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How to develop trust in your organisation

Sue Weekes

Hands in

Sue Weekes explores how you can develop the fundamental drivers of trust

While trust is a bedrock of many organisations’ set of corporate values, managers and leaders haven’t always found it easy to ensure the characteristics and behaviours that foster it are displayed in their everyday actions. A recent research report by the Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM) found encouraging signs though and suggests that more people in leadership and management positions are proactively taking steps to build it. Nearly half (48%) of managers in UK organisations say they trust ‘everyone’ or ‘almost everyone’ in their organisation compared to just seven per cent saying they trust ‘very few people’ or ‘no-one at all’.

Drilling down into the research findings, however, shows there is still much work to be done in this area. There is evidence that far less trust exists at lower management levels with one in 10 first line managers saying they trust ‘very few’ or ‘absolutely no people’ in their organisations. As the reports warns, this is particularly concerning given that these are the individuals most likely to be customer-facing and who have the greatest reach in the organisation.

Lack of trust in UK organisations

Steve Hearsum, development consultant, at the leadership institute, Roffey Park, also points out that even the encouraging topline findings mean there are still more than half who don’t trust ‘everyone/almost everyone’ within their organisations. “Trust is a fundamental component of healthy human relationships and relating,” he says. “The greater the deficit or absence of trust, the more the lived experience will be degraded and, in organisational terms, performance eroded.’

The report found that the most important driver of trust is openness, ranked by 70% as one of the top three drivers, followed by effective communication (53%), the ability to make decisions (49%), integrity (48%) and competence in their role (42%). Hearsum asserts that the starting point for managers wishing to display the behaviours that create the conditions for high-trust workplace relationships is developing an awareness of their personal impact and asking themselves some frank questions: how aware are they of how others experience them? To what extent have they actively sought feedback regarding how their colleagues and direct reports experience them? And how open are they to acknowledging where they might need to do more or less of something? “So personal development is key and that has to be coupled with other awareness,” he says. “To what extent are managers noticing what is going on around them? How skilled are they at sensing when trust is failing? Are they aware what to look for and, if not, will their organisation support them develop those skills.”

Company size affects trust

It should be acknowledged though that it isn’t down to the manager to build trust in isolation. The research revealed a direct correlation between size of company and trust. Employees in larger organisations reported lower levels of trust while managers in public sector organisations displayed lower levels compared to their private and third sector counterparts.  This suggests that managers must fight against other elements in such organisations if they are to build trust and the prevailing culture that exists is likely to be a factor.  “If the organisation they work in has a low trust culture, it is down to the senior leaders in the organisation to recognise that and work with their managers to shift the pattern,” says Hearsum.

Recession has damaged trust

The dynamic, post-recession business conditions are also throwing up serious challenges for managers when it comes to building trust. Andrew Kakabadse, professor of governance and leadership at Henley Business School, University of Reading, reckons many managers are displaying some of the right behaviours such as openness and transparency but fiercely competitive market conditions are hampering their efforts to build trust. “The scenario many managers face is being seen as inconsistent,” he says. “They may make claims at the beginning of the financial year about what organisations can expect but six months later everything has changed dramatically. It isn’t their fault but they then have to go back on their word and do something different.”

While many managers are authentic in themselves as characters, Professor Kakabadse says their behavioural patterns are inauthentic because they have to address changing sets of circumstances and critical dilemmas as well as put in place unexpected contingencies. “It’s not just behavioural any more, it’s circumstantial,” he explains.

Much of this is outside of a manager’s control and Professor Kakabadse continues they must develop an emotional toughness and resilience to deal with it but also remember that openness and transparency is vital. “All you can do is be as transparent about the market changes as possible. Managers and leaders must also work much harder at communication and communicate the challenges they are facing themselves. If the government introduces a new restriction that affects the market, explain it to the team. Regretfully, this is going to be the way of life for a while so managers must learn to live with it.”

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