By: Abbey Lewis
Trust is one of the most vital forms of capital a leader has today. Amid economic turbulence and global uncertainty, people are increasingly turning to their employers and business leaders as a source of truth, rather than their institutions and government officials, according to a new global survey by Harvard Business School’s Institute for the Study of Business in Global Society and the Edelman Trust Institute.
Trust, which can be defined as a belief in the abilities, integrity, and character of another person, is often thought of as something that personal relationships are built on, but according to recent research in Harvard Business Review, trust is the foundation of most successful organizations.
THE BENEFITS OF A HIGH-TRUST ORGANIZATION
A high-trust organization is one in which employees feel safe to take risks, express themselves freely, and innovate. When trust is instilled in an organization, tasks get accomplished with less difficulty because people are more likely to collaborate and communicate with each other in productive ways. As a result, outcomes tend to be more successful.
In fact, according to a study in Harvard Business Review, people at high-trust companies report 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 than people at low-trust companies.
In contrast, employees at low-trust organizations are often bogged down by office politics and infighting. They are more likely to withhold information and hoard resources because they don’t feel safe sharing them. As a result, decision making is slower and less effective.
At a time when distrust seems to be the default, fostering a high-trust organization has never been so important—and it often starts with leadership.
HOW LEADERS BUILD TRUST
Leaders play a crucial role in building trust within their organizations. Leaders set the tone for the culture and establish norms of behavior. If leaders aren’t focused on trust, communication, collaboration, and innovation will suffer.
So how can leaders build trust? It starts with creating a safe environment where people feel comfortable expressing themselves and taking risks. It means being transparent and authentic. And it requires establishing clear expectations and following through on commitments.
Here are some things leaders can do to foster an environment of trust:
Share information openly and candidly. Keep the team updated on what’s going on in the company and at the senior leadership level. Don’t withhold resources from employees or make decisions in secret.
Provide regular feedback. Be clear about the team vision and expectations of team members. Share how employees are tracking toward their performance—both positively and constructively.
Encourage open communication. Create an environment where employees feel comfortable speaking up and voicing their opinions—even if those opinions differ from leadership. Leaders can follow formal processes, such as anonymous surveys, as well as informal processes, such as asking employees for their thoughts on a workplace topic at regular check-in meetings.
Start with self-awareness. Leaders become more authentic when they begin with knowing who they are—what they value, what they’re good at, how emotionally intelligent they are—and how others perceive them.
Show vulnerability. When leaders reveal their trip-ups and failures, they are seen as more approachable and less arrogant, but showing vulnerability isn’t always easy. Start by sharing lessons from past mistakes or areas of development.
Embrace the journey. The path to authenticity can be tricky. Nevertheless, the answer is not in pushing away difficult emotions or situations that might arise, but in embracing the ups and downs. And, above all, learning from them and sharing those learnings with team members.
Follow through on commitments. To be reliable, leaders must ensure their actions line up with their words. Employees will quickly lose faith in a leader if they can’t rely on the leader to do as they say.
Establish expertise. Employees don’t expect their leaders to know everything, but they do need to hold a certain level of confidence in their leaders’ capabilities. To build their confidence, root ideas in sound evidence, suggest industry best practices, and share trends, insights, and resources relevant to the team’s function.
Demonstrate integrity and fairness. All team members should be able to rely on their leaders for fair treatment, especially when it comes to growth opportunities. Provide all team members with learning experiences so they can develop their skillsets, whether through projects, training programs, or other roles in the organization.
TRAIN LEADERS TO BUILD TRUST
As an organization grows, it’s important to continue investing in leadership development. That way, the next generation of leaders will understand how to build trust within their teams—and why it’s so important. This means giving them the skills and tools they need, such as authentic leadership training, communication training, and DEI training, to name a few. It also means ensuring that leaders meet regularly with team members to foster open dialogue and build connections.
Ultimately, leaders set the tone for trust within an organization. By investing in leadership training and development, organizations can ensure that this crucial element of success is always front and center, resulting in increased employee engagement, better team performance, and higher levels of productivity.