The issue of trust (or lack of it) has been the subject of several surveys that have crossed my desk recently.

The 13th annual Trust Barometer conducted by Edelman uncovered what it described as a ‘crisis in leadership’, with less than one in five trusting business leaders to tell the truth if confronted with a difficult issue. This finding is reflected in the annual barometer of management opinion published by business school Ashridge, which highlights a worrying shortfall in trust. Only around half of the 1000 plus managers surveyed said there was a strong culture of trust in their organisation.

The findings are perhaps not that surprising given the string of financial scandals and unethical business behaviour that has hit the headlines over the last few years. But lack of trust among employees is a serious issue for businesses – whatever their size or market sector.

Staff who have lost faith in their employer to do the ‘right thing’ will be less engaged with the business and are unlikely to remain committed and enthusiastic about their work. There’s an inevitable knock-on effect on performance – and the dissatisfaction felt by staff soon becomes apparent to customers, whose respect for the business will rapidly diminish with the first sniff of sharp practices or unfair treatment of employees.

Trust cannot be built overnight – it’s something that is gradually created by the small actions and interactions that leaders and managers have with their team every day. But there are some over-riding principles behind the way a business leads and manages its people that will help to build the foundations for a strong culture of trust:

Share the vision and values

People need to be really clear about where the business is going and what values and principles underlie its pursuit of profit. This isn’t about creating fluffy values statements that get hung proudly in reception and sit there gathering dust.  It’s about helping employees understand what their personal role is in helping to move the business forward and how they are expected to act and behave as they go about achieving the goals and targets you have set them.  If employees have a shared understanding of where they are headed and how they are going to get there, they are much more likely to trust their manager and pull together as a team.

Walk the talk

The task of building trust starts from the top. Business owners and managers need to make sure they are personally displaying the behaviours they want to encourage. Managers who are inconsistent, uncommunicative or only ever give half the picture will not win the trust (or indeed the respect) of their teams. A ‘do as I say not as I do’ approach simply doesn’t work in today’s more open, inclusive working environments where employees expect to be treated as individuals and given a voice. Managers who follow their instincts and do what they know is right – even if there are consequences for them personally – are the ones who will win loyalty and commitment from their teams.

Prioritise communication

As many high profile figures have found to their cost, half-truths or misleading information simply doesn’t cut it in today’s fast-moving, digital environment where there is no place to hide.  Businesses who want to build trust have to pursue a policy of openness and transparency at all times. Often, this means delivering difficult messages or telling people news they don’t want to hear.  Most employees, however, would rather be told the truth, even if it is not particularly positive, than be strung along with platitudes.  The best managers use all the communication channels (for example, the portal in your HR software) at their disposal to make sure their people are clear about what’s happening now, what might happen next and what impact it will have.  Of course this doesn’t just apply to bad news – it’s equally important to make sure employees are up to speed with the positive developments in the business too, so they can share in celebrating success and planning for the future.

Seek opinions and ideas

In the Edelman Trust Barometer, the authors call for a new, more inclusive style of leadership. What this means in practice is seeking the views and inputs of employees as well as customers, experts and those who are active in the industries and communities you operate in. We are now in a world where people are more likely to trust the views of experts or peers than they are to believe whatever corporate ‘line’ is being put out at any given time. The success of sites like TripAdvisor is a prime example of this shift in who we trust.  A good review of a hotel by a fellow traveller is much more likely to sway a purchasing decision than a flashy website. Equally, when it comes to building trust within your business, it’s important to seek employees’ views, act on feedback and demonstrate that you value the opinions of your team. It’s also important to recognise that influence doesn’t always rest with those who have the job title.  So don’t overlook the people in your business who are respected by their peers and can help you win commitment to change or new ideas.  Actively embrace their input and involvement and you will be creating powerful ‘ambassadors’ who can help build trust within the business.

 Let people do their jobs

Trust is a two-way street.  If employees see that their manager trusts them to do their job, they are more likely to trust their manager when it comes to difficult times or tricky decisions. Support people by making sure they have the tools they need to do their job effectively and provide opportunities for them to develop their skills – and then let them get on with it. A manager who is constantly breathing down people’s necks will only engender mistrust and suspicion among the team and cause unnecessary stress. Show people you trust them to do what’s right and they will do likewise for you.

Is trust an issue in your business – and what do you think is the best way of building it?  We look forward to hearing your views.

See more information about how a people management software can help.