Earn Trust for High Performance Team

Earning employees’ trust leads to building a high-performance team

Article originally published in the American City Business Journals on January 6, 2020

The most important characteristic of all organizations is the level of trust between the leaders and their employees, and among employees themselves. Without trust, the first priority of all employees is to protect themselves from their boss and co- workers. This article is excerpted from my recently published book, “Be Different! The Key to Business and Career Success.”

Have you ever worked in an organization where there was a low level of trust among peers, or where direct reports did not trust their boss or the CEO of the company? This type of organization has a toxic atmosphere, which significantly reduces its effectiveness and ability to achieve results.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines trust as a “belief that someone is reliable, good, honest and effective … one in which confidence is placed.” Wouldn’t we all like to work within organizations in which all employees feel this level of trust in their leaders and peers?

Stephen Covey, the late motivational speaker, writer and advisor, once wrote, “Without trust we don’t truly collaborate; we merely coordinate or, at best, cooperate. It is trust that transforms a group of people into a team.” When people don’t trust each other, there is an invisible elephant in the room, which may adversely impact the effectiveness of any decision.

Whether you are the CEO, a mid-level manager or an individual contributor with no direct reports but a member of a team, trust needs to be earned. So, how do you earn the trust of others?

Be consistent and readable by those within your organization

As a leader, there should be no misunderstanding as to the tone and culture you embrace. These reflect the values to which you hold yourself and your employees accountable. Employees trust and want to be part of an organization with high ethical standards and work for a leader that lives by those standards.

As the leader, ensure your expectations are understood. Situations will arise when decisions need to be made by your employees for which there is no operating procedure or precedent. Employees will fall back on their common sense and good critical judgment, and proceed in a way consistent with your expectations, tone and culture.

Meet your commitments

Don’t make a commitment you cannot keep. If the situation changes and you find that you can’t keep a commitment, notify the individual to whom you made the commitment immediately. They may have made a commitment to others, based on your commitment to them.

Don’t blame other people for your mistakes

If you make a mistake, own it and share how in the future the issue will be handled in a different manner. You don’t create trust by blaming others for your mistake. Employees that do this never last long within the kind of organization in which we all want to work.

Allow your direct reports to share with you a contrary point of view

I have worked for bosses who were not interested in contrary views. This did not engender trust. As the leader, compare your direct report’s opinion on how to proceed on an issue with your own view. Through discussion and debate, you may accept their view or may discover a third alternative path, better than either of the first two paths. Follow this process, and you will rarely choose the wrong way to proceed.

Create an environment that allows employees to share the brutal facts of reality

As a leader, you want your people to feel safe in sharing bad news. Don’t shoot the messenger. You can’t solve a problem unless you know what it is. You want your people to have trust and confidence that you will listen to them. Help employees develop a sense of ownership in what they do Empower employees, don’t micromanage. Show your employees that you trust them by letting them decide how to accomplish an objective. This will help your employees develop a sense of ownership in what they do. When this occurs, you can rely on them to drive results.

Be accessible and transparent

Create opportunities for employees other than your direct reports to talk with you. Walk around the office or factory floor. Ask how people are doing. However, avoid telling them what to do. Don’t violate the chain of command. If you learn of an issue that needs to be addressed, talk with your direct report responsible for the area. Hold town meetings to talk about the business and respond to employees’ questions. Be as transparent as possible, realizing that there are things that cannot be publicly shared.

Before making a decision, hear both sides of an issue

No matter how compelling an argument is presented by an individual, there is always the other side, which may be more compelling. Hear both sides before making a decision. The individual on the losing side of the issue may not like your decision, but will respect the fact that you went through a fair decision-making process.

The best talent will want to work for companies where there are high levels of trust with the senior leadership as well as among fellow employees and where employees feel a sense of ownership in what they do. These are the companies that have the lowest turnover and achieve the highest long-term returns to shareholders. This is the type of company at which we all want to work.

Stan Silverman is founder and CEO of Silverman Leadership and author of “Be Different! The Key to Business and Career Success.” He is also a speaker, advisor and  widely read nationally syndicated columnist on leadership, entrepreneurship and corporate governance. He can be reached at Stan@SilvermanLeadership.com.

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