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Why trust matters more than ever (and how you can build it in your organisation)

Just 13% of employees feel engaged by their job, according to a recent survey. And it seems the only thing that can win them back is trust. Find out how you can create an energised and productive workforce by building trust into your organisation.

The latest Gallup survey found that just 13% of employees around the globe are really engaged in their job. In other words, 87% of employees are just plodding through their work day, or more likely, not engaged at all.

And the reason they’re not engaged? Well it’s a matter of trust – according to the results of the recent Great Place to Work Survey.

Why we get it wrong

The Great Place to Work survey bills itself as the global authority on high performing workplaces. In its recent survey into the 60 best places to work in Asia, it identified trust as the one element that is missing from many modern workplaces.

“[W]hen organizations think about optimising efficiency, they tend to look at assets and resources; specifically, machinery, output, suppliers, the supply chain, infrastructure, and logistics; frequently not focusing on that most important asset, human capital,” it reports.

“There is a need to shift attention to optimizing the human capital, and putting employees at the centre of operational efficiency optimization,” it concludes.

In other words, with many companies having gone as far as they can with optimizing their supply chain and their infrastructure, the next step is to look at their people, and at how they can get them to “do more with less”, and go the extra mile. The survey looked at what workplace features and management behaviours were clearly linked with high employee motivation, and found that they were all associated with fairness – for example, “Management’s actions match its words”, and “Management genuinely seeks and responds to suggestions and ideas”.

The survey also found that employees at the top 60 best places to work in Asia prioritised trust as the most important reason they enjoyed what they did. When an employee had a high level of trust in their company, they also tended to feel energised and connected to their company’s purpose.

So how can your organisation build trust?

Trust, of course, is a human thing. You need to have people at the helm of your organisation who can inspire their junior people through words and actions. You also need line managers who can earn the trust of their staff and can communicate openly and effectively.

But, according to Peter Mills of the Leadership Framework, before you can even start looking at whether your individual leaders are trusted by their staff – or how transparently your people are communicating – you first need a solid foundation to build on.

That includes clear and transparent policies and procedures that are consistently applied. It means having structural clarity, so that everybody knows what they’re accountable for and how what they do contributes to the company’s goals. It also means taking a holistic approach to people management: one that “integrates the roles, accountabilities and authorities of managers at all levels with those of team members and specialists”.

And, according to Mills, it also means considering the whole working environment, from implementing strategy to assigning a task, from organisational design to role design, from creating systems of work to continuous improvement, and from workforce capability to individual capability.

The factors that undermine trust

At the same time, there are factors that can instantly undo your hard work and undermine your attempts to build trust. Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Robert M Galford and Anne Seibold Drapeau argue that there are four main ones.

  • Inconsistency: for instance, playing favourites or failing to align your words and your actions.
  • Avoiding difficult conversations or feedback: such as giving everyone a ‘competent’ rating on performance reviews, or failing to give feedback to a team member whose performance is affecting other team members.
  • Failing to trust others: for instance, having a workplace computer policy that blocks social media websites; or micromanages a competent staff member.
  • Information vacuums: where a void in communication – especially in a time of change – allows gossip and innuendo to thrive.

And finally…

Building trust in your organisation can take serious time and effort. But it’s vital to developing an engaged and productive team, especially if you want to achieve sustainable growth in your organisation.

A good place to start is Stephen M R Covey’s The Speed of Trust. It’s a prescriptive guide that reminds us of the value and the complexity of trust in our relationships.

Contact us if you’d like to find out how we can help you build trust into your business.