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WORKPLACE TRUST: 7 Principles for Raising Organizational Trust Levels

Last month, I explored the effects of a lack of trust in an organization on the success of change initiatives and left you with the question: So, what if you are an organization that botched the last change initiative or perhaps now recognize that you don’t have a trusting environment, and are trying to launch needed improvements? As management, what can you do? In today’s blog, I’d like to give you some helpful strategies.

The 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer found that the most important “factors responsible for shaping current business trust levels are largely tied to business competence and that those that will build trust in the future, involve engagement behavior and societal imperatives.” Therefore, if you want to raise the trust level in your own organization or department, consider starting with the following seven principles.

1. Surface past mistakes, take responsibility for them, and craft a better plan. Encourage employees to surface their “stamps” or past grievances and disappointments, and listen to the feedback. Where appropriate, apologize and admit mistakes. Articulate what has been learned and how it will be done differently going forward. And, most importantly, work on #2.

2. Do what you say. Strive to be an organization and leadership with “behavioral integrity.” According to one Psychology Today article, behavioral integrity exists when there is alignment between what you say and what you do. When an organization and its leadership, in particular, are accountable for their actions, decisions, choices, words and behaviors, employee trust is built. When employees do the same, they build trust with each other and the organization. Behavioral integrity does not suggest that agreement with those changes and decisions is necessary; it only requires authenticity in those actions, decisions, choices, words and behaviors.

3. Regularly and honestly communicate critical information. One of the attributes in the 2012 Trust Barometer speaks to the importance of “communicating regularly and honestly” to build trust. Going further, another study qualifies the content of the “communication” and contends that it should only include needed or critical knowledge that either, enhances a person’s performance, elaborates on the reasons behind a decision, or provides essential information. In addition to content, it should, of course, be on-time in its delivery. Conversely, overloading someone with non-essential communication or sharing protected or confidential information diminishes trust.

4. Be open to and encourage feedback. Actively solicit feedback from customers, employees and the community. Make it known that you want to hear what others think of your organization, products and services.

Being receptive to feedback in your actions means you can’t exhibit any negative behaviors when someone comes to you with criticism. If you get surprised or haven’t prepared yourself, it’s easy to get defensive, argue with the messenger, show frustrated body language, or get overly apologetic. Any of these actions send the message that even though you say you want feedback, when you get it, you don’t respond well.  This will quickly shut down your best intentions. Perhaps the first place to start is to gather comments around your own behavior.

On the other hand, being open to feedback requires receptivity in word choice, tone of voice and body language. Don’t forget to thank the person for sharing his/her thoughts with you, even if you don’t agree. Take the time to separate getting the feedback from doing something about it. Give yourself and others space to process the information, and when you are unsure of the feedback, check on its validity with others.

5. Take appropriate and timely action to address problems and issues. Quickly admit mistakes, implement remedies (improve), and move ahead.  See problems as opportunities or challenges to address critical issues, rather than finger-pointing and blaming.

6. Deliver consistent, successful financial results by meeting customer needs, providing quality products and services, and exploring new innovations.  Millennials are especially interested in knowing that the organization they work for has societal meaningfulness as well as a successful future.

7. Treat everyone well, including your employees, customers, local and global community, vendors and partners.  Being treated well is in the eye of the beholder.  Knowing what these stakeholders need in order to join in your success, and carefully crafting a principled approach to achieve true partnership, is critical for trust and change.

I particularly like this quote taken from Charles Feltman’s book, The Thin Book of Trust about the importance of making building trust a priority for every leader in any organization: “As an executive coach and consultant, I often find myself engaged by companies where good work is being sabotaged by interpersonal conflict, political infighting, paralysis, stagnation, apathy, or cynicism. I almost always trace these problems to a breakdown in trust. It not only kills good work, it also inevitably creates some degree of misery, annoyance, fear, anger, frustration, resentment, and resignation. By contrast, in successful companies where people are innovative, engage in productive conflict and debate about ideas, and have fun working together, I find strong, trusting relationships. As a result, I’ve come to believe having the trust of those you work with is too important not to be intentional about building and maintaining it.”

Instead of plunging ahead into whatever strategic “change” lies next for your organization, consider making “building a trusting work environment” as your first initiative.

Have some fun with workplace trust: download our 5 question quiz on trust in the workplace to help start the discussion around organizational trust


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