The Trust Factor: Four ways to Build It, Maintain It and Repair It

Unlike the X Factor, which is often unknown, unexplainable, and makes an unpredictable impact, you can definitely recognize, describe and predict the impact of the Trust Factor. When leaders have the Trust Factor, employee engagement increases. When leaders lack it, employee engagement declines, plain and simple.

The business case for improving the Trust Factor between leaders and employees is no secret. Research shows that when employee engagement is high, performance and retention follow suit, contributing to the organization’s bottom line. Trust between employees and leaders at all levels, senior managers, managers, and supervisors, is a foundational factor for employee engagement. Yet in many organizations, there is an opportunity to increase the Trust Factor.

“Employees’ trust in senior management, direct supervisors and co-workers is dwindling across all industries,” was among the key findings of a March 2010 Maritz Poll conducted by Maritz Research. A perhaps shocking figure -“ only 11 percent of employees strongly agreed that their managers show consistency between their words and actions. The study also pointed out that trust increases employee engagement and job satisfaction. According to the survey, well over half (58 percent) of the employees with strong trust in their management were completely satisfied with their job and 63 percent of those same employees indicated they would be happy to spend the rest of their career with their present company.

I am a strong believer that the most effective employee engagement efforts are not complicated programs or elaborate events, but instead, the result of every day interactions. How then do you go about building, maintaining, and even repairing trust with your employees? I would say simply by demonstrating The Trust Factor every day, whether you are interacting with groups of employees, or one employee at a time. Stephen Covey’s books have been on my bookshelf throughout my career. When I attended the workshop, “Leading at the Speed of Trust,” based on his book, “The Speed of Trust -“ The One Thing That Changes Everything,” one message in particular stuck with me: “When you behave in ways that build trust with one; you build trust with many.” There are many things leaders can do to increase the Trust Factor in every day employee interactions. Here are four ways to lead with trust and increase employee engagement:

Keep Your Word
It goes without saying that keeping your commitments is crucial to any relationship and that holds true for relationships with your employees. Doing what you say you are going to do speaks to your integrity and your credibility. Responsiveness and follow through are key to building and maintaining the Trust Factor. Good intentions are not enough. Frequent status updates, even a quick, “I haven’t forgot about your request -“ I’m still looking into it,” can make a big difference in the employee’s perception that you are doing what you said you would do. If you can’t commit to something, say so. When you are honest and forthright, employees will not only trust you, they will respect you.

Keep Them In The Loop
In the fast-paced, information overloaded age we live in, it is no doubt difficult to keep employees appropriately informed. A good rule of thumb is to share more information on the things that directly impact them and the work that they do, as soon as you can, and if possible, before and/or during the development stages. Employees often tell me they like the opportunity to give input to new processes that will impact their day-to-day work. And no one likes to be the “last to know,” so make sure your communication channels don’t hit a bottleneck, leaving some employees in the dark. Keeping employees in the loop ups the Trust Factor. Not doing so will have a negative impact on not only trust, but to many other areas of your operation.

Keep Your Ears and Mind Open
Generally speaking, getting feedback usually isn’t the problem. Most employees readily share their thoughts and ideas. The make it or break it Trust Factor is often how, you as a leader, respond to the feedback employees give you. Employees want to feel heard. They want to feel valued. Truly listen to them, acknowledge their ideas and concerns and keep an open mind. Try to understand the employee’s perspective by probing and asking questions. Check out the tip a reader shared on how to create trust in my last article, To Get Answers-¦Start with the Right Questions.

Keep It Real
Be open, honest, and authentic with those you lead. No one expects you to be perfect -“ so admit your mistakes when you make them. Often managers are afraid to admit they don’t know something, thinking they should have all of the answers. There is nothing wrong with saying, “I don’t know; let me get back to you,” or “let’s find the answer together.” Your team will also appreciate a leader who is candid and not afraid to “tell it like it is.” Be respectful to your organization and other work groups, but don’t be afraid to be open about things that concern you. Ask for their help in coming up with a solution when things are not running as they should. Being transparent and tackling difficult issues together will build trust, versus ignoring problems, finger pointing, or sweeping issues under the rug.

The Trust Factor is a crucial element in creating a culture of employee engagement. Every employee interaction is an opportunity to build trust, maintain trust, or begin to repair trust if it has been damaged. Your employees want to have confidence in you. They want to know that you’ll keep your word, that you’ll share information, and listen to their ideas. They want you to involve them in day-to-day operations, tell the truth, and be upfront an honest. They want to trust you. In addition to the behaviors described here, take time to think about what other leadership behaviors contribute to the Trust Factor. Consciously choose to demonstrate these behaviors in your every day interactions with employees. Doing so will strengthen both trust and employee engagement.

Diana Moss is Senior Director of Employee Engagement and Employee Relations for Comcast, one of “Chicago’s 101 Best & Brightest Companies to Work For”. She can be reached at [email protected].

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Richard Blanchard
Rick is the Managing Editor of Corp! magazine. He has worked in reporting and editing roles at the Port Huron Times Herald, Lansing State Journal and The Detroit News, where he was most recently assistant business editor. A native of Michigan, Richard also worked in Washington state as a reporter, photographer and editor at the Anacortes American. He received a bachelor of arts from the University of Michigan and a master’s in accountancy from the University of Phoenix.