information rather than walking the floor talking with managers and employees.  We walk down the street and sit in vehicles focusing on cell phones rather than talking to one another.  Trust begins with relationship.  Be intentional about engaging with co-workers, family, and neighbors.  It is hard to trust those we don’t know and social ties at work have been shown to improve productivity.

  3. Collaboration. People cannot trust someone unless they know that that person cares about them. Willingness to step outside of one’s job description for the good of the organization and/or a co-worker breeds trust and gratitude.  Coaching and mentoring is a key function of leadership and professional development that enhances collaboration and trust. The best way to get what we want out of life is to help those around us (whether friends, family, co-workers or customers) get what they want.

  4. Camaraderie. Trust and engagement increase when people enjoy their co-workers and can look out for one another in the workplace.  This not only implies care about their workplace performance and professional career, but also their family and personal life.  Ensuring personal growth as well as professional growth will breed loyalty and engagement. Providing opportunities for social connection outside of the workplace (e.g., recreational teams, organizational events,  etc.) also builds camaraderie.

  5. Candor. Employees want to know company goals, strategies and tactics, as well as their specific role in achieving them. Trust erodes in a vacuum, whether at home or at work. Frank communication when news is unfavorable is much better than sugar-coating or misleading messages. Seek feedback. Listen twice as much as you speak. Seek to understand more than to be understood.  This might require you to get out of your comfort zone and at least listen to and read those who hold different positions than you to be able to explore common ground and solutions of compromise.

  6. Credibility. Leaders in high trust cultures exhibit vulnerability, transparency and authenticity.  These qualities seem counter-intuitive to many less experienced managers, but they have been proven to increase credibility, trust and cooperation. Always seek input from peers and subordinates. “Asking for help is a sign of a secure leader,” states Paul Zak, PhD.  Do what you say you will do and be consistent in everything you say and do. Remember, pride, arrogance and “infallibility” are trust killers.

  7. Competence. It is difficult to trust someone whom you believe doesn’t know what they are doing.  As you step onto an airplane, you are trusting your life to the pilot and you want to be confident in their ability to handle a crisis like “Sully”.  Leaders need to be prepared in all interactions with peers and subordinates so they can convey confidence and competence (with humility) to the team, which enhances trust. Also, look for ways to reward and recognize employee excellence and achievement in a public, personalized and tangible fashion.  Celebrating success in front of peers immediately after specific goals are met inspires others to excellence and gives top performers a forum for sharing best practices, reports Dr. Zak.

These “C” characteristics are aligned with servant leadership. Those in executive and management positions must provide the tools and environment to ensure the success of those they have the privilege of leading.  Servant Leaders must be passionate, empathetic, and committed to values of kindness, respect and gentleness with strength. Giving employees the autonomy to manage projects in their own fashion, while still expecting accountability, promotes trust and engagement.

Can trust in American culture be resurrected from the grave?  It starts where we all spend the most time…in our homes and our workplaces. We have to model the character and behavior we expect from our institutional leaders. There is certainly hope if we take personal responsibility to do our part and we are intentional in our organizations to create a culture of trust.

How would you assess your organization with respect to a Culture of Trust?  What specific initiatives have you tried? What worked?  What didn’t work? 

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