Building on trust

If you want to build employee engagement you need to build a culture of trust in the organisation as this is strongly related to work engagement. Trust is the foundation for our working relationships and facilitates communication and collaboration; it’s essential for creating an environment where innovation and creativity flourish. The CIPD point out that “no one is going to take a risk unless they know that they will be backed and trusted by their immediate and senior managers”.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter of Harvard says:

“Great companies assume they can trust people and can rely on relationships, not just rules and structures. They are more likely to treat employees as self-determining professionals who coordinate and integrate activities by self-organizing and generating new ideas.”

Consistency and equity

Apart from making the workplace more pleasant, there may be more widespread effects. Research by Whitener et al suggests that personal trust is linked to cooperation, performance, and communication and that if employees trust the people around them, they focus on work rather than spending time covering their backs.

Employees are more likely to stay in their jobs if they trust their managers. This means building trust makes sense as an engagement strategy for HR leaders. A key component is consistency – do what you say you are going to do and ensure that everyone is treated fairly.

Jack Welch, former CEO of GE maintains that management is all about earning trust and he recommends making everyone part of the conversation:

  • Get feedback from as many people as possible
  • Listen to and understand where people are coming from so you can make informed decisions
  • Show staff that you listen to them, you care about them, you want their input and you’re not a know-it-all

Enable and empower

The Institute of Leadership and Management did some research as to the core management characteristics that will increase trust levels and bring associated performance benefits. These are the qualities that leaders need in order to be trusted:

  • Openness – 70% of respondents to the survey rank this in their top three drivers of trust
  • Effective communication (53%)
  • The ability to make decisions (49%)
  • Integrity (48%)
  • Competence in their role (42%).

Helping managers to develop these skills will pay dividends in all areas of the organisation. Accountability enhances trust – trust grows when goals are clear, when employees know what they are empowered to do, and can focus on getting on with doing a good job for which they will be held accountable.

Management guru Dr. Stephen Covey is of the opinion that “Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships”