TRUSTThe Power of Trust

Trust—a quality prized in friendship and business relationships, yet all too often MIA in today’s corporate environment. Indeed, according to a four-year study on trust and its relation to leadership and collaboration by Interaction Associates, the level of trust people feel in the workplace fell off a cliff in 2009 and has continued on this downward spiral every year since, with 2012 levels at their lowest point since the start of the recession.

Yet according to Jordan Cohen, a consultant with PA Consulting Group, this quality—together with love and candor—should be among management’s top priorities. His assertion is underscored by the findings of leadership experts such as Gary Hamel and Warren Bennis; trust, they say, is a critical component of any successful organization’s DNA.  The key to fostering  this crucial within your organization: working collaboratively with others and remaining clear about your goals and objectives.

Three steps toward building trust

Based on a survey of 440 participants from more than 300 organizations worldwide, Interaction Associates offers the following guidelines for fostering an atmosphere of trust within an organization:

  • Involve people in decisions that directly affect them. People like to be involved in the decision-making process, even if the position they champion doesn’t prevail. “…treating people as capable adults shows you trust them to be part of good decisions. They’ll trust you more in return.”
  • Be transparent and consistent in your actions. Instead of focusing solely on the outcome, allow people insight into the thought process behind decisions that are made. “If you are transparent and consistent, people will see your motives and learn to rely on you.”

In his HBR Blog Network post, Cohen revealed how he encouraged an atmosphere of trust in his organization by sharing immediate and frequent feedback with colleagues. Rather than withholding observations until end-of-year performance reviews, Cohen discovered that by sharing candid feedback with colleagues in a timely manner, he was able to affect change across the organization.

“Given this new freedom to speak our minds,” Cohen observed “we saw team behaviors in the department shift from a culture of passive acceptance to engaged and active participation in each other’s development.” Sharing immediate and personal feedback, Cohen found, demonstrated to colleagues “that you genuinely care enough about them, their success within the organization, and their career well-being to provide them with information that will help them fulfill their aspirations.”

  • Pay attention to relationships. The importance of interpersonal relationships cannot be ignored. “If people know you understand what matters to them, they’ll trust you to act in ways that align with their interests,” explains Andy Atkins, Chief Innovation Officer of Interaction Associates.

As author Charles Green observed, leadership is no longer a top-down enterprise in which the CEO issues directives from above. The business world today has been flattened; today one’s ability to succeed as a leader is based on “the ability to persuade someone over whom you have no power to collaborate with you in pursuit of a common mission.”

Martha King, Vanguard’s Managing Director and Head of U.S. Financial Intermediaries, spoke to the power of trust and its role in her professional success in a recent WE Interview. “When my mentors asked me to do something, I trusted their belief in me that I could do it,” King noted.  “So, I set about the business of getting it done. It was as simple as that; they gave me that push forward.”

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