Organizational trust is the confidence your workforce has in your company.  This includes the confidence your employees have in the strategic direction of your organization, and how well leadership lives and breathes the mission, purpose, and values of the business.   There are many factors associated with organizational trust, and leadership behavior plays an important role in ensuring trust exists and is maintain in any enterprise.  

What is Organizational Trust

With over 31-years of experience helping organizations and leaders build organizational trust we’ve learned there are 6 factors that play a key role in determining low or high trust levels:

  • Consistent and clear messaging.  This is when the workforce have the same understanding of any message leadership is sharing. 
  • Perceived fairness and whether or not people feel they are treated fairly
  • Equality where people are given fair opportunity to succeed
  • Valuing differing perspectives.  When people are given the opportunity to be listened to and heard, this increases organizational trust. 
  • Empowerment is not only giving people the opportunity to perform their best, but also an extension of trust.  It means the leader trusts the employee.
  • Interpersonal conflict and how well conflict is addressed.  If interpersonal conflict or poor behavior is tolerated trust goes down.  

In an article, The Enemies of Trust, published in the Harvard Business Review, February 2003, “The building blocks of trust are unsurprising: They’re old-fashioned managerial virtues like consistency, and clear communication.”  

Additionally, in another study of 3070 faculty members working in 73 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs)  conducted by James Hollander Vineburg, “revealed that higher levels of empowerment, higher levels of support for innovation, and lower levels of interpersonal conflict were associated with higher levels of organizational trust.” 

Why is Organizational Trust Important

Organizational trust provides a competitive advantage for any organization.  Trust is the foundation of the relationship between people.  Without trust, there is no relationship or there is an adverse relationship.  Organizational trust:

  • Increases collaboration
  • Improves leadership and alignment 
  • Accelerates performance

Derailers of Trust

If trust plays such an important role in organizational performance and provides a competitive advantage, how is trust broken?   When managers and leaders become over-controlling, trust is lost.  There is no empowerment, no respect for differing ideas and views, no equality and fairness.  According to another study cited in The Journal of Corporate Transformation, when there is an atmosphere of trust, “there is less need for formal control mechanisms and monitoring.”  When employees feel trusted they reciprocate trust and become inspired to perform.  

Lack of consistency and integrity are trust derailers.  To have solid trust in the business, the leadership of the business and the strategy of the company, all leaders must demonstrate and role model the mission, values, and purpose of the company.  

What You Can Do to Create Trust

Here are four tips you can use to build and create organizational trust:  

  • Create an atmosphere of trust by talking about the issues of distrust.  At Linceis Conscious Business we help clients identify the issues of distrust between people and we facilitate a conversation that helps clarify what happened to cause distrust, the adverse impact that distrust is having on the relationship and the team, and the behavioral change that people need to make to rebuild trust.  We often say that to build trust, talk about the issues that created the distrust.  This is not an easy exercise to do, because to have a conversation around issues of distrust involves listening and feedback.
  • Create a feedback climate.  Feedback is an important way to develop people, to keep the lines of communication open, generate alignment, kills rumors, and improve performance.  At Linceis Conscious Business, we call feedback, replaying the tape.  Every good sports team, after they play the game, replays and reviews the tape of their game.  Sports teams, as well as the individual players, look for the strengths and weaknesses in how they executed their game strategy and how well they individually performed.  As a leader, take the time and help your team replay their tape and then create action plans for your team’s next level of effectiveness.  Feedback and truth-telling increases trust.    
  • Extend trust.  As a leader, if you are over-controlling and don’t empower others you are not extending trust.  We often hear the excuse that leaders are over-controlling micro-managers because they want to avoid failure.  In fact, the opposite is true, when leaders micro-manage, they can actually cause lower performance. Empower others by developing them.  Train, teach, and mentor your workforce so that you can give them more responsibility, accountability, and authority to perform. 
  • Keep your commitments.  Nothing breaks trust quicker than lack of follow-through.  When we renege on our promises, we teach others not to trust us.  When we renege on our commitment, people lose confidence in us.  When we don’t follow-through, our people can’t depend on us.  

Remember when there is a positive and trusting relationship between leadership and the workforce, alignment and performance improves.  Improving yourself as a leader, by empowering others with less control, being fair and equitable, providing clear and consistent messaging, and developing will lead to increased collaboration, team alignment, and improved bottom-line results.   

References:

Ahteela, R., & Vanhala, M. (2018). HRM bundles and organizational trust. Knowledge and Process Management: The Journal of Corporate Transformation, 25(1), 3-11.

Baskin, O.  (2001).  Trust as a competitive advantage.  Graziadio Business Review:  A Peer Reviewed Journal Advancing Business Practices.  Pepperdine Business School.  

Galford, R., & Drapeau, A. (2003).  The Enemies of Trust.  Harvard Business Review.  

Vinburg, J. R. (2010).  A study of organizational trust and related variables among faculty members at HBCUs:  Iowa Research Online.  The University of Iowa. 

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