How do I build trust inside my business?

Lack of trust between managers and their teams is an issue that just seems to keep coming up again and again. The last few months have seen a whole raft of surveys showing that employees typically regard those at the helm of organisations with suspicion, are sceptical about the motives of their managers and generally disbelieve the corporate messages that come their way.

Latest to add to the debate is the CIPD, who suggest that in a climate where people still feel uncertain about their future, leaders need to demonstrate higher levels of trustworthiness than ever before. It’s report ‘Cultivating Trustworthy Leaders’ emphasises the important role trust has to play in building engaged and innovative teams – and suggests that HR can do much to recruit and develop the ‘trustworthy’ leaders people want.

The trouble with trust of course is that it’s one of those things which is difficult to define. It means different things to different people – and employees’ past experiences will colour their perception of how far management can be ‘trusted’, however hard you as a manager try to build that relationship.

The CIPD report attempts to shed some light on what we mean by ‘trust’ by identifying what it describes as the four central pillars:

  • Ability (how well people perceive leaders are doing their job)
  • Benevolence (a leader’s ability to rise above their own needs and show care and compassion for others)
  • Integrity (someone who is fair and honest and walks their own talk)
  • Predictability (the consistency of a leader’s behaviour)

So what can you as a business do to build trust at all levels and make sure these pillars are firmly embedded?

Encourage managers to be their true selves

The CIPD report suggests that if leaders are to be seen as more trustworthy, they need to step out of the ‘uniform of leadership’ and occasionally reveal their human side. Leaders should be encouraged to share their personal stories for example – and equally to take an interest in the personal stories of their teams. This may seem daunting to those who are used to hiding behind a management mask – but getting people to see you as a person, rather than just the manager who dishes out the work, can be key to developing more trusting relationships.

Use values-based interviewing

Recruitment decisions tend to be based primarily around people’s past experience and whether they possess the skills and competencies to do the job. These are, of course, important, but asking people to describe how they have handled a difficult situation or dealt with a moral or ethical dilemma can also be enlightening. Getting an insight into people’s beliefs and behaviours will help to ensure new recruits are likely to operate in an open and ethical fashion and will be able to build that vital trust with their teams.

Promote self awareness

People at all levels are often unaware of their behavioural preferences or the impact they have on others. There are a whole range of techniques – from individual psychometric tests through to 360 degree feedback – that can help people get a deeper understanding of their motivations, actions and the way they interact with others. This kind of insight is likely to help people think more carefully about how they approach situations and deal with colleagues and will help managers become more ‘authentic’ and confident to be their true selves.

Create an open environment

Difficult conversations tend not to happen in organisations. People gossip in corners, carp about their colleagues and speculate about management’s next move. Creating an environment where people can have open conversations, are not tempted to hold on to knowledge and are not afraid to ask questions is key to building trust. Thanks to advances in technology, it is now easier than ever before to provide a platform where open dialogue can take place. Some of the latest HR software solutions, for example, come with integral social portals where employees can share ideas and information, collaborate on projects and give feedback on how they are thinking and feeling about organisational initiatives.

Reward trustworthy behaviour

Reward programmes in organisations tend to focus on targets that have been exceeded, outstanding customer service or innovative new ideas. These are of course all very laudable and need to be recognised. But it is also worth thinking about how you can reward the kind of ‘trustworthy’ behaviour you want to encourage. Visible recognition for people who have communicated effectively during a difficult time or who have ‘done the right thing’ under challenging circumstances will demonstrate the value the business places on these behaviours and will encourage others to follow suit. Reward doesn’t have to be financial – sometimes public acknowledgement and saying ‘thank you’ is enough.

What are levels of trust like in your organisation? What initiatives have you introduced to help build trust between managers and their teams?

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