It is said that to compare engagement and trust is like comparing a one-night stand and a long-term relationship. Exactly – there is no comparison.
Trust is fundamental to human relationships and to how we perceive and make sense of our environment, yet many companies focus solely on the engagement of employees to enhance productivity. While high employee engagement can certainly translate into discretionary effort, trust is known to create strong loyalty, be much more long lasting and sustainable and over time, positively transform the culture of an organisation.
Trust has never been a more important focus for organisations and for Leaders. With the publicly visible breakdown of trust across society, governments and large institutions, organisations need to work harder than ever to build trust and especially through supporting their leadership network to unlock the powerful benefits of high trust relationships.
Contrary to popular belief, trust is not some soft, vague, mysterious element of human relationships. It is a vital component of all the interactions, transactions and actions we are part of every day. In organisations trust plays a key role in receptive listening, productive collaboration, knowledge sharing and decision making.
Stephen Covey makes a powerful case for trust in business when he talks about how trust speeds up communication, aids more effective decision making and enhances productivity. As he says, “trust is a hard-edged economic driver”.
In her impactful video The Anatomy of Trust Brene Brown outlines how trust is built or broken in very small moments.
She defines trust as “choosing to make something important to you vulnerable, to the actions of someone else” and that distrust is “what I have shared with you that is important to me is not safe with you.”
High trust saves money.
Over the last year I worked with an organisation where monetary reward and incentives were a constant challenge. The company felt it had come to the end of a long history of offering monetary rewards and incentives in return for performance. They engaged in a series of workshops to develop their leaders and managers to conduct meaningful conversations with their teams. This two-way dialogue was aimed at understanding the motivation of individuals, receptively listening to people’s needs and supporting other forms of reward recognition e.g. career development and progression. It required the Leaders to understand trust and how to build it through the process of one to one meetings. The results were overwhelmingly positive with many team members honestly admitting that having their needs heard and supported was more valuable and important to them than money. For some these needs were about additional flexibility to blend life with work, for others it was about exposure and development towards a promotion. As the new approach to one to ones became embedded and trust levels began to increase between Leaders and employees the ability to offer other non-monetary rewards and incentives became real and the company saved a substantial amount of money.
Nowhere is the benefit of a high trust environment more visible than in times of organisational change.
As trust is so important to the way people positively hear, understand and support communication, then it largely determines whether people will back a vision for change or whether they will resist it. When trust is moving at a neck-snapping pace, high trust levels in the leadership of the organisation eliminate suspicion, cynicism and sabotage- all villains of the organisational change effort. Trust is even more key when you consider the difference between change and transition. Change is the event whereas transition is the emotional experience of employees impacted by the change.
As William Bridges explains transition is not just a nice way to say change. It is the inner process through which people come to terms with a change, as they let go of how things used to be and reorient themselves to the way that things are now. In an organization, managing transition means helping people to make that difficult process less painful and disruptive.
Given the individual, personal and emotional nature of transition, high trust relationships with Leaders may be the difference between a successful transition through change or your change initiative joining the other 70% of failures.