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In an age where consumers are more discerning than ever before, trust has emerged as the cornerstone of successful business relationships. However, the journey to building trust with customers doesn't start on the outside – it begins at the heart of an organisation, with its employees.
Recent research demonstrated that trusted employees are 260 per cent more motivated to work, have 41 per cent lower rates of absenteeism and are 50 per cent less likely to look for another job. However, approximately one in four workers don’t trust their employer – while at the same time most employers overestimate their workforce’s level of trust by almost 40 per cent.
So how can leaders build trust in their teams?
The trust paradox: inside-out dynamics
It's no secret that organisations worldwide are grappling with the challenge of earning customers' trust. This challenge, however, is a two-fold paradox: before external stakeholders can trust a company, its internal culture, practices and policies must be designed to embed trust.
Many businesses commonly only think about trust as the interpersonal one that occurs between an employee and their leader. But consideration should also be given to the fact that workers don’t only trust their managers as individuals, but as extensions of the organisation that they represent. For example, workers may find it difficult to separate the fact that their organisation uses workplace monitoring from the interactions they may have with their manager. Similarly, a manager may trust an individual worker, but distrust ‘workers’ as a group.
To establish a foundation of trust, organisations must cultivate a culture of transparency, accountability, and mutual respect among their employees. Try these steps.
Open communication channels between executive leaders and all levels of employees are vital. These channels should be used to transparently share company goals, strategies, project updates and challenges with employees. This not only keeps them informed, but also makes them feel valued as contributors to the organisation’s success.
Empowerment and autonomy
Employees that feel empowered to make key decisions about their roles and job feel more trusted to make these choices and decisions. This in turn means they are more likely to invest their efforts because of the sense of accountability.
Leadership that demonstrates consistent behaviours in line with an organisation's policy and values is key. When leaders uphold ethical standards and demonstrate integrity consistently, it sets the precedent for trustworthy behaviour.
Skill development and recognition
Investing in employee’s skills development and recognising their contributions fosters a sense of belonging and appreciation. Offering formal, informal and social learning opportunities also acts as a strong retention tool. An organisation that shows it cares about individual growth nurtures trust.
Diversity, equity and inclusion
Cultivating a diverse and inclusive workplace not only brings different thinking and perspectives to the table but also signals that the organisation values fairness, respect and collaboration. Ensuring DE&I strategies are not just spoken about, but visibly acted upon will help build trust internally and externally.
Co-create policies and processes
Bringing workers into the design of policies and processes makes employees feel that something is being done with them, not to them. Along with the usual surveys, a representative worker could be seconded into the process and policy team, or a ‘voice of the worker’ council could be created to have a say at the very top of an organisation. Being seen to be heard and having a say in creation of policies that impact them fosters a culture of trust, collaboration and inclusion.
Navigating trust challenges
While improving trust can improve productivity when thinking about interpersonal trust, considering trust at the organisational level that model is flipped with productivity leading to trust. When employees feel that the business they work for is enabling them to be productive and have purpose and impact then workers are most invested in doing a good job. Trust in the workplace works both ways – employees trusting management is contingent on management trusting their employees. This has become especially important in our hybrid working formats. Managers need to be able to trust that their employees continue being productive while working from home, just as employees need to honour their commitment to the business. Measuring productivity goes beyond just outputs as work has become less transactional and task-based and more reliant on collaboration, working in teams. Managers not only need to work on building their interpersonal relationships to build trust, they also need to create policies and processes that enable employees to trust the system.
A foundation for growth
Concerns about the low levels of trust in many organisations, and the associated poor business performance, are valid. What seems to be neglected though is that productivity is as much a product of an organisation's policies and processes as it is the habits of the workers within the organisation.
The assumption has long been that low levels of trust have lowered productivity, when it’s possible that cause and effect relationship runs the other way around. Trust is the symptom rather than the cause, with high levels of trust a sign that an organisation has created a productive and fulfilling work environment.
The age-old saying, "Trust is earned, not given," resonates profoundly in today's business landscape. To earn the trust of customers, organisations must first earn the trust of their employees. Businesses need to make conscious efforts to build this internal trust through providing an environment of high productivity for business success. Businesses can set themselves on a path to cultivating a culture of trust from within, ultimately strengthening their position as trustworthy, credible entities in the eyes of their customers.