Six ways leaders can rebuild trust in their organisations

Trust – or lack of it – is going to be a big issue moving into next year. The solution is that businesses need to choose the right leaders, ensure they walk the talk, and make them open to feedback from employees.

A recent CIPD report found there is a crisis of trust within companies – 37% of employees do not trust their senior managers, and 33% think trust between employees and senior management in their workplace is weak. This, said the CIPD, impacts negatively on engagement, performance and productivity.

It would be easy to blame this lack of trust entirely on the COVID crisis, with significant redundancies taking place and uncertainty for employees about whether they have a job or not.  But mistrust is contagious.  Looking at the public sphere there has been some fundamental breakdown of societal trust: MPs, newspapers, banks, and cover-ups such as Weinstein and Savile cases. This means that regardless of how well you are leading and managing, there’s a certain level of contagion coming in from outside.

Engendering trust at all levels of the organisation is a challenge.  While employees often tend to trust their immediate boss, that trust weakens the higher up you go. The relationship with the boss may be very good, but we need to do more at a senior level so that there are more visible and engaging leadership from the top.

So what are the six things you can do to redress the balance:-

1. Recognise that building trust takes hard work

Trust must be earned. It comes from conscious effort to walk your talk, keep your promises and align your behaviour with your values. Building trust is worth the effort because once trust is lost, it can be difficult to recover.

2. Be honest and supportive

Even when it’s difficult, tell the truth and not just what you think people want to hear. Understand what employees need to know and communicate facts while being considerate of their effort and sensitive to their feelings.

3. Listen attentively

Use a variety of feedback tools to ensure everyone has the chance for their voice to be heard. Engage in dialogue with employees, giving them the opportunity to ask questions, get answers, and voice concerns.

4. Be consistent

Consistently doing what you say you’ll do builds trust over time – it can’t be something you do only occasionally. Keeping commitments must be the essence of your behaviour, in all relationships, day after day and year after year.

5. Model the behaviour you seek in your team

Nothing speaks more loudly about the culture in an organisation than the leaders’ behaviour, which influences employee action and has the potential to drive their results. If you say ‘teamwork is important’, then you must reinforce the point by collaborating across teams and functions.

6. Build in accountability

When you and other leaders acknowledge your mistakes as well as successes, employees see you as credible and will follow your lead. You can encourage honest conversations and foster accountability by building in processes that become part of the culture, such as an evaluation of every project (positives, negatives, things to change) or a status report and next steps in each meeting agenda (tracking deadlines and milestones).