Creating cultures of trust: Three solutions

Developing such a culture is difficult but not impossible

A new study by Bupa reveals that a quarter of UK workers have quit their jobs because of a lack of trust, and also that a similar proportion would feel a lot more motivated at work if colleagues put more trust in them.

Developing a culture of trust is one of the most difficult things to achieve because:

  • Behaviour breeds behaviour
  • People don’t like change
  • Culture drips from the top down.

People tend to look out for themselves first and others second. This behaviour breeds similar behaviour in others. It’s a vicious circle – the more you perceive someone is selfish the less you want to help them. This behaviour is instinctive and goes back millennia, according to The Chimp Paradox's author Steve Peters.

The solution: Develop the emotional intelligence to rise above this instinctive, reactionary behaviour and employ the golden gift of choice. When we choose to respond instead of react we begin to break the negative cycle, turning the vicious circle into a virtuous one. This is the first of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. By choosing to reach out to the selfish soul you break the cycle of negative behaviour and magic happens.

Change at work is inevitable. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s change curve (below) shows the emotions people typically go through when faced with change. Unless change is handled carefully it is all too easy for people to get stuck in negative emotions and resort to defensive or aggressive behaviour.

The solution: Employ change management techniques to help people understand and move through the emotional curve smoothly. Understand there are four levels of readiness to change: oblivious, contemplative, preparing and implementing. When you know which stage a person or group of people are at it allows you to employ the correct techniques to help them come to terms with the change at hand and pull through it together, rather than hopelessly crash through it with the negative blaming and distrusting consequences.

They say a fish rots from the head down. And it's true that the behaviour of organisational leaders, good or bad, is what filters down throughout the organisation. It stands to reason – whoever is in charge is in charge. Subordinates recognise this and almost always emulate their superior’s behaviour.

The solution: It is essential leaders are prepared to show the vulnerability to open up and discuss how they feel about change and demonstrate no-one will be attacked for doing so. Once this begins things snowball in a very positive way. People become more honest, which in turn allows others to follow suit. In no time workers have sped their way through the negative parts of the change curve and begin helping each other reach for the ‘new normal’.

By addressing these three key issues leaders immediately demonstrate they care about how their employees feel. The effect? Staff see open, honest and authentic behaviour and begin to copy it. What goes around comes around. Trust develops and people stay together.

Tony Kerley is a change management and organisational development specialist. He leads Westminster Kingsway College’s CIPD courses in human resources