Seven Principles for Building Trust in the Workplace

In my last post on this subject relationships were seen as the key to moving people out of betrayal into trust.  In their book ‘Trust and Betrayal in the Workplace – building effective relationships in your organisation’, Reina and Reina suggest seven steps for achieving this. I explore them below and address how they might apply for you as an effective leader.

  1. Observe and acknowledge what’s so – change inevitably has an impact on employees – often on their morale and productivity. Fullan describes this as the ‘implementation gap’ – that period of transition between the original ways of doing things and the internalisation of the new ways required. You need to be alert to this and acknowledge what employees are experiencing. This demonstrates you are in touch with what is happening.
  2. Allow employees to surface feelings – In acknowledging what they are experiencing, you should provide employees with permission and space to vent their feelings in a constructive manner. I used a process called ‘Air and Share’ that gave a designated time period at the beginning of each staff meeting or event for any gripes, moans, and groans. Our agreement was that once ‘Air and Share’ was done, everyone was expected to focus positively for the remainder of the agenda. This didn’t preclude challenge or critique but did prohibit self-fixated ramblings.
  3. Give employees support – effective leaders support the change process. Staff will have transitional needs in any change process and if these are not supported they will feel betrayed. I focused on providing, as far as possible, individual support sessions for key managers, group sessions for full and part-time staff, and a lot of ‘walking the walk’ – being visible and available to support staff, whilst reinforcing the messages of change.
  4. Reframe the experience by putting it into a larger context – whilst often there is little choice over the changes we are exposed to, we do have a choice as to how we react to change. Change that brings a feeling of betrayal has an emotional consequence and will leave individuals feeling vulnerable … and their actions or choices might then become unhelpful or seen as inappropriate. Often staff need help to understand this and to see the change as part of a bigger context. Consistent communication is the key to helping staff understand the role that they play within the broader context of change and recognise that they have choices to make in terms of how they act and react.  The more they are able to understand this, the more they are likely to take responsibility for those actions.
  5. Leaders should take responsibility for their role in the process – change is often messy, lacking in pace and sometimes seemingly pointless! It is therefore not helpful to deny errors of judgement or mistakes in practice. A key basis for trust in the workplace is telling the truth … and a leader’s role is to reverse the spiral of distrust by being honest about what has happened and to attempt to remedy this wherever possible … or just plain apologise if it is not possible! I can think of a number of occasions when I’ve just put up my hand and accepted my mistake or error of judgement!
  6. Forgiveness – a persistent ‘blame culture’ in any organisation is toxic to the individuals concerned and to the organisation as a whole. It undermines trust and morale … and negatively impacts on productivity, creativity and innovation, as well as on people’s willingness to commit or ‘go the extra mile’. I found this culture in a number of the local authorities in which I worked. I believe it is better to have staff problem solving than blaming each other … and enabling all concerned to understand why a mistake [often seen as a betrayal] occurred. In that way we do not build on the historical blame burden but release people’s energy, focus and inclination to achieve on a bigger scale.
  7. Let go and move on – through listening, being open and transparent, owning mistakes [and learning from these] and promising only what can be delivered upon, leaders can assist the healing that is needed following betrayal and begin to rebuild trust.

In your leadership role, have you ever experienced the ‘implementation gap’? When was the last time you ‘walked the walk’? In what ways do you address the ‘bigger picture’ with your colleagues? Do you own your personal mistakes, seek forgiveness, learn and move on? I’d love to hear your stories.

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