Trust: The New Workplace Currency

How to get it and why it matters.

In the New Workplace - Trust Begets Trust

Making Trust a Verb at Work

Do you need to be working side-by-side at work to have good communication and collaboration? Or produce high quality work? Some leaders think so.

The decision by Yahoo's CEO to require everyone to work in the office underscores a bigger question. Is this a communication, collaboration, or productivity issue, or is it a trust issue?

The reality is most people don't work side-by-side in the new workplace, nor even in the old workplace. Even at the office, they work on different floors, in different buildings, cities, or countries. Eliminating elsewhere work, gives the perception, real or not, that employees aren't trusted.

Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group offered this perspective of Yahoo's decision in a blog post: "To successfully work with other people, you have to trust each other. A big part of this is trusting people to get their work done wherever they are, without supervision."

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Branson went on to comment, "We like to give people the freedom to work where they want, safe in the knowledge that they have the drive and expertise to perform excellently, whether they are at their desk or in their kitchen. Yours truly has never worked out of an office, and never will."

Who should you trust to be more engaged and committed - people you see every day at work or people who work remotely? A recent survey found it was not necessarily those you see every day.

Are you more productive at work or at home? Those working remotely get high marks. One Stanford University study, with 16,000 Chinese travel agency employees, found when working from home, "they were 13 percent more productive than when they worked in the building."

When we think about trust at work, there are two kinds of people - those who think and use trust only as a noun, and those who think and use trust as verb. Those who operate using trust as a noun, like Yahoo, tend to think of "trust" as defined by researchers Currall and Inpen (2006) in The Handbook of Trust - "to rely on another party (i.e. person, group, or organization) under a condition of risk."

Those who operate and get results in the new workplace, like Virgin, see trust as a verb. Solomon & Flores in their book Building Trust in Business, Politics, Relationships, and Life, define trust this way "Trust isn't something we "have," or a medium or an atmosphere with which we operate. Trust is something we do, something we make."

Trust, used as a verb at work, generates the currency of the new workplace. Referred to as authentic trust, it's all about the relationship, and what it takes to create, build, and maintain mutually beneficial working relationships.

Authentic trust isn't a belief about reliability or dependability, nor glue that "makes things possible." Rather, authentic trust is an active process of relationship building. Giving trust is what people do who want to enable engagement, innovation, creativity, and great work.

Trust begets trust. Behavioral scientist Ernest Fehr at the University of Zurich, Switzerland confirmed experimentally that "if you trust people, you make them more trustworthy and, conversely, sanctions designed to deter people from cheating actually make them cheat."

Want to make trust a verb where you work? Here are three trust building approaches to get you started:

1. Commit to the relationship. Love doesn't thrive because you're in an exclusive relationship, and neither does trust. Effectively handling set-backs, ongoing communication, nurturing each others' strengths, dealing with differences, and making a continuous commitment to the relationship allows authentic trust (and love) to flourish.

2. Focus on what's going right. A common trust building mistake is spending energy to fix what's wrong, or focusing collectively when only a few are causing problems. Instead, identify and reinforce what's going right. Put your attention on getting more of the behaviors and actions you desire. When you reinforce what's going well, you get more of it.

3. Start the process. Trust is an action. Trust starts because you give it, and evolves incrementally over time by actions taken and given. It's not a blank check or on/off switch. Think of authentic trust building like turning up a dimmer switch. You gradually turn the light brighter to fit the relationship. It you turn it up too bright, you can turn it down and adjust the level. Giving trust is like that.

You can pay for someone's time at work, and people will show up and do what they need to do. But you can't suction ideas, discretionary efforts, and innovative solutions from their minds. Instead, those who use trust as a verb, by giving trust and operating with a commitment to a mutually beneficial relationship, find those "golden eggs" freely given.

More trust building tips:

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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