September 2012
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TD Magazine

Tuning In to Trust

Friday, September 7, 2012

Building trust is not merely the workplace trend du jour. High-trust organizations are full of engaged employees who help to drive bottom-line results.

Does the corner office in your workplace have a glass door? If not, you should think about installing one, and quickly. Trust in the workplace these days is all about transparency, predictability, consistency, and collaboration—all of which are difficult to achieve behind closed doors.

A recent study by Interaction Assoc­iates on trust levels in 2012 finds that trust has taken a nosedive since 2009 and has continued to decline each year during the recession. 2012 has the worst report card yet, with barely a quarter of respondents indicating that they trust their leadership and only one in three reporting that he has competent leadership. The research details three reasons colleagues trust each other at work: past behavior (which can help us predict "future returns"), capability (we trust those we perceive as capable), and alignment (we want the same thing).

Employees of organizations that report high trust levels perceive their leadership as consistent and capable, and can explain how their roles specifically contribute to the organizations' strategic missions. Ninety percent of these high-trust organizations actively pursue alignment as a key driver of trust (and, subsequently, business results).

"High-trust organizations are able to get their people to go beyond engagement (which is a focus on their jobs only) to involvement (which is sharing responsibility for the success of the organization)," says Linda Stewart, CEO of Interaction Associates. "We call the evolution of engagement to involvement going from ‘me to we,' and it's a critical shift for companies looking to drive strong results in today's organizations."

To build trust in your organization, consider revising decision-making processes. Seeking the involvement of employees at all levels in decision making can increase trust levels because it's a powerful gesture of leadership ceding control.


"As the level of involvement in decision making increases, so does the level of ownership, or buy-in, among employees to both the process and the outcome," Stewart says. She suggests a few questions for determining the "maximum appropriate involvement" in decisions: How much buy-in is needed? How important—or inconsequential—is the issue to employees? How much time can be taken to make a decision? How capable and informed are the employees?

As links between employee trust levels and an organization's financial success become more clearly defined, leaders should seize the opportunity to make good on this research.

About the Author

Stephanie Castellano is a former writer/editor for the Association for Talent Development (ATD). She is now a freelance writer based in Gainesville, Florida.

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