In a time of economic uncertainty, geopolitical tensions, and the threat of GenAI automating the labor market, people are looking to their organizations for stability and answers.
This of course comes with a deep level of responsibility, but when done correctly – and when employees feel they can not only trust their organization to do the right thing, but also trust that they can take risks and express themselves freely – the results speak for themselves.
In fact, according to a Harvard Business Review study, employees at high-trust companies report 74% less stress, 106% more energy at work, 50% higher productivity, 76% more engagement, 29% more satisfaction with their lives, and 40% less burnout.
Of course, establishing trust isn’t easy. And there are a few common barriers such as inconsistent messages from top leaders, willingness to tolerate bad behaviors and incompetence, and inconsistent standards, that can stand in the way of building trust with employees. But if leaders can find a way to avoid or overcome these barriers, the next step is to establish trust across three levels with these trust pillars:
- Strategic Trust: the trust employees have in senior leadership and their ability to make the right strategic decisions. Questions include: “Are we heading in the right direction?” or “Are leaders making the right decisions?”
- Personal Trust: the trust employees have in their direct managers. Questions include: “Am I working in a safe environment to be bold and try new things?” “Do I trust in my manager?”
- Organizational Trust: the trust employees have not in any individual but in the company itself. Questions include: “Is my organization doing good for the world?” “Does my organization make good on its promises?”
So, how can you, as a leader, begin to improve or create trust within your organization? Consider starting with these four steps:
1. Uncover the truths. Speak to leaders and employees from all levels of the business. Aim to understand your strengths and areas for opportunity, as well as barriers to building a culture of trust. By engaging employees in the dialogue early on (i.e., internal research and insights), they will feel involved in the process.
2. Design an approach, grounded in insights. Based on your research from talking to employees, establish an approach that you can continue to tweak as you test and learn throughout the process. No two organizations are the same. By gaining insights from your team, you can build and maintain strategic and personal trust within your organization.
3. Maintain momentum through ownership and accountability. This starts at the top. To create an environment of ownership and accountability, leaders must be transparent about their strengths and areas to improve.
4. Put in place a measurement plan. To ensure a successful approach, baseline your success before you begin, and constantly track against the three trust pillars (strategic trust, personal trust, and organizational trust). Using these results, you can continue to learn and adjust as you go through future iterations of the approach.
Though trust can be difficult to establish, it remains true that trust is a key element in organizational effectiveness and increases employee loyalty. In following these four steps, you can build, maintain, and/or optimize an environment that fosters trust on all levels.