Build Trust – One Handshake at a Time

Imagine the frustration of being tasked with a monthly quota for a sales team when it seems that just as the sales people complete training, they quit, creating the need to hire again. For some, this merry-go-round of hire/train/rehire/retrain caused by poor employee retention never ends, leaving many managers victims of sleepless nights worrying over unattainable quotas or goals.

In today’s market it takes both time and money to find and properly train employees. This is particularly true in the technology sector, where it may take up to two years before an employee becomes productive. Organizations where work flow is dependent on a team interaction, with individuals relying on each other to bring a task to fruition, may feel this pain the most. The presence of inexperienced workers means the shortfall must be made up by seasoned ones. Couple this with the fact many employees are still feeling the strain of a decade of downsizing and you have the formula for low office morale and poor productivity.

A look at the statistics regarding dissatisfied employees across the country is an eye opener. According to a June 2014 study by Career Builder, more than 2 million Americans leave their jobs monthly. Other statistics find 31 percent of employees don’t like their boss and another 28 percent admit to hiding on the job!

Why is it so many American workers feel this level of unrest?

The problem may start as early as the interview process. Loosely-made commitments regarding work conditions, income and advancement can set the stage for early employee dissatisfaction and quickly become the seeds of mistrust between employee and management.

Take for example, Mark, a specialty chef hired by a prominent restaurant chain whose kitchen operation focuses on preparing original and creative dishes. The menu items are created from scratch on site, and there is a good deal of training required for all new employees. During the interview Mark is informed that while the initial pay is low, after 60 days a performance and pay review will be given. Verbal praise for Mark is excellent during his training period. So much so that upon the two month date, Mark’s expectation is for the performance review to lead to a well-deserved pay increase. But the restaurant managers fail to schedule the review, refusing to even give a reason for their lack of response. In fact, all attempts from Mark for the promised review are stalled or ignored. By the end of the fourth month of employment, Mark has resigned. And management is confused as to how they lost a quality worker.

Bottom line, trust was broken, and most likely it was not coming back.

Do words uttered in an interview matter? Simply enough, they should. These words represent the integrity of a company. They are also factors on which perspective employees base an important decision in their life. Promises made in an interview, whether stated or implied, are key points in the foundation of what becomes a trust relationship or not.

The great poet Maya Angelou wrote, “When people show you who they are, believe them.” The perception by employees when company actions do not match a manager’s commitments leads back to that nagging question: Can this person or perhaps even this company be trusted? In the case of new employees, the distinction between a manager’s indiscretion and company culture may be impossible to discern. Not experiencing trust makes people wary and self-protective.

In his article in the Harvard Business Review, “Why is Trust So Hard to Achieve in Management” (July 5, 2012), James Heskett explores trust in the workplace. One initial point he addresses is that managers are not trained in building trust. They often do not understand the relationship between developing trust and the integrity of the company as seen through the employees’ eyes.

A second point the Heskett article brings to light is perhaps managers feel that by the nature of their position, trust should be assumed and unquestioned by the new employee. Managers may need training to understand trust is a process. It is earned on an individual basis, not commanded based on position.

Another point to consider is the variability of human personality. Some hiring managers believe what is said in the interview shouldn’t necessarily be viewed as a commitment or be a basis for an evaluation of trust. Similar to the concept of diffusion of responsibility, it is the belief that universally it’s desirable to create the ideal situation in an interview, not necessarily one based in reality.

Companies concerned with poor retention, particularly within the first year of employment, should examine how trust is or isn’t being established during interviews. It needs to be made clear to hiring managers it is a priority to begin development of trust during the interview process, not after. Most importantly it should be emphasized that statements, particularly regarding potential income, work conditions and benefits need to be concise and correct.

Information provided in an interview by a prospective hire such as work history, education and qualifications is expected to be accurate. In some organizations falsifying this information is grounds for dismissal. Employers want employees to be truthful from the start.

But in all fairness, it needs to be understood the expectation of trust is a two-way street. The light of integrity should shine also on the employer. And this needs to begin not on the first day of employment, but from the first handshake.