5 Tips for Building Trust in Your Organization

February 5, 2014 Darcy Jacobsen

TrustI’m not exactly breaking new ground for you when I say that trust is a critical component of employee engagement.

You probably know, for example, that the Great Place to Work Institute considers trust the foundation of a great workplace.

Or you may know that BlessingWhite recently identified trust in managers and senior managers as a crucial factor in engagement. Says BlessingWhite CEO Christopher Rice: “Individuals can enjoy their work and have a strong sense of accomplishment, but if they don’t trust their boss or their boss’s boss, they’ll begin to question how they fit in with the company and have less pride in the organization overall.”

Scholars agree as well. This paper in the Organizational Science Journal, for example, highlights dozens of studies that have shown the role of trust in building more positive attitudes, higher levels of interpersonal and team cooperation, better communication, citizenship behavior, job satisfaction, effort, relationships, increased quality of performance, and many more.

But saying trust is important and actually cultivating an environment of trust are two different things. So, how can you actually build and cultivate trust in your workplace?

First, we should define what actually drives feelings of trust. Leadership author and speaker Gary Cohen has compiled what he calls the 7Cs of trust: Capability, Commitment, Capacity, Connection, Commonality, Character, and Consistency. You could certainly start there.

But for pure clarity, I think employee motivation specialist Susanne Jacobs has perhaps the best model. In her work, Jacobs has identified eight intrinsic drivers of trust. When combined with a sense of well-being and the right environmental factors, they will result in engagement, energy, a boosted sense of wellbeing, and sustainable high performance for work outcomes. They are:

Eight Intrinsic Drivers of Trust

  1. Belong and Connect
  2. Voice and Recognition
  3. Significance and Position
  4. Fairness
  5. Learn and Challenge
  6. Choice and Autonomy
  7. Security and Certainty
  8. Purpose

And what are those “right” environmental factors? According to Susanne Jacobs, they include “work-life integration, flexible working, workload, communication, leadership, resources, technology, physical environment, reward and performance” along with other people strategies.

Jacobs also suggests that reward has a strong reciprocal role to play in developing trust and sustainable performance, as fair rewards reinforce behaviors that drive success. See the diagram of her model, below (click to enlarge):

Incidentally, the role of reward in driving trust has also been touched on by the work of Donald Ferrin and Kurt Dirks, who believe reward structures have a strong influence on interpersonal trust in the workplace and have shown its affect on outcomes like work performance, organizational citizenship, organizational commitment, turnover intent, satisfaction and group performance. Among other things, they found that the “analyses, combined with prior research, suggest that managers can expect reward to have strong, predictable effects on interpersonal trust.”

So how do you translate these findings into strategies for your organization’s success? Consider the following five tips:

  1. Encourage multilateral communications and dialogue among peers and between employees and leaders. Offer workers a shared sense of ownership in company goals and mission—encouraging employees’ sense of voice, position, significance and purpose.
  2. Establish strong company values that employees can understand and know how to practice—increasing their sense of belonging, purpose and security.
  3. Set challenging but achievable goals—to increase employees’ sense of challenge, learning and autonomy.
  4. Shift the focus from hierarchy to community—connecting employees to one another in ways that empower them and increase their sense of belonging, connection and security.
  5. Ensure that you are adequately recognizing and rewarding individual and team achievements as they relate to shared values and goals. Make sure those rewards respect individualism and include choice. This will increase employees’ sense of fairness, purpose, recognition, belonging, and choice.

And finally, do remember that trust is reciprocal. As Harold Macmillan once said “A man who trusts nobody is apt to be the kind of man nobody trusts.” The surest way to earn the trust of employees is to show them that you trust them in return.


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