It’s ironic, isn’t it, that one of the surest ways to raise suspicion about someone’s motives is for the person to say, “Trust me on this?” That’s certainly true when it comes to employees and customers.
In the workplace, few challenges have obsessed and perplexed the business world more than the issue of employee trust. The reason is obvious. With it, virtually any obstacle can be overcome in an organization. Without it, every day is filled with uncertainty and anxiety, no matter what else the organization does right.
In the marketplace, few things are treasured more passionately than loyal customers – those people who come back time and again, and even refer new customers to enjoy the same experience.
When you get them both right, it’s business paradise. The crucial thing to understand is that the two go hand-in-hand. Without employee trust, customer trust suffers, as well.
Management Credibility Factors
One reason organizations fail to foster a culture of trust is because they focus mainly on interpersonal factors. They’re important, to be sure, and here are key behaviors that managers have to exhibit to gain employee trust:
- Caring – Genuine concern about employee wellbeing is where it has to start.
- Honesty and Openness – Dance around the truth or hide important information, and people tune out and turn away.
- Responsiveness – Listening and taking action on what you hear tells people you’re sincere.
- Competence – If you don’t know what you’re doing, it’s hard to win a following.
- Reliability – Can people count on you to do what you say
- Apology – If you can admit mistakes and apologize sincerely, trust goes way up.
In a recent article I wrote for Communication World called “Cracking the Culture Code,” the communication VPs for Southwest Airlines and Enterprise Rent-A-Car talk about how their companies observe those behaviors in their extraordinarily successful cultures.
But…that’s only half of the equation. You also have to design the systems, policies, and processes in a way that tells employees unequivocally that they are trusted. We call those People-First Systems, and they fall into five main categories:
- Rewards and recognition
- Learning and development
- Continuous improvement
Of course, many organizations have some type of mechanism in place for all of those areas. But do they really demonstrate to employees that they are trusted? Do they truly reinforce the oft-heard mantra that people are our most important asset? Fact is, systems in most organizations are designed to protect against the miniscule number of irresponsible people, and those constraints wind up stifling the vast majority of employees you can count on like clockwork.
Bottom line, you can’t have performance excellence without sincere trust and belief in people. If you have doubts about the merits of that philosophy, consider the wisdom of renowned statesman, Henry Stimson, who said, “The only way to make a man trustworthy is to trust him.”
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