In a Word Workplace dynamics make a significant difference to people and the organizations they sustain. High-performance organizations earn, develop, and retain trust for superior results.

Introduction

Dictionary.com’s first definition of trust is “reliance on the integrity , strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing ; confidence”. The website prompts also that it is “the obligation or responsibility imposed on a person in whom confidence or authority is placed: a position of trust”. Both definitions imply that trust is a relationship of relianceFootnote 1: indeed, a relationship without trust is no relationship at all.

Trust is therefore both an emotionalFootnote 2 and a rationalFootnote 3 (cognitive, calculative, and rational) act. The emotions associated with it include affection, gratitude, security, confidence, acceptance, interest, admiration, respect, liking, appreciation, contentment, and satisfaction, all of them necessary ingredients of psychological health. The logic of it is grounded in assessments of a party’s dependability, which play a significant role in decisions to trust. As expected, there are different intensities to trust, depending on why one grants trust and why it is acceptedFootnote 4: knowing the different types of trust informs decision-making at each level.Footnote 5

Strangely, however, despite instinctive recognition of the importance of trust in human affairs, its conceptualization in the workplace remains limited in the literature—but grew in the 1990s, while actions to foster it in that environment are still not readily discernible in practice.

Benefits

In organizations, business processesFootnote 6—be they management, operational, or supporting processes—are conducted via relationships. Since trust among interacting parties is the foundation of effective relationships, it stands to reason that organizations can reap benefits from strengthening it. As a matter of fact, high-trust environments correlate positively with high degrees of personnel involvement, commitment, and organizational success. Decided advantages include increased value; accelerated growth; market and societal trust ; reputation and recognizable brands ; effortless communication; enhanced innovation; positive, transparent relationships with personnel and other stakeholders; improved collaboration and partnering; fully aligned systems and structures; heightened loyalty; powerful contributions of discretionary energy; strong innovation, engagement, confidence, and loyalty; better execution; increased adaptability; and robust retention and replenishment of knowledge workers. Nothing is as relevant as the ubiquitous impact of high trust.Footnote 7

Trust as a Key Leadership Competency

The leaders who work most effectively, it seems to me, never say “I”. And that’s not because they have trained themselves not to say “I”. They don’t think “I”. They think “we”; they think “team”. They understand their job to be to make the team function. They accept responsibility and don’t sidestep it, but “we” gets the credit. This is what creates trust, what enables you to get the task done.

—Peter Drucker

In organizations, managers are initiators of trust and must play a central role in determining both its overall level and specific expectations within individual work units.Footnote 8 Their ability to establish, grow, extend, and restore trust is a key managerial competency. Some say that extending trust is the first job of any manager, to be conducted in ways that release the talent, creativity, capacity, and contribution of individuals and teams and enable them to give their best in synergy with others. The responsibilities of managers, in support of which they must harness vivid and compelling communications , cover at least five areas:

  • Vision An organization’s vision (and associated mission and strategic direction) is a statement of ambitious and compelling strategic intent that provides the emotional and rational energy for an organization’s journey. If staffs are to trust the organization, the vision must be clear and represent an attainable stretch that emphasizes the importance of contributions in achieving it. It cannot be a statement that is devoid of action. The role of managers is to help individuals and teams translate the organization’s vision into their own personal vision.

  • Values Values are beliefs or convictions that guide behavior to achieve the organization’s vision.Footnote 9 They help define or describe the desired culture. They also convey what is important to the organization as well as what key practices and behaviors will be recognized and rewarded (or sanctioned). Trust pervades when—and only when—managers follow and support the organization’s values; by publicizing and modeling these, they provide a benchmark for all staff.

  • Work Environment The environment in which individuals and teams work contributes significantly to their perceptions of management and the extent they believe it cares about their welfare. Conditions that betray a lack of interest will create feelings of distrust. More important than physical amenities, however, is the atmosphere that exists in an organization: a negative atmosphere sows discontent throughout—personnel should be able to trust that management works to create an enabling environment.

  • Personnel Some of the more difficult decisions that managers make relate to hiring, firing, appraising, promoting, and transferring staff. If an organization is to build trust, such decisions must be based on factual, objective data. Personnel will scrutinize promotion decisions to determine whether management cares about performance and values. Poor decisions erode trust in management and leads staff to question why they work so hard to meet performance expectations if—it appears—performance does not really matter.

  • Compensation Few issues create as much argument and suspicion as compensation (and other benefits). For an organization’s compensation system to be perceived as fair rather than manipulative, managers need to follow a consistent and honest approach by sharing salary ranges; reaching merit pay decisions based on actual performance; quantifying bonus, severance, and related systems transparently; conducting internal equity comparisons for same or similar jobs; and carrying out external market equity comparisons for critical jobs.

Set your expectations high; find men and women whose integrity and values you respect; get their agreement on a course of action; and give them your ultimate trust

—John Akers

I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you

—Friedrich Nietzsche

Enhancing Personal Credibility

There are seven social sins: politics without principles; wealth without work; pleasure without conscience; knowledge without character; commerce without morality; science without humanity; worship without sacrifice.

—Mohandas K. Gandhi

Notwithstanding the responsibilities of management, earning, developing, and retaining trust in the workplace is an obligation for each member of the organization. The key principle undergirding ability to set and accomplish objectives, keep commitments, and “walk the talk” is credibility, which intimates to others that one is trustworthy. Credibility is made of four attributes of character and competence Footnote 10:

  • Integrity According to Dictionary.com, integrity is “adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty”. Men and women who are imbued with integrity stand for something, make and keep commitments to themselves, and remain open. Time and again, this may require courage.

  • Intent Intent refers to motives, agendas, and resulting behaviors. Trust grows when all three are candid and based on mutual interest.

  • Capabilities Capabilities are the talents, attitudes, skills, knowledge, and styles we leverage to deliver results. Capable people know where they are going, run with their strengths (and compensate for weaknesses), and keep themselves relevant.

  • Results Results crown credibility to offer visible, tangible, and measurable contributions that can be evaluated by others. Results are delivered by performers who expect to win, take responsibility for results, and finish strong.