By Marielena Sabatier, CEO, Inspiring Potential

The issue of trust is high on the agenda for many organisations, especially following the financial crisis and recent scandals that have affected sectors such as banking, retail and energy in the UK. Companies in these sectors are all looking to regain trust amongst their customers and in many cases repair their damaged reputations. Trust is also important within companies and building trust can be the key to effective team working.

According to a report published last year from the CIPD, ‘Employee Outlook: Focus on trust in leader’,[1] which questioned 3000 employees at all levels and across different sectors, a lack of trust is a major issue in business. A third of employees said that trust in senior managers was weak and that a ‘them and us’ culture exists in their company. People also reported that trust is the third most important attribute they look for in senior managers (after competency and communication) and more than a third of employees also rated attributes such as openness and straight talking and honesty as being important.

I have noticed an increase in demand for my coaching services over the past few years from companies looking to rebuild teams and trust so it seems many senior managers are not doing a great job of fostering trust. Several academic books in recent years have also focused on the importance of creating and restoring trust, including, Stephen M.R Covey’s book ‘The Speed of Trust’[2]. His book discusses 13 behaviours that establish trust and looks at how an environment built on trust can be created and the exceptional results that can follow if this is achieved.
Why is trust so important in business?

It sounds obvious - managers need to trust their workers; workers need to trust their managers and employees need to be able to trust each other, but this cycle of trust is hard to achieve. When people trust their leader they are willing to follow and go the extra mile for them. As a result, productivity not only increases, but the quality of work improves because people care more. In terms of a monetary value, greater trust can result in less absenteeism, reduced employee turnover, and more productivity because people are engaged and motivated.

When there is trust managers stop micro managing and constantly double-checking work because they don’t trust someone to do a good job. This can reduce emotional stress in the workplace and promote a culture of open and honest communication. Fostering good trust is also about being vulnerable. Colleagues who trust each other are comfortable being open or exposed to one another about their failures, weakness and fears. They believe their colleagues have the integrity, competence and willingness to do their best and deliver results. Vulnerability is too often perceived as a weakness, but it is actually a sign of strength and showing your human side is what can make someone a great manager and leader.

Why don’t we trust more?

People are offended when their manager or colleagues don’t trust them, but too seldom stop to think why this might be the case. Have they behaved impeccably? Have they been open and honest and faced difficult situations and conversations with courage?

The key to building trust is behaving consistently. Often when people feel vulnerable or exposed they avoid difficult situations, creating ambiguity and doubt. They don’t trust how others will react to them and believe they will become overly emotional if they confront them. But in avoiding such situations, people are making a bad situation worse so communication and honesty is an important trust building ingredient.

Building trust

Whilst we all probably understand the value of trust in the workplace, many managers don’t know how to encourage it.

The first step for any manager looking at trust issues is self-analysis. They need to think about the people they trust and what it is about their behaviours that make them appear trustworthy.

Typically it will be that they display competency - the ability, experience and skills to perform in a way that meets expectations. Character-wise a trustworthy person behaves for the better good, rather than for their own wellbeing; they behave consistently and with integrity. They walk the talk. They display transparency and make the difficult choices with courage. They ultimately show a willingness and commitment to deliver the desired results.

Here are seven tips for managers to build or rebuild trust:

· Take an inventory of your trustworthy behaviours. We would hate to think that people don’t trust us, but have you ever blamed a colleague for your failure to deliver? How much do you trust? Trust is two-way and it is very fragile. It could be explained by the ‘Fundamental Attribution Error’, an idea proposed by US social psychologist Lee Ross in 1977. It states that when it comes to other people, we attribute negative behaviour in others to their character and our own negative behaviour to context. This means that when we behave badly it is because of the situation we are in. If others behave badly it is because they are pre-disposed to behave badly. We attribute their success to their environment - they were ‘just lucky’ - whereas if we are successful it is because we are inherently good and talented.

· Act with integrity. Everyone has a different definition of integrity, but in general it means doing the right thing even when nobody else is looking. It means doing what you say you will do and leading by example and having the greater good in mind rather than your own wellbeing.

· Admit mistakes. Often people are afraid of admitting mistakes because they don’t trust others to treat them fairly. However, people need to take responsibility for their failures and not blame others or circumstances. Taking responsibility ensures your people can do something about a situation and learn from mistakes.

· Straight talk. Don’t avoid difficult conversations or feedback; people have the right to know what you think otherwise they’ll never grow or learn from their mistakes. However, whilst people may value some straight talking, difficult conversations must be balanced with empathy. When people are straight talking but lacking in empathy they could be considered opinionated, close-minded or even bullies. . Empathy is the key ingredient to get people to listen and to know you have their best interests at heart.

· Be approachable. Not only listen, but ask for your team’s opinions and suggestions, and act on them or, if you choose not to, explain why you have chosen a different course of action. Often people ask for opinions, but do not listen or do anything about them. Once you have requested information, it is critical to do something with it, either take action or reject appropriately.

· Right wrongs and go the extra mile. People often apologise, and do nothing more. Apologies like these mean nothing. If someone has been wronged it is critical to take action to make it right.

· Hold people accountable. It is important to hold people accountable for their results. When a leader lacks the courage to confront an employee that is not performing, if affects the trust of others in the leader. People need to understand the benefits and consequences of their actions or lack of them.

Remember that trust is a privilege and not a right – it is hard to win and easy to destroy, but it is a key ingredients in any successful business.

[1] CIPD’s Employee Outlook - Focus on trust in leaders (Autumn 2013), available here (accessed 23 April 2014)
[2] Covey, Stephen MR ((2006) The Speed of Trust, Simon & Schuster, New York, NY. – See more here