A trust expert's advice on building a resilient culture

Rachel Botsman, trust expert, author and lecturer at Oxford University, thinks organisations that create cultures driven by humility and trust are the most successful.

Speaking at Culture Amp’s Culture First 2021 event yesterday (9 June), Botsman said the term trust is used a lot by businesses, but often goes undefined and is misused.

Trust has more definitions than love does, she said, and it is hard to pin down a singular and correct definition, yet she added: “My simplified definition of trust is: a confident relationship with the unknown."

Botsman said by using this definition, employers can begin to understand the critical role it plays in enabling them to navigate uncertainty and to take leaps into the unknown.

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Trust is the social glue of teams and cultures that keeps people together. She explained: “Trust is spoken about a lot in everyday workplaces, for example, managers saying they need to build more trust and having good gut feelings about prospects and people.

“But these phrases and assumptions about how trust is earned at work need to be challenged in order for leaders and HR to be truly consistently transparent.

"It is vital HR teams earn the trust of employees; the events of the past year have demonstrated this.

"Employees had to trust HR would be there for them throughout the coronavirus pandemic, for example, for information on best remote work practice or information about the furlough scheme."

Botsman said the most powerful principle for earning trust is the idea of consistency.

“If you think about the people in your life that you deeply trust, there will always be an element of consistency to that relationship.

“They either keep their commitments and promises, show up on time or their words align with their actions,” she explained.

While intensity can make for good instant results, Botsman argued consistency drives more sustainable progress within organisations.

“Small and consistent moments are really important for earning an employee’s trust, as they will then know what to expect of you and that they can go to you for help and or support,” she said.

Jessica Brannigan, lead people scientist at Culture Amp, asked Botsman the one behaviour trait she would identify in a trustworthy leader and why.

Botsman responded: “Context is very important when it comes to trust. There are certain situations where competence is key; if a person is not capable or doesn’t have the knowledge and experience to do the job, then they won’t be able to keep teams safe.

“If I had to pick the trait that is usually the most important, that would make it hard to trust someone if they didn’t have it, it would be integrity.”

Without integrity, she said it would be difficult for employees to see that leaders have good intentions and align themselves with their thought processes.