Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Trust At The Workplace - How To Get It AND Keep It

Even the most sceptical and suspicious of people trusts someone or something.

Some equate trust to faith, some to destiny or luck, and for those scientific minds: trust is related to a predicted outcome.

So as children, we trusted our parents when they told us Santa actually delivered the Christmas presents. Why? Because they loved us; they said so; and they were our parents.

Or we trust our doctors when they tell us that by eating healthily and exercising, we are able to stave off health-related problems. Why? Well because research and proven results support their sound advice.

Sometimes trust is considered 'blind' especially in religion. But what cynics label 'blind and irrational belief' is what some happily defend as faith.

The point being made here is that, by and large, trust is established because of two reasons: either because of the nature/credibility of the person to whom trust is targeted, (such as parents, doctors, teachers etc.); or because of the proven outcomes of the phenomenon, (i.e. eating healthier and exercising reduces risk of heart-related ailments).

At  the workplace, the same rings true as trust is established by these two 'pillars'  - the credibility of the person  to whom it is directed and the actions/results displayed by that person.

Trust is desired in an organisation because it is a key indicator of favourable outcomes: ranging from worker motivation/commitment and engagement, to excellent performance and high productivity.

So the crucial question is this: how can a company establish trust and  keep it?

Let's focus on these two 'pillars' of trust:

1) The person

This might be as specific as the CEO or as ambiguous as 'Management'. It encompasses all those in authority at different levels, so team leaders, supervisors, managers etc. could all be seen as 'trust-generators'.

However, in order to inculcate organisational-wide trust, the CEO is the most visible driver of perceptions.

So Mr. CEO, the most obvious way to get your workers to trust you, is to become transparent and credible.

This you could achieve by being open about both the favourable and dismal facts about the company. Firstly, communicate in a simple manner so there is no ambiguity in your vision. Develop a  Communications Strategy highlighting all six components and then give factual and timely feedback at all times. Be that often-elusive, credible leader and be consistent in your attitudes and behaviours. Then demand your executives to do the same. Establish checks/sanctions to pre-empt defaulters or those who lose steam.

In other words, as Linda Galindo, executive accountability coach with twenty years of experience, echoes in many of her articles, including this piece on how to succeed in the banking industry, it is crucial to become accountable and to inculcate '100% ownership' in all facets of your business. This means that you, as CEO, must become accountable for your actions and demand the same for all, especially for those whose roles cover responsibility.

Remember that trust is a perception which is slowly built over a considerable time frame, so do not expect quick results. In fact, you should view the process as a slow-burn or a slowly-cooked roast.

When you and your executive cadre become trustworthy, your employees would unconsciously become so themselves.

However, if you, Mr. CEO, lack integrity or are involved in, or have approved questionable and unethical practices, then you might as well forget about imbibing a culture of trust in your company.

You simply cannot give what you do not have...

2) The actions/outcomes

This corresponds to  the 'How' component of an effective communications strategy and explains how many organisational initiatives are successfully implemented.

Sometimes we trust the outcomes of a specific activity because they have been consistently proven, and they hold true. So if you test them multiple times, using different methods, you can be certain of getting the same results. Other times, these actions solve a problem or a concern we have or they provide significant value  to us.

So for example, if you, Mr. CEO, suspend or fire executives in your 'inner circle' who have leaked confidential information or have performed unethical, (albeit legal), means of increasing sales, contrary to your vision of promoting transparency and honesty; and if you do this consistently, without fear or favour, you win the trust of your employees. It doesn't matter if different, ingenious or complicated methods of breaking your company's code of conduct are used, the result/outcome/action would be the same - the executives, especially those in the managerial cadre - will be made to face the consequences of their actions.

In essence, employees would trust in the system of accountability, because it addresses their concern of favouritism at the workplace. When they feel they would be treated fairly via an impartial system, they become more motivated, engaged or 'tuned on' in their duties. This trust would then extend to you, Mr. CEO, the driver of that system. More engaged workers means higher productivity for your company and happiness among the majority. If your employees are happy with the system you have set up and with your consistent actions, then they are unlikely to leave. In fact, they become eager cheerleaders to outsiders, boosting your corporate reputation.

On the flip side, if actions taken to remedy specific concerns are arbitrary, inconsistent and even flawed, they would not offer value to your employees, making your staff 'tuned off' in their roles. This leads to the unfavourable development of employee disengagement.


This is how it works: without consistent, proactive actions, trust cannot be cultivated. Without trust, motivation is stalled and disengagement rises, leading to negative results.

According to a Forbes article, findings from a recent Gallup research on employee engagement  involving more than 350,000 respondents, spanning three years, revealed that 70% of American workers were ‘not engaged’ or ‘actively disengaged’; were emotionally disconnected from their workplaces and were less likely to be productive. Moreover, actively disengaged employees were estimated to cost the U.S. between $450 billion to $550 billion each year in lost productivity. These disgruntled employees were also more likely to steal from their companies, negatively influence their co-workers, miss workdays, and drive customers away.

The figures, although shockingly high, are ironically not surprising, given the widespread disillusionment of professionals with their companies around the globe.

So, the absence of trust at the workplace, Mr. CEO, would cost your company millions, sooner or later...


As I stated earlier, we all trust in someone and/or in something.

At the workplace, organisational-wide trust can be cultivated if the leadership is credible and if practical, tested and consistent actions are taken to build upon a foundation of transparency.

In a nutshell, that is how to get it  and  to keep it going....

Over to you:

1) In what other ways can you increase trust at the workplace? Let us know!

2) Be social - kindly share in your social networks by clicking on the icons below. 

Recommended reading


N:B- First, second and fifth images courtesy of Stuart Miles via Third and fourth images courtesy of Rattigon and Jscreationzs via


  1. ISMAIL OLAWALE (Via Corporate Communications Network Group on LinkedIn)3 November 2013 at 15:00

    As a PR expert for a public agency with attachment to a university, I find it hard to work with any executive or employee that lacks trust and credibility.

    In fact, whenever I have good and credible ideas that would help an institution that lacks trust grow, I quickly pocket them or look else where to manifest them. I left a multinational telecommunication company from a circumstance of lack of trust and faith by the executive. The head of the human resource department was so obsessed with heresies, and always in hurry to pass judgement on employees' productivity or errors. This, to me, has only kept the best hands out of the company while those who can cover numerous unethical practices are still on board. Meanwhile, the reputation of this company is poor among past employees [of which many of them are living with bitterness of losing out from what could have been their critical career path to a company's lack of trust].

  2. Hello Ismail - Thanks for your comment.

    The main issue in the case you described was one of a lack of credibility. When a manager or anyone who is responsible for managing others is not credible, he is unfortunately not accountable for his attitudes and actions. This is a major mistake that Management makes as trust cannot exist in an environment that breeds such irresponsibility.

    Kudos to you for exiting such a toxic environment. What might not be evident to the Management of that company yet, (but this would change in the long term), is that executives who are not made accountable for their actions will bleed the company because their incompetence will translate to monetary losses.

  3. Jonathan Russell MBA FRSA (Via Corporate Communications Network Group on LinkedIn)5 November 2013 at 09:06

    Building trust is achievable once you accept it is yourself that needs to earn trust and put yourself in the best position to create trust from others. David Maister in his book "The Trusted Advisor" summarises trust as a combination of credibility, reliability and what I would call emotional/cultural engagement - what Maister calls intimacy. Further this combination is impacted by the degree of self-centredness by the person seeking trust. If they are perceived as being focused on their own agenda they will struggle to earn trust.

    So you can help others help themselves become more trusted but first you have to have the factors of trust yourself. I have done so with teams and individuals from sales teams to senior politicians. It takes effort, time and a high degree of personal self awareness.

    1. @ Jonathan - I agree, thanks for joining in the discussion. If you have the
      time to share from your personal experience with sales teams, that would be

    2. Jonathan Russell MBA FRSA (Via Corporate Communications Network Group on LinkedIn)5 November 2013 at 09:08

      Lucille - I appreciate your words and invitation. Sales teams are not much different from any other cluster in that they have their own culture and will be more impactful when they focus on the culture and need of their prospects. There is a saying that if the prospect is listening (to you) they are not buying. I have learnt that great sales people are great listeners. But that is not enough to build trust. I really like the work done by Dixon and Adamson on consultative selling which, counter intuitively, suggests sales people build more trust and attention by learning how to challenge. So in my mind creating a trusted sales person is creating in them active listening skills and to start talking in terms of discovering the prospects needs rather than in terms of their features and benefits.

    3. Interesting. Thanks Jonathan for sharing.

      I enjoy learning from different experiences :)


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