The Role of Trust in Any Organization: The Superpower Your Team is Missing
Everybody loves the story of a superhero. The best superheroes are strong and powerful. They can overcome any challenge and obstacle that gets in their way. No matter the villain, the superhero always comes out on top.
Our favorites have superpowers like flight, invisibility, speed, and strength. But, none of these superheroes have the power of trust – yet we still trust them! What is their secret?
Trust, unlike a superpower, isn’t something we’re born with or magically receive after getting bit by a spider. Instead, trust is earned. The role of trust in organizations is evident in every department and isn’t ignorable.
Let’s look a little deeper at the role of trust in organizations.
- Trust is built when culture, communication, and behaviors are reflective of the promises made.
- Trust impacts employee engagement, and is rooted in relationships and communication.
- Inspirational Leaders foster cultures of trust by modeling the behaviors of Christ.
- Trust is broken when we avoid the elephant in the room, break promises, implement “Big Brother” policies, communicate poorly, and assume trust.
- Trust is rebuilt through humility, accountability, communication, conflict resolution, consistency, and feedback.
What is Organizational Trust?
At BCWI, we have adopted the International Association of Business Communicators definition for trust. Trust is:
“the organization’s willingness, based upon its culture and communication behaviors in relationships and transactions, to be open and honest, based on the belief that another individual, group, or organization is also competent, open and honest, concerned, reliable, and identified with common goals, norms, and values. “
This definition highlights the two-way nature of trust, meaning both parties agree to be open and honest. Trust is built when culture, communication, and behaviors are reflective of the promises made.
In its simplest form, organizational trust is assurance, confidence, reliance, and dependence. It requires a great deal of faith to trust. And lately, it seems like no one is trustworthy. In a culture where trust is easily broken and hardly earned, your employees are naturally going to be distrustful of your organization.
Let’s look at how the role of trust is fundamental to different areas of organizational success.
Trust & Employee Engagement
Employee engagement and trust go hand in hand. Trust is rooted in relationships and communication.
As author Stephen M. R. Covey writes,
“Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.”
Here’s an example of this. BCWI Certified Organization CareNet utilizes a ‘no-look pass’ analogy to promote trust within teams. In this analogy, team member A has to trust that team member B is going to follow through, without dropping the “ball.” Vice versa, team member B has to trust that team member A won’t throw until the team member is ready. Leaders ask questions and implement safeguards to assess if the flow between team members is working. Gaps in trust between team members or departments are immediately addressed.
When trust is healthy, this kind of relationship between teams promotes high employee engagement, better communication, and higher productivity.
Specifically, Harvard Business Review reveals “compared with people at low-trust companies, people at high-trust companies report:
- 74% less stress,
- 106% more energy at work,
- 50% higher productivity,
- 13% fewer sick days,
- 76% more engagement,
- 29% more satisfaction with their lives,
- 40% less burnout.”
If you want to have an engaged workforce, trust is crucial to success.
Trust & Christian Leadership
The role of organizational trust is a key factor in Inspirational Leadership, one of the factors we use to identify Flourishing Workplaces as part of our Employee Engagement Survey.
Inspirational Leadership defines the authenticity of the leaders’ Christian faith in action. Inspirational Leaders model the behavior of Jesus and lead with similar characteristics.
Since trust is two-way, team members expect leaders to be trustworthy, respectful, and easy to follow and to look for gaps in trust, and promote unity and understanding. Leaders expect employees to follow through on responsibilities and commitments they have made.
In the past, many Christian leaders and organizations have assumed trust as part of corporate vision and “Christian values.” However, as the moral failures of Christian leaders who were once thought trustworthy continue to make headlines, there is a degree of skepticism within some of the faith community towards leaders because they’ve been burned before.
We have damaged our own reputation by not prioritizing the role of trust within our organizations. As people of faith, we are held to a higher standard; only we are accountable for our actions. We must do everything in our power to rebuild broken trust and foster cultures where trust is foundational to every decision and action.
Trustworthy Leadership in Action
Practically, what does trustworthiness look like? How can we be leaders that foster cultures of trust?
Modeling our leadership after Christ
First, let’s look to Christ. Since our relationship with Christ is built on faith and trust, we, as Christian leaders, must model our behavior accordingly.
Jesus leads with love at the forefront. From our love, the trickle-down effect is evident.
“In our relationships, love shows empathy, then empathy leads to understanding, and understanding leads to trust, and then trust leads to influence.” -Boyd Bailey, author of Essential Habits of Relational Leaders: Building a Culture of Trust. Quote from The Flourishing Culture Podcast Season 5, Episode 29.
Modeling our lives after Jesus is what he asks of us, but we also need to give ourselves grace. We aren’t perfect and never will be.
This is why fostering a culture of trust, especially in Christian workplaces, is so crucial. At a minimum, our people should feel safe enough to come to us about concerns they have about the workplace, the strategy, even our personal shortcomings.
What to do when trust has been broken
As we begin to recognize our role as leaders in building trust, we must also recognize common areas and ways trust can be broken. Looking for these warning signs is a good first step when addressing trust concerns within your organization.
Common ways trust is broken
- Avoiding the elephant in the room: Have you failed to address obvious issues within your organization? Are you beating around the bush and avoiding having hard conversations?
- Breaking promises: Are you following through on what you’ve said? Does integrity go both ways – for both employees and leadership?
- “Big Brother” or watchdog policies: Have you implemented new policies that are invasive or seem distrustful? Do you believe your employees will follow through with what you’ve tasked them with?
- Lack of communication: Do you withhold information from employees or certain levels of management? Do you have clear communication channels in place to make sure everyone is receiving important information?
- Assuming trust: Do you assume or know your employees trust you? What policies or procedures do you have in place to measure trust?
Because trust can easily break, we must evaluate every decision through the lens of trust in efforts to maintain and promote trust within our organizations.
Ways to rebuild trust (and maintain it going forward)
When trust has been broken, as it inevitably will (we aren’t perfect), there are a few ways you can rebuild and move forward.
- Be Humble: Secular leadership often says to never admit you’re wrong, but when we approach our leadership with a posture of humility, we prove to ourselves and to others that this is a safe space to make mistakes and grow together. Humility also shows your human nature. Employees appreciate and admire “human” and authentic leaders.
- Take Accountability: Culture change comes from the top. Owning up to where you’ve been, and then remaining accountable going forward is important for rebuilding broken trust. Build safeguards and accountability structures to make sure you continue to remain the course toward trust. Learn from mistakes, and put in place measures to avoid making them again.
- Communicate: Evaluate where trust has been broken, communicate those areas, and then establish processes so that employees are regularly informed about progress updates.
- Embrace Conflict: Even in the most high-trust organizations, conflict still occurs. Learn to embrace conflict as it arises, rather than cowering away or letting it fester. Help your employees learn to use conflict as a way to promote trust between team members and departments.
- Be Consistent: When actions and words are not aligned, the intentions of leaders can become hard to discern. Prove your commitment to rebuilding trust through your actions and decisions.
- Stick with it. In an age where it’s easy to call it quits, develop the stamina to see it through. It speaks volumes about your character and also what your organization values. Prove to yourself and others your commitment to making a change.
- Follow-Up: Unless trust has obviously been broken, it may be hard to know when you have a trust problem. Avoid letting the problem get too big by frequently asking for feedback. Using a survey tool like the BCWI Employee Engagement Survey is a great way to keep tabs on how your organization is doing before it’s too late.
It’s clear – the role of trust in organizations is evident in every area of your organization and its success.
Trust matters to all stakeholders of your organization – not just your employees. When consumers trust organizations, they are stronger buyers and advocates. When employees feel trusted, they are more positive and productive. When the market trusts your organization, you’ll see increased business or advocacy and positive press.
As Christian leaders, we must put in the work to achieve trust with our teams, foster it as we grow together, and rebuild quickly after its’ been broken.
High-trust organizations see higher employee engagement and satisfaction, productivity, and results, and employees want to work with leaders who are genuinely trustworthy. The work might be challenging, but in the end, prioritizing trust will prove successful.
Download BCWI’s four-page guide for inspirational leadership in crisis for FREE.