Trust: The New Workplace Currency

How to get it and why it matters.

5 Things Your Staff Wants You to Know

How to start building trust today.

Yet another workplace trust survey. Yet another red flag. Once again results confirm that employees still distrust their leaders.

The 2011 Leadership, Collaboration, and Trust Research Report released from Interaction Associates found: "Employee trust in leaders is lagging and has not rebounded over the past year. Even as employees express trust in peers by saying they share and collaborate more easily with colleagues, employees remain wary and distrustful of their leaders."

Leaders continue to wonder why those they're striving to engage are alienated, distrustful, and fed-up. Yet, every day, enthusiasm, ideas, and initiative are unintentionally killed by leader actions. They eliminate resources while still expecting immediate results; shut out meaningful dialogue while still requesting candid feedback. They pocket stock options and bonuses while reducing staff salary and benefits; and reward unfavorable behaviors, while operating with myopic interests and escalating bureaucracy.

Any wonder employee engagement and job satisfaction remains low? According to a Towers Watson study, the number one quality people want in workplace leaders is trustworthiness.

But what makes you worthy of your staff's confidence? What does it mean to be a trustworthy leader? What do people need in order to trust again? They'd like to tell you themselves, but studies confirm that more than 50% of employees are afraid to speak up at work.

So, if you're a leader, here's a composite of things your staff would like you to know, and five areas where you can start building trust today:

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  1. Actions speak. Behavioral integrity is the alignment between what you say and what you do. How's yours? Let's say you announce a cost cutting measure that includes eliminating business class for international travel, but you exempt yourself and upper management from following it. No alignment—no credibility. No credibility—no trust. Employees are watching for the honesty between leaders' words and deeds. Behavioral integrity demonstrates trustworthiness. Start there.
  2. Not HR's problem to fix. Distrust can't be fixed by programs. Better recognition, more push communication, or enhanced training won't build trust or mutual respect. There are problems with some leaders and problems with some staff. But finger pointing, blaming, perpetuating an "us vs. them" mentality exacerbates the problem. Bottom line? We need each other. Disengagement costs jobs and profits. What's needed is a balanced understanding of our mutual worth. Start there.
  3. Own your part. You're under pressure to meet goals and quarterly numbers, but initiative is killed with terse emails and escalating demands. If you operate as a medieval warlord with refrains like "just make it happen" or "I don't care what it takes" that command-and-control approach won't yield the results you want. Plus, check the plaques. Those words heralding employees as your most important asset are viewed as a lie, because this isn't the way to treat a valued asset. Make the statement true or take it down. Start there.
  4.  Manage to the 90%. It's backwards to write rules, limit sound practices and make short-term decisions with long term business impact around a delinquent few. That communicates distrust to the other 90% of committed, trustworthy, and hard working employees. When you orient to what's wrong rather than what's right you communicate distrust to everyone. Shift your perspective. Start there.
  5. Give it to get it. Giving trust is a choice you make when you put confidence in or rely on someone else. Trust begins by giving trust, just like love begins by loving, respect by respecting others, and communication by sharing information. You get trust by giving it.Start there. 

More trust building insights and tips can be found in my book, Hitting Your Sride.

Nan S. Russell is a workplace expert with real-world experience, and the author of Hitting Your Stride: Your Work, Your Way.

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