We are very privileged to support the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) with their Virtual Career Lab (VCL) series. The VCLs are more than webinars. They provide exercises, tools and guidance on a range of career development topics. A few weeks ago, I delivered one on the subject of “Trust Matters” so I thought I’d make that the focus of this blog post.
What is the role of trust?
Today’s managers can no longer rely on making things happen through people they control. You must make things happen by influencing people over whom you have no authority. You can no longer tell people what to do. You must persuade them to act and influence them to follow you. This makes management far harder and far more rewarding than it has ever been in the past.
The true currency of the 21st century management is now trust and respect. If you are genuinely trusted and respected you will be the sort of manager people want to follow, not the sort of manager people must follow.
A study by EY found that only 49% of people trust their boss/team.
These statistics are shocking as without trust, employees are more likely to be disengaged. If employees don’t trust you, they won’t operate efficiently. Staff members will be reluctant to make decisions, seeking approval for every little thing. They won’t be willing to go the extra mile if they’re unsure whether others will back them up. They’ll fear sharing bad news, so problems will grow instead of being promptly addressed. They’ll be less likely to offer ideas for new products or processes if they believe leaders won’t support them or will take credit for their ideas.
Unfortunately, many employees are predisposed to mistrust managers. It can be a fallout from restructuring and downsizing but also a result of bad experiences with managers at other jobs in other companies. Still, earning employees’ trust is a key component to being a successful leader in a successful organisation. It is the product of daily practice and many decisions that leaders and managers make every day. It means leaders must be conscious of their daily practices that either make or break employee trust.
What is Trust?
In his book The Speed of Trust, Stephen Covey describes trust in basic terms:
“Simply put, trust means confidence. The opposite of trust – distrust – is suspicion. When you trust people, you have confidence in them – in their integrity and their abilities. When you distrust people, you are suspicious of them – of their integrity, their agenda, their capabilities, or their track record. It’s that simple.”
Trust means that you rely on someone else to do the right thing. You believe in the person’s integrity and strength, to the extent that you’re able to put yourself on the line, at some risk to yourself.
5 Reasons Why Trust Matters
#1 Trust Builds Psychological Safety
Trust provides a sense of safety. When your team members feel safe with you, they speak up, ask questions, or make suggestions without fear of retribution. It’s hard to imagine how team members can feel true psychological safety without high levels of trust.
#2 Trust Encourages Questioning and improves decision-making
Everyone will admit they’ve had questions about a task or project but were hesitant to ask because they didn’t want to “seem stupid” or “rock the boat”. At its core these fears represent low levels of trust. They don’t trust that the questioning won’t come back to bite them later or create a negative impression with others.
The reality though is that questioning very often leads to better decision making and enhanced results.
#3 Trust Creates Goodwill (and Minimizes Miscommunications)
With communication there often is very little black and white. Instead, there are perspectives and interpretations. We’ve all received an email or text message from someone who sounded “negative”. Often, the way we receive the message is dependent on our underlying relationship with them and our level of trust in that relationship. Without trust, we’re much more likely to be “negative” back and allow the message to snowball into a conflict. Trust creates a shield of goodwill that allows us to view their comments through a different, more well-intentioned lens. It’s easy to see how something as “small” as a misinterpreted email can snowball into misunderstandings.
#4 Trust Encourages Innovation and Rapid Decision Making
You are much more likely to get innovation because with trust comes freedom. Innovation requires a willingness to try, fail, and try again, and low trust environments tend not to support that spirit of risk taking. Without risk taking, it’s difficult to innovate. Also, it’s hard for teams to move swiftly if they’re not trusting one another. Without trust they tend to second guess one another. They may rework tasks unnecessarily, or rely on one or two team members instead of trusting a broader group. When there is trust, you can get massive productivity gains. Simply put, things move faster, more easily.
#5 Trust Enhances Morale
At the end of the day, teams have more fun when they trust one another. After all, the entire concept of team is being able to depend on each other. Working in a low trust environment is a complete drag while working in a high trust environment can feel like a real high. Who wants to work around people they can’t trust or worse yet people who don’t trust them! At best that type of low trust environment might seek out quality results in the short term, but longer term, it’s a recipe for dysfunction and failure. In my next blog post, I will share some ideas on how you can build your trustworthiness. In the meantime, why not think of an individual, (manager or not), who has established trust among their team members. What actions have they taken or what characteristics have they displayed to build that trust?