Building a culture of trust


We talk a great deal about results, delivery and giving our best in the workplace. But what makes that possible? What are the most important factors in achieving results? Well there are several, obviously, but one of the most important in that of trust. Without trust, we don’t get results.

So I got thinking – and when I get thinking I get researching. And when I get researching I get writing!

Seems to me there are 2 key aspects of trust –being able to trust people yourself and also being trusted by others. Obviously we’d love to have both of them nailed. And some people just inherently seem to be trustworthy. But what are they doing that allows them to be trusted?

Three Elements of Trust

In a recent article [HBR], Jack Zenger & Joseph Folkman outlined their “Three elements of trust”. I’ll describe them here .

  • Positive relationships

Seems obvious but we have more trust in people we have enjoyable interactions with. That might be someone who acts as a catalyst for getting things done, someone that is great at resolving conflicts or someone that provides great feedback. Or perhaps it’s someone who’s empathetic nature makes us feel comfortable. Whatever the reason, they make us feel positive, and that leads us to trust them.

  • Good judgement and expertise

It’s much easier to trust someone who comes with a proven track record of expertise and achievements. If you can clearly demonstrate that you know your subject area and how to do your job well then it’s easier for others to trust you. At highly-skilled organisations the base level of job excellence is kinda assumed, but make sure you add value to the calls you’re invited to and that your opinions and ideas make a tangible difference to others. Speed can also be important here. Trustworthy people often act fast to resolve issues, and many times anticipate problems before they happen.

  • Consistency

These are people that you can rely on. You know they’ll go the extra mile if they can, and that they back up their words with action. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was that of “Deliver, Deliver, Deliver”, i.e. carve out a reputation as someone that always delivers and you’ll become an indispensable go-to person for others. True consistency is hard to achieve, we all make mistakes, but if you can build that reliability factor then people will trust in your capabilities. Giving yourself that chance to succeed is key here. Set expectations; keep your commitments and Deliver, Deliver, Deliver. [QA]

While these make a lot of sense, there’s a bit more to it IMHO. So I have some of my own.

  • Don’t be a jerk

We all have a bit of jerk in us. We know when we’ve been unfair to someone. The key is to detect the behaviour coming and squash it at source. Developing emotional intelligence and self-awareness is the key here. Don’t take your bad day out on someone else. If you’re a jerk, then people will give you a wide berth.

  • Equanimity

Rather like the best poker players, you’ll find that key leaders respond in the same way when things are going badly and when they’re going well. You don’t see overreactions or huge displays of emotion. This can come across a little robotic, but really helps when the s hits the f. If you know someone is going to respond to problems with a cool head then they rapidly build your trust.

So those are some factors that you can employ to be seen as trustworthy. But how can you develop your own team or colleagues to be people you can trust? How can you help them?

How to build a trustworthy team culture

  • Autonomy

You have to let people get on with their tasks and resist any urge to micromanage. Give your team the freedom for them to say “hey I got this”, for them to let you detach from the nuts and bolts and trust in their delivery. Just like if you’ve ever tried to do something for a 3 year old child that they can do themselves – they’ll soon tell you “I’ll do it myself!” Maybe an adult won’t be so honest so it’s up to us to provide our teams with the autonomy to be able to take action and deliver [WNEXT]. Obviously then they need to deliver of course! J

  • Freedom to fail

I have no problem with my team failing. As long as they’re trying new things, developing new ideas and fixing problems. Creating an environment where we can all safely try out new methods is key to being trusted. I know the team doesn’t want to fail, and for the vast majority of cases, wont fail – but when they do it’s cool with me. I’ve worked in teams where the slightest error is ruthlessly punished, and it stifles innovation completely. See this post for some other thoughts on this topic. [BIZLIB]. Obviously we have to ensure failure doesn’t become a habit or a default outcome, but a good team will self-police this.

Trust vs Control – do big organisations get it right?

These days, many firms are super-highly regulated. The price for misdemeanors from non-trustworthy people is high [RTRAD], for the individuals and the firm. So you’ll probably have a LOT of governance. Mandatory training, compliance checks, risk reviews, market conduct – the list goes on. And sometimes it seems we spend too much time on governance, and not enough actually getting things done. I’ve heard it referred to as a source of frustration at a number of places that I’ve worked.

I’ve got a mixed view on this. The key risk and governance items are absolutely required, and often mandated by regulators. So we just need to get on with them. Automate where possible and seek to optimizeJFDI. However there are times when restrictions do seem influenced by a lack of trust. E.g. rejection of conference presentations because someone, once upon a time, did a bad job. Or blocking social media sites by default meaning we can’t access handy training resources e.g. SlideShare, YouTube etc.  Or excessive scrutiny of expense claims in case someone hasn’t followed policy. Even dressing appropriately for the workplace. All of those are not a problem with the right person. A trustworthy professional knows not to display client information in their presentation. They know not to be updating their Facebook page whilst on a conference call. They know the guidelines regarding expenses, and they certainly know not to wear their favourite Metallica t-shirt in a client meeting. 🙂 If they don’t, then they’re not the calibre of person your organisation needs.

So should we be concentrating more on hiring the right attitudes, rather than tarring everyone with the same brush? For sure it would be cheaper to have genuine trust in people rather than implementing complex controls [FORBES]. Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Ok that’s it. Thanks for reading.

Supporting references

[HBR] https://hbr.org/2019/02/the-3-elements-of-trust

[QA] http://qaspire.com/2010/07/21/5-ways-to-build-trust-lessons-from-a-conversation/

[WNEXT] https://whatsnextpodcast.libsyn.com/rising-up-against-the-diminisher-with-liz-wiseman

[BIZLIB] https://www.bizlibrary.com/article/bizlibrary-values-freedom-to-fail/

[RTRAD] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_trading_losses

[FORBES] https://www.forbes.com/sites/keldjensen/2014/12/08/control-is-good-trust-is-cheaper/#518fc721322f

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