Earlier this week, I was on a Zoom meeting with a senior leader from a well-known global organization.
It was clear from the outset of the call that she was distracted and struggling with an interaction she had with her leader. “Do you want to talk about it?” I asked her. She described a situation that many of us have faced before.
She said her manager had electronically denied a request she submitted. There was no phone call ahead of this to discuss the reason, and no explanation for the denial. She was clearly deflated.
“I’m a senior leader in this organization,” she started. “You’d think he would trust me enough to approve my request or at least show the respect of talking with me before he denied it. I guess I shouldn’t be killing myself for this organization.”
I’ve known this senior leader for several years. She’s wired to be an over-achiever consistently giving more than is expected. After the call, I couldn’t help but think about how this exchange with her leader would affect not only their relationship but also how much extra effort she will (or won’t) give going forward.
What a clear example of how the power and importance of trust in the workplace. When trust is lacking, interactions like this one suck the enthusiasm and productivity right out of your people, no matter how committed and driven they are.
The impact of untrustworthy leaders
When trust is low, many aspects of working life suffer:
- Employees put less effort and attention into their work
- Levels of collaboration and cooperation with others plummet
- Employees care less about the success of the organization
The associated business cost is clear, even if it may be difficult to quantify. In this example, trust is eroding at the most senior level of the organization. If she is having a less than desirable experience, how is this likely to show up in her leadership?
Untrustworthy leaders damage perceptions of fairness
Employees’ perceptions of fairness in the workplace are directly impacted by their experience of trust with their leader and the organization.
When employees don’t trust their leaders, they are more likely to feel pay, promotions and other workplace decisions are unfair.
In the absence of trust, we tend to create our own narrative of underlying agendas that influence decisions.
The reverse is also true – when we have trust in our leaders, we are more likely to:
- Assume the best of intentions
- Give the benefit of the doubt when we don’t understand or agree with decisions
- Go above and beyond what is expected in our work
This frees us energy to focus on the success of our leader and the organization – even when uncertainty exists.
How to measure employees’ levels of trust in their leaders
Among the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For®:
- 82% of employees consistently experience management delivering on promises.
- 83% experience management’s actions matching its words.
These statements within our Trust Index™ survey serve as an indicator of the degree of trust employees experience with their leaders. An analysis of employee comments of those experiencing trustworthy management describe their culture using words such as:
These answers contrast sharply with the comments of employees who are not having this experience. Their top phrases include:
- “Emotionally drained”
- “Poor decisions”
- “False promises”
- “Overworked and underpaid”
People who trust their leaders and feel involved in decisions that impact them are:
- 8 times more likely to deliver great customer service
- 9 times more likely to want to stay a long time at the company
- 14 times more likely to strongly recommend their workplace to others
How to recession-proof your business by ensuring trustworthy leadership
We know that trust takes time to build. Psychologist and author, Brené Brown shares how she taught her daughter to think about trust using a jar of marbles as a metaphor:
- Every time someone does what they say they are going to do; you add a marble to the jar
- Each time someone breaks trust, you take a marble out
The goal for all of us is to fill each other’s jar up.
1. Relationships matter
It’s difficult to have trust with someone you don’t know well. When leaders invest time into getting to know their employees as a person and a professional, this goes a long way to adding marbles to the jar.
Regular and frequent one-on-one time with employees (weekly or bi-weekly), even if only for 15 minutes, creates conditions to connect in a way that engenders trust. Exploring employees’ goals, motivations and interests, and getting to know them personally, creates the kind of connection that enables a stronger relationship.
Giving a person time and focus by being fully present and actively listening is one of the biggest demonstrations of respect, caring and acknowledgement that can be given.
We all have a basic human need to be heard and understood. Demonstrating curiosity and fully listening is the foundation for trust and relationships.
3. Open communication
Taking the time to share information transparently and authentically is a show of respect and a powerful trust builder.
Sharing information sends a message to people that they matter, that you value them, and you are invested in their success.
4. Involving people in decisions
When employees are involved in decisions that impact them, they are more likely to be engaged and committed to your success and that of the organization.
Involvement creates conditions for employees to contribute their voice and ideas. In doing this, they feel valued and have a sense of purpose – a basic human need.
When we can contribute and make a difference, we are more invested in the outcome.
Start collecting those marbles
Trustworthy leadership is more important than ever for weathering the challenges of COVID-19 and a recession. Organizations need to be agile, resilient and innovative to navigate the rough waters we all are experiencing.
This requires maximizing the capabilities of your people which can only be accomplished by creating an environment where every employee wants to give their best and is committed to the success of your organization.