Trust is the foundation of business

Trust is an important business currency and needs to be reflected right through an organisation’s behaviours and actions

In a world where people expect an unprecedented level of freedom from command and control management hierarchies, alienation between the leadership team and employees is a major obstacle for many businesses.

The foundation stone for creating a positive and flexible culture is trust: whether it is leaders having faith in their people, employees believing in their managers, colleagues feeling secure when collaborating with each other, or stakeholders and customers feeling valued.

The evidence is becoming increasingly compelling. A number of recent reports highlight how high-trust environments significantly increase employee satisfaction, engagement and energy – with a corresponding decrease in stress and illness ­– resulting in improved organisational performance. Yet, in its 2016 global survey of CEOs, PwC reported that 55% of company bosses thought a lack of trust was a threat to their business.

There are eight factors that enable trust (and motivation) and when these are absent there is a greater risk to an organisation’s reputation and performance:

Belong and connect. If people feel excluded in the workplace they feel threatened and it can affect their health and wellbeing. It is important to make sure individuals feel connected to their team.

Significance and position. Employees are continually assessing their role within their organisation and what contribution they are making. If they do not feel valued they can feel threatened, which will negatively affect their performance.

Learn and challenge. Staff need to be continually learning so they can adapt to the ever-changing modern work environment. People who feel challenged are more productive.

Choice and autonomy. Giving employees a degree of control and the ability to make their own choices can help them to balance their work and home lives more effectively, helping to improve their performance.

Voice and recognition. Staff should be encouraged to put their views and ideas across in the workplace so they feel their contributions are recognised and appreciated.

Fairness. It is critical for an organisation to treat its employees fairly and consistently. If people feel they are being treated unfairly it can cause high stress levels and low productivity.

Security and certainty. If staff are insecure in their position they can feel threatened, which has a negative effect on their performance and productivity levels.

Purpose. If workers have a clear sense of purpose and are aware of exactly what their contribution to an organisation is they are more likely to be engaged and productive.

Trust is strongly related to culture. It is one of the seven elements of agile culture, as identified by the Agile Business Consortium, and leaders should strive to create organisations where people both want and are able to collaborate in a safe environment.

Creating this type of safe environment requires:

  • Defining and building a shared purpose.
  • Cultivating an ethic of contribution.
  • Developing processes that enable people to work together in flexible but disciplined projects.
  • Creating an infrastructure in which collaboration is valued and rewarded.

As individuals become inspired within a trusting and psychologically-safe environment their motivation becomes more personal. They are more likely to accept inconvenience for the good of the whole, to do things because they want to rather than have to, and to want to do their best for their colleagues, customers and the organisation that employs them.

The part played by an organisation’s leadership team is key in this process. Not only do leaders have to foster the right environment but they must lead by example and demonstrate their trust in their people. Leaders need to be supportive and adaptive rather than following a traditional command and control style.

People are inspired by those who lead by example, are humble, and actively engage in their own development and wellbeing. As professor Chris Roebuck observed at our 2017 Agile Business Conference, leaders need to show they care about their workforce as most people respond to negativity with negativity and positivity with positivity. Creating two-way emotional bonds provides support and generates the neurochemical oxytocin. This makes us feel good, more enthusiastic about giving our best and encourages collaboration with others.

When trust is at the heart of an organisation’s culture leaders can be more confident their people will want what is best for the whole, operate to high standards, and ensure their colleagues do too.

John Williams is CEO of the Agile Business Consortium