Trust. You know when you experience trust; you know when you don’t. Yet, what is trust and how is it usefully defined for your workplace? How do you maintain and build upon the trust you may have now in your workplace? Can you build trust with people when it doesn’t exist? These are important questions for today’s rapidly changing world.
Trust forms the foundation in your organization for effective communication, employee retention, employee motivation, and the employees’ contribution of discretionary energy, the extra effort that people voluntarily invest in work.
When trust exists in an organization or a relationship, almost everything else is easier and more comfortable to achieve.
A Definition of Trust
In reading about trust, many definitions exist that purportedly describe trust in understandable ways—but don’t. Trust is a valuable and critical quality in building a relationship—both personal and business relationships depend on trust.
But what is trust, and how can you be sure that you are a trustworthy person and that those you work with are trustworthy?
According to Dr. Duane C. Tway, Jr. in his 1993 dissertation, “A Construct of Trust,” (and I have yet to find a better definition), “There exists today, no practical construct of trust that allows us to design and implement organizational interventions to significantly increase trust levels between people. We all think we know what trust is from our own experience, but we don’t know much about how to improve it. Why? I believe it is because we have been taught to look at trust as if it were a single entity.”
The Three Constructs of Trust
Tway says trust is made up of three things.
- The Capacity of Trusting: You need life experiences that developed a capacity for trust. If your parents and teachers were untrustworthy, you might have a low capacity for trust—no one else has been trustworthy, so why should this business partner be trusted.
- Perception of competence: Someone can be an honest individual, but if they are incompetent, you cannot trust them. Likewise, you need to be capable of doing the work at hand. Someone may believe they can do the job, but you cannot trust them if they lack the skill.
- Perception of intentions: How do people perceive your actions, words, direction, and mission? Are you acting in a self-serving manner, or is your relationship with this person built to benefit everyone? If your coworker perceives you as being self-serving, there will be no trust.
Why Trust Is Critical in a Healthy Organization
Would you get up and go to work every day if you didn’t think you would receive a paycheck on schedule? Would you hire a person you didn’t think would show up? You need to trust the people within your organization to be successful—for you to be successful.
This is one of the reasons bullying causes so much havoc in a company. You cannot trust a bully’s intention, nor can you trust that what they said to you is the truth. A lack of trust makes a company miserable.
Micro-managers operate with low levels of trust. They do not believe that their employees can accomplish anything without checking on them frequently and giving guidance. Employees quickly become miserable under micromanagement.
The critical component in all these issues is trust.
Even in an organization in which trust is a priority, things happen daily that can injure trust. If an employee misunderstands a communication or someone mistakenly misdirects a customer order, you can lose trust—even though no one intended dishonesty. If a business owner files bankruptcy, does that mean he’s not trustworthy or was it just bad luck?
What Injures the Trust Relationship?
If people do not understand your intentions, it’s hard to build a strong trust relationship. Just why are you doing the things that you’re doing? If you keep your rationale and intentions hidden, people won’t trust you.
People who join your organization who have had previous bad experiences may find building trust a challenge. You may take years and years of steady, performed as expected behavior to build relationships of trust. And after you do that, one wrong or dishonest decision (or misunderstood decision) can destroy that trust you worked so hard to build.
Many organizations struggle with trust. Employees don’t trust the management. Management doesn’t trust the employees. This makes for a tense relationship and an untrusting workplace. Supporting this is research like the following.
The Critical Role of the Leader in Trust Relationships
Kurt T. Dirks, now Bank of America Professor of Managerial Leadership among other prestigious roles he holds at Washington University in St. Louis, earlier studied the impact of trust on college basketball team success. After surveying the players on 30 teams, he determined that players on successful teams were more likely to trust their coach.
He found these players were more likely to believe that their coach knew what was required for them to win. They believed the coach had their best interests at heart; they believed the coach came through with what he promised. (Something to think about: trust in their teammates was hardly deemed necessary in the study.)
Paul J. Zak, in The Neuroscience of Trust, in the “Harvard Business Review,” found that in comparison with people at low trust companies, people at high-trust companies report experiencing 74% less stress, 106% more energy at work, 50% higher productivity, 13% fewer sick days, 76% more engagement, 29% more satisfaction with their lives, and 40% less burnout. (What’s not to love?)
In another study, by C. Ken Weidner, who has served as Assistant Professor of Management at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia since 2000, his findings suggest several implications for organizational performance and change.
Weidner found that a manager’s skill in developing relationships that reduce or eliminate distrust positively impacts employee turnover. He believes that turnover may be a result of organizations failing to draw people in. He also found that trust in the supervisor is associated with better individual performance.
Build a Trust Relationship Over Time
Trust is built and maintained by many small actions over time. You cannot lie some of the time and expect to receive trust all of the time. You have to be consistent in the little things for people to trust you in the big things.
Trust is built and maintained by many small actions over time. Marsha Sinetar, the author, said, “Trust is not a matter of technique, but character; we are trusted because of our way of being, not because of our polished exteriors or our expertly crafted communications.”
One small slip-up can send the relationship tumbling backward.
So fundamentally, trust, and here is the secret I promised in the title of this article, is the cornerstone, the foundation, for everything you’d like your organization to be now and for everything you’d like it to become in the future. Lay this groundwork well.
Trust is telling the truth, even when it is difficult and truthful, authentic, and trustworthy in your dealings with customers and staff. Can profoundly-rewarding, mission-serving, life- and work-enhancing actions get any simpler than this? Not likely.