Insights

trust me—perception is reality: how to build trust within your organization

By michelle m. smith, CPIM, CRP
build trust

Just after economists declared the good news that the recession was officially over, new challenges for businesses surfaced. In a McKinsey Quarterly  survey of senior executives around the world, 85 percent of them said that public trust in business had deteriorated. This was echoed in the Edelman Trust Barometer, where 62 percent of global respondents said that they “trust corporations less now than they did a year ago.” Trust in business has been in steep decline for the past 30 years and North American scores for credibility and trust in leadership are now at all-time lows.

And the news gets worse. Deloitte’s annual Ethics and Workplace Survey found that one-third of Americans plan to seek new jobs as the economy recovers, 48 percent citing loss of trust in their employer as the reason. Leaders have been the bearers of mostly bad news for the last few years, and the waves of layoffs and increasing expectations to do more with less left employees feeling over-worked and under-appreciated. Trust paid the price for the business tactics required to survive the recession.

However, Hay Group Insight research shows that even during the downturn, companies that focused on maintaining open and honest communication with employees have seen positive returns on their investments. By emphasizing employee engagement factors, these companies have been able to increase organizational commitment levels and employees’ satisfaction with their jobs. Notably, employees in these companies also showed an increased willingness to contribute discretionary effort.

To begin regaining corporate credibility, Kevin Eikenberry, an expert on leadership development, has been quoted offering these suggestions for rebuilding trust:

  • Leaders must do more than be dependable and match their actions to their words. Trust is a two-way street. The best way to build trust is to grant trust and be more focused on others. When employees see that you care about them and aren’t just pursuing your own agenda, their confidence in you grows.
  • Listen more carefully. Too often, leaders focus only on the messages that they want to deliver to others. When leaders genuinely listen, they’re sending a powerful message that the speakers are important and their ideas are important. Develop the habit of becoming a better listener.

All leaders need to focus on reigniting employee commitment by making it a priority and personally assuming the responsibility to turn things around. It is possible, and it is imperative. With trust issues threatening both corporate value and the ability to achieve broader organizational goals, senior-level attention is essential.

If you work in an industry that has been maligned in the press or been subjected to additional scrutiny because of the events of the recession, you face these issues every day. But what should you do if you’re not certain whether or not trust has declined in your organization? The safe bet is to assume—and act—as if it has. The perception of being untrustworthy is often just as damaging as if it were a fact, and the risk of ignoring it could have significant and harmful long-term consequences.

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By michelle m. smith, CPIM, CRP