Guest Editorial by David Friedman, the author of Culture by Design: How to Build a High-Performing Culture Even in the New Remote Work Environment.
Trust is probably the most critical quality that leaders can develop within their organizations.
In fact, the ability for people to believe in and depend on their CEO and one another is one of the pillars of a healthy corporate culture.
If a company demonstrates a fluidity of trust in all directions, it has the foundation for sustainable growth and prosperity.
On the other hand, a lack of trust can undermine the most successful business.
But how does trust become ingrained in an organization? On the surface, it seems like an intangible element that’s hard to describe and even more challenging to quantify.
Yet trust, just as I teach about all aspects of organizational culture, is based on practical, actionable behaviors that can be modeled, coached, and absorbed.
Creating a Culture of Trust
Most people desire an environment of trust for their organization, but simply wanting it won’t make it happen.
For a trust-based culture to take hold, the CEO must intentionally develop it.
To establish the primary layer of company culture, leaders must identify and define the behaviors that will help the business and its staff thrive.
Moreover, leaders must authentically exemplify these behaviors if they want their staff to embody them, too.
The following are six crucial behaviors that CEOs can model and teach to build trust:
Act with integrity
Be candid and encourage others to speak up
Set clear expectations
Acting with Integrity
Leaders who reflect unwavering integrity win the trust and respect of their team. But it only takes a few instances of unethical behavior to implode a staff’s confidence in their boss.
And they certainly won’t feel compelled to consistently do the right thing themselves if their leader sets a poor example.
Acting with integrity means always telling the truth, not cutting corners, and treating others with dignity and respect. CEOs can’t just list integrity as one of their company’s values.
To build a trust-based culture, they must be a walking example of ethical behavior every day.
Few things erode trust faster than the belief that information is being withheld. When leaders are open about company strategies, goals, and challenges, they erase uncertainty among their staff—even if the news is hard to swallow.
When times are difficult, what people want most is to be told the truth. And when things are going well, they still want to be included in the information chain.
This level of transparency at the top of an organization has a ripple effect. Because of their leader’s example, employees are more likely to entrust information with their teammates rather than hoarding it.
This pattern of behavior greatly enhances effective collaboration.
When leaders don’t do what they’ve promised, their staff will quickly lose confidence in them. So to build unshakable credibility, they must always do what they say they’re going to do—not just occasionally.
Employees are hyper-observant of what their leaders do. We can talk all day long, but if our words and actions don’t align, they will immediately pick up on it.
Creating a pattern of dependability goes a long way toward establishing trust.
Leaders foster trust when they make their staff members feel “heard.”
By carefully listening to understand what others are saying, they demonstrate empathy and interest, and employees feel valued and respected. And it’s vital to listen to the many diverse voices within an organization—not just those that are familiar.
To listen generously includes suspending judgment and giving others the benefit of the doubt instead of jumping to conclusions. It’s hard to have confidence in a leader who assumes the worst and doesn’t take the time for careful discernment.
Candor and the Freedom to Speak Up
Most employees genuinely want to get better at their jobs. Of course, no one wants to be berated about the quality of their work, but people appreciate and respect honest, productive feedback.
In contrast, they don’t trust executives who never mention a staff member’s shortcomings yet bypass them for raises or promotions.
It’s also critical for people to feel like they can speak honestly to their boss. When a leader asks for input, a quiet room is a sure sign of an absence of trust.
People are unlikely to voice their opinions if they’re afraid of retribution or other negative consequences. So making people feel comfortable to speak up is elemental to developing a trust-based culture.
Setting Clear Expectations
Some leaders may refrain from defining expectations because they believe a laissez-faire attitude gives their staff more leeway to work independently.
Actually, the opposite is true. People don’t like guessing games and lose faith in leaders who are unclear about what they expect from their staff.
When employees have a solid understanding of their responsibilities, deadlines, and anticipated outcomes, they have the tools to meet and even exceed expectations. Accordingly, they’ll trust a leader who gives clear direction and helps them succeed.
Why Trust-Based Culture is Important
Leaders who earn their staff’s confidence and then weave elements of trust throughout their company will reap many rewards.
For example, when people operate in an atmosphere of trust, they gain a sense of security about their employer and doing their jobs.
This sense of wellbeing positively impacts workers’ mental and physical health.
Moreover, their comfort level translates into another dividend of trust: increased effectiveness and productivity. Employees are willing to act decisively and make things happen when they feel assured about others’ goodwill and positive intentions.
Perhaps most importantly, people who trust their boss are loyal to them—a critical factor in today’s volatile job market.
After the tumultuous year and a half that we just experienced, workers want stability and sound, dependable leadership more than ever before. As a result, employees are far more likely to stay with a leader they believe in than take a chance on someone else who’s hiring.
Earning the trust of one’s staff is critical for a CEO to succeed in their role; making trust a primary aspect of company culture generates a priceless asset that benefits everyone in the organization.
This goal is worth every ounce of effort that leaders decide to put into it.
About the Author
David Friedman is the author of Culture by Design: How to Build a High-Performing Culture Even in the New Remote Work Environment.
He also is founder and CEO of CultureWise®, a turnkey operating system for small to midsize businesses to create and sustain a high-performing culture.
He is the former president of RSI, an award-winning employee benefits brokerage and consulting firm that was named one of the best places to work in the Philadelphia region seven times.
Friedman has taught more than 6,000 CEOs about work culture and led more than 500 workshops on the subject. With Sean Sweeney, Friedman formed High Performing Culture, LLC, based on the culture methodology Friedman created at RSI.
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