It is the one thing that changes everything. It’s not a nice-to-have; it’s a must-have. Without it, every part of your organization can fall, literally, into disrepair.

In an essay in the Harvard Business Review, authors and business leaders Stephen M.R. Covey and Douglas M. Conant made the strongest possible case for building trust in business. With trust, they said, all things are possible – most importantly: continuous improvement and sustainable, measurable, tangible results in the marketplace:

For the Great Place To Work® institute too, it all comes down to trust: “Decades of research,” says the company’s website, “show workplaces with high-trust cultures see higher levels of revenues, innovation, customer and patient satisfaction, employee engagement, organizational agility, and more.”

And yet, surveys regularly cite lack of trust as a big obstacle in companies. A recent survey by U.S. management consulting firm Tolero Solutions found that 45 percent of people said lack of trust in leadership was the biggest issue impacting their work performance. This was echoed by the 2016 Global Generations study, conducted by global consultancy firm EY, which found that less than half of global respondents had a “great deal of trust” in their current employers, bosses or colleagues.

Trust is “the glue”

According to best-selling author and expert on self-development Brian Tracy, trust should be fostered as a priority within companies as it is “the glue that holds all relationships together, including the relationship between the leader and the led. People can only put their whole hearts into their work when they feel secure and they can only feel secure when they can relax and trust you completely.”

Building trust in a company is a two-way street. Employees need to feel both trusted and, in turn, trust their immediate managers and the company’s management as a whole.

So how do leaders go about building a successful trust culture? Tracy advises them to act with integrity to inspire trust. “Integrity appears over and over as the most important leadership quality,” he says.

Additionally, he claims that a high-trust working environment can only be created when people feel free to make errors without consequence or judgment:

“When employees feel that they are free to make mistakes with no punishment or hostility, they develop better self-esteem and pride in their work,” says Tracy. “They enjoy their work much more, become more ­creative and work more effectively with other people.”

Other benefits to building trust include lower staff turnover, desirable work-related behavior, enhanced knowledge sharing and increased innovation.

In “Transparency: How Leaders Create a Culture of Candor,” Daniel Goleman, writer of best-selling book “Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence,” joins with distinguished professors and authors Warren Bennis and James O’Toole in advising leaders to admit mistakes, share information openly, reward employees who take a different position or attitude and protect whistleblowers.

John Blakey, founder of the Trusted Executive Foundation, which helps leaders create strategies for building trust in an ever-changing work environment, says: “Trust involves risk and hope but has rational, emotional and moral components too.”

To kick-start a trust culture, Blakey suggests establishing “the three pillars that inspire trust – ability, integrity and benevolence.”

While most people understand the meaning and importance of the first two, Blakey believes benevolence is the key.

“Benevolence is about the small things that make a difference. The personal touch, the human touch. In a context of trust it means going above and beyond the profit motive to show care and concern. As a leader, it is benevolence that is going to help you trust me, alongside my ability and my integrity.”

Inspire, empower, include

Capital One is one company that has been pretty suc­cessful in establishing a culture of trust. The bank holding company, based in the U.S. state of Virginia, regularly appears on global “Best Companies to Work For” lists.

“An open, transparent culture is the primary way we foster trust and engagement,” says Mike Lynch, Capital One’s U.K. human resources director. “At all times, everyone needs to feel connected to the business and feel like they’re a trusted member of the bigger team.”

The company runs a range of annual events to keep people connected, including an offsite Mission Day featuring motivational guest speakers and workshops, Customer Week, Risk Day and a Data Expo. “Our leadership model focuses on how we inspire, empower and include our people,” says Lynch.

“We set the framework for our people to be the best they can be,” comments Lynch. “We’re also very open when talking about what’s not going so well and the challenges we face collectively.”

Pillars of trust

Workplace trust and its impact on business performance have also been studied by Interaction Associates, a U.S.-based learning and development company. Their 2014 survey “Building Workplace Trust” found that high-trust companies are 2.5 times more likely to be high-performing organizations relative to revenue than are the low-trust companies. The high-trust companies are also better at achieving other goals like competitive market position, customer loyalty and retention.

According to the research, it is clear that trust and performance move together. Organizations that are actively investing in leadership development and creating an environment based on trust and collaboration can expect to reap big financial rewards.

Cornell University’s 2002 study “The High Cost of Lost Trust,” for example, compiled interviews with 6,500 Holiday Inn employees across the U.S. and Canada. It found that hotels with just a one-eighth improvement in trustworthiness in their line management saw a 2.5 percent increase in profitability.Angela Singleton

Published: September 2018

Images: Danae Diaz for Delivered.