Posted on July 2022 by Sarah Di Pietro
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The Enemies of Trust within your organisation.

When an employer decides to grow their team, the first and foremost decision to consider is Culture. 

Creating a positive working culture based around your company values, the vision and the direction the company is heading.

The building blocks of trust are unsurprising: They’re old-fashioned managerial virtues like consistency, clear communication, and a willingness to tackle awkward questions. 

In our experience, building a trustworthy (and trusting) organisation requires close attention to those virtues. But it also requires a defensive game: You need to protect trustworthiness from its enemies, both big and small, because trust takes years to build but can suffer serious damage in just a moment.

Experimenting and trialing are ways to explore if you are or have made the right decision. 

If you have a leader in the business or one for multiple departments, ask them and their closest colleagues if they are trustworthy? If so, how do they know?

We know most will just say they are trustworthy and most of their team are too.

To determine one’s trust, understand their response to the second part of the question and this will reflect their beliefs on personal integrity. 

Follow this question with the next:

Do you believe you and your colleagues are capable of building trust in the organisation? 

What accounts for the gap between the two sets of answers? With their differing responses, the manager/s are simply acknowledging a fact of organisational life: It takes more than personal integrity to build a trusting, trustworthy organisation. It takes skills, smart supporting processes, and unwavering attention on the part of top managers. 

Trust within an organisation is far more complicated and fragile than trust between, say, a consultant and a client. With a client, you can largely control the flow of communication. In an organisation, people are bombarded with multiple, often contradictory messages every day.  

People use the word trust in 3 ways:

The first is strategic trust - the trust employees have in the people running the show to make the right strategic decisions. Do top managers have the vision and competence to set the right course, allocate resources intelligently, fulfils the mission, and help the company succeed? The second is personal trust—the trust employees have in their own managers. Do the managers treat employees fairly? Do they consider employees’ needs when making decisions about the business and put the company’s needs ahead of their own desires? The third is organisational trust—the trust people have not in any individual but in the company itself. Are processes well designed, consistent, and fair? Does the company support your growth and goals.

These three types of trust are distinct, but they’re linked in important ways. 

Every time an individual manager violates the personal trust of their direct reports,  their organisational trust will be shaken.

As difficult as it is to build and maintain trust within organisations, it’s critical.

So what advice should one take when this occurs?

You need to protect trustworthiness from its enemies, both big and small, because trust takes years to build but can suffer serious damage in just a moment. 

Who are the enemies? First line managers are generally the first if something has occurred to them personally that has impacted on them.

Some enemies are overt and some are covert: A conversation you thought was private is repeated and then grossly distorted by the rumor mill. Because any act of bad management erodes trust, the list of enemies could be endless. Practically speaking, though, most breakdowns in trust that we’ve witnessed can be traced back to one common problems involving inconsistencies in company standards and messages conveyed.

But then, there are the people with a cloud of negativity around them. These are often people who have been passed over for promotion or who feel they’ve been shortchanged on bonuses or salaries. 

They don’t do anything outright to sabotage the organisation, but they see the downside of everything. Their behaviour often escapes management’s attention, but their coworkers notice. 

After a while, people tire of their negative colleagues and may even catch the negativity bug themselves.

And at times there are people who are volatile—or just plain mean—often get away with appalling behaviour because of their technical competence. 

Extremely ambitious people, similarly, tend to steamroll their colleagues, destroy teamwork, and put their own agendas ahead of the organisations interests. In both cases, ask yourself, “Is this person so valuable to the company that we should tolerate their behaviour?”

Trust within organisations isn’t easy to pin down. It’s hard to measure, even in a quick-and-dirty way. And suppose you could measure it perfectly—the truth is that no company would ever get a perfect score. Organisations and people are too complicated for that. Nor is it easy to define the trustworthy leader. Some exude emotional intelligence; others appear to be rather boring, extremely consistent bureaucrats. And, being human, even the best of them occasionally make mistakes that erode trust. But trust is the crucial ingredient of organisational effectiveness. Building it, maintaining it, and restoring it when it is damaged must be at the top of every chief executive’s agenda.

Written by Sarah Di Pietro, managing director and HR specialist at Innovative Talent Group.