The ever-changing nature of global organisations presents challenges for building and nurturing relationships bounded in trust: the belief that another person has an attitude of goodwill towards them and taking actions according to that belief. As business leaders, we understand that trust is important, but why does it matter so much to organisational performance?

Greg Shuler, Chief Talent Officer at J. Walter Thompson Company for the Middle East & North Africa, discusses how to harness the power of trust to improve organisational performance.

Trust can be an incredibly difficult thing to obtain, yet it can be lost in an instant. To discuss the importance of trustworthiness in the workplace runs the risk of showing a lack of common sense. What is there to discuss when it is innately understood and self-evident that trust is a vital component of a healthy workplace? Good leaders know the value that trust brings to their relationships—trust leads to higher performance, employee engagement, discretionary effort and innovation. However, today it seems as though there is a lack of trust everywhere.

Counting on Trust

An article in HBR, ‘A Global Survey on the Ambiguous State of Employee Trust’ references research conducted by professional services firm EY that uncovered some key findings on trust in the workplace after surveying 9,800 full-time workers across eight industrialised countries:

  • Around 46% of those surveyed had a ‘great deal of trust’ in their employers
  • 39% had “some trust”
  • 15% had “very little or no trust at all”

Despite these worrying results, many leaders are not concerned about trust in the workplace, but they should be.

Trust Currency in the Workplace

Greg Shuler, Chief Talent Officer at J. Walter Thompson Company for the Middle East & North Africa urges leaders to focus more on building trust in order to build credibility with their teams. Shuler said, “Trust is the precursor to engagement. You can do surveys, interventions and focus groups that talk about how to raise engagement, but the conversation should be more around how HR leaders can get their people to trust them more”.

There are many objectives that an HR leader must achieve in their role, from helping the business to build organisational capability to developing a talent management framework, but Shuler stresses the importance of getting out of the HR silo. “If I can’t sit down with a Creative Director or a Business Director and credibly talk about their business and have a point of view, then my job becomes incredibly difficult, because it raises doubts and questions about the value that I’m adding.”

Dealing with a Trust Deficit

Unfortunately and quite commonly, HR leaders find themselves in the unenviable situation of having to deal with a trust deficit. Shuler offers the following advice: “In order for HR leaders to overcome a trust deficit, it helps to have some data points, whether that’s quantitiatve or qualitative to support your case, and then also focus on a joint interest with the leader. That will help to close the [trust] gap.”

In her recent article, ‘Basic Primer – Trust 101 for New Leaders’, in Psychology Today, Nan S. Russell offers a comprehensive list of things that new leaders should know about creating and operating with trust.

Here is a selection of the top six:

  • 1.Put the spotlight on yourself and become a trust worthy leader
  • 2.Role model the desired behaviours you want to see in your team
  • 3.Follow through with your actions
  • 4.Expect the best from yourself and others
  • 5.Enable strengths by helping others do great work
  • 6.Know how to differentiate between fair and equitable

With the workplace moving faster than ever and digital technology rapidly transforming the status quo, trustworthiness is becoming an increasingly important currency in the global workforce.