Trust in the Workplace

The beneficial impact of trust on organisational performance is now widely accepted and yet, according to Stephen Covey, renowned author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People “it is one of the most overlooked, misunderstood and underutilized assets to enable performance”.

Ultimately, work gets done with and through people. In a world that is becoming increasingly distrustful of governments, media and financial institutions, we need to focus on building trust more than ever.

Building trust

There are four key components that need to be present in a relationship in order for trust to be established. These are:

  • Competency – believing the other party has the skills and experience to fulfil their part of the contract;
  • Integrity – believing the other party is honest;
  • Goodwill – one party has confidence that the other party will look after their interests; and
  • Effective communication

Trust takes time to build. It requires that each party actively works on developing the above skills & behaviours that promote goodwill and integrity.

As Senior Lecturer at Harvard Business School James Sharpe notes, “People and organisations with high trust enjoy tremendous support and success. When trust is present, customers are loyal, innovation prospers, time-to-market is short, costs decline, partnerships work effectively and people are motivated.”

Trust between professionals & their clients

In their recent publication, The Future of Trust, the Institute of Chartered Accountants (CA AZ) reported that doctors are the most trusted of all professionals. ”The professions across New Zealand and Australia that are considered most trustworthy are doctors (90%), engineers (84%), teachers (83%) and accountants (75%). Accountants scored higher than the justice/court system (68%) and lawyers (65%). By way of contrast, the least trusted groups were political parties (23%), religious institutions (39%), directors and the news media (both at 41%).”

Doctors, accountants and teachers have all trained to become experts in their field and when they speak, we hear their expert, objective advice.

Face-to-face communication plays a pivotal role in establishing trust between people. With the increased enablement of digital forms of communication and its impact on the way professional services are delivered, professionals need to prioritise ongoing and frequent communication accessibility with clients.

Trust between an organisation & its employees

An organisation’s greatest asset is its employees and leaders of organisations should strive to create high trust environments for their employees to work within.

A high-trust environment is one in which information is openly shared, mistakes are tolerated and encouraged as a way of learning, there is a high degree of accountability and people are candid in their opinions and confront challenges collaboratively.

Most people have experienced the benefits of high trust environments. Communication, collaboration, execution, innovation, strategy, engagement, partnering, and relationships with all stakeholders are materially improved while the organisation benefits from increased speed of project execution.

Leaders of organisations need to also be aware of how their company policies may erode the trust its employees have in it.

EY’s Global Study of Trust in the Workplace found that “An employee will lack trust in an employer if they feel the compensation is not fair, equal opportunities for pay & promotion are not provided, there is a lack of strong senior leadership and there is too much employee turnover (voluntary or involuntary)”.

The same study found that the following aspects were “very important” to a majority of global respondents in determining the level of trust to place in their employers:

  • “Delivers on promises” (67%)
  • “Provides job security” (64%)
  • “Provides fair compensation and good benefits” (63%)
  • “Communicates openly/transparently” (59%)

Trust between co-workers

Leaders of organisations also need to be aware of factors that erode trust between a manager and their direct reports as well as between peers.

A team member will lack trust in their manager if communication between the two is not open & transparent or is insufficient. Trust will also weaken if a direct report feels recognition & credit for a job well done is not received, the manager has a consistent history of not making wise business decisions and does not provide timely constructive feedback on work produced.

Team members will lack trust in co-workers when they feel they are not producing quality work, are not collaborative & cooperative and communication is insufficient, not open & transparent.

All in all

Many of the issues that erode trust can be resolved through the right strategic decisions and interpersonal behaviour.

It takes time to build high trust environments, but its one of the most valuable things an organisation, and an individual, can do.