How Trust Makes the World—and Office—Go Around

If you consider the most supportive relationships in your life, would you say that trust is a main component? At a fundamental emotional and developmental level, trust is key. Children blossom through infancy and adolescence if they trust their environments and caretakers. We, as adults, need relationships based in trust in order to thrive—both at home and at work. The presence of trust shapes everything. Do I trust you enough to develop a relationship, learn from you and—within a company—work for you, year after year?

The centrality of trust to relationships at home, at work between employer and employee, and in all contractual business relationships is critical enough to warrant a detailed look. Part one of this 2-part series looks at the role trust plays at work between colleagues and—most importantly—between team member and manager. Part two looks at how trust is key between customer and company. This second part explores the component parts of trust in a business setting, especially how the absence of one element of trust may undermine a customer’s faith in a product and the company as a whole. Business news is full of examples of how companies can lose trust—Uber, for example—only to spend months and even years trying to rebuild it.

Building Trust at Work

Trust at work can mean different things to different people. But when you examine what the word means at its core, it refers to a relationship between two individuals that is grounded in integrity, sincerity in words and actions, and truth. What does this look like in the corridors, conference rooms and offices of a company on a day-to-day basis? Some would say that it means you can trust management to treat you with honesty and respect. It also means that you have certain expectations—based on a past positive working relationship—about how you will be treated in the future. For trust to be present and thriving at work, consider that at a minimum the following three rules need to be observed:

  1. A respectful exchange where parties are free to speak—and listen;
  2. Empowerment of team members through education and opportunity; and
  3. A place where a culture of inclusivity and respect is fostered, and the workplace is very much like “a home away from home.”

Is it realistic to think that a company can observe these basic principles?

Dialogue—Between Employees and Employer—Underpins All

Arguably, fifty years ago a workplace that encouraged feedback from team members was rare. Most companies operated from a purely “top down” management model. While this is still a current model for running a company, it has undergone a marked shift. In the most productive companies, a consistent and regular stream of feedback and constructive commentary comes from team members who carry out the company’s mission. In other words, over the years it has become clear that the most “enlightened” companies realize that the “whole” is stronger when its respective “parts” are involved in decision making. In this respect, dialogue, rather than one-way directives, underpins a company’s processes and operations. When management encourages feedback, listens and is responsive to suggestions from its team of employees, not only does the company thrive, but trust grows between all parties—team members and management.

The Gift of Education and Growth

Consider the following scenario:

A team member shows exemplary drive and interest in making a particular company process work better. She not only does her own work to the highest standards, but helps her coworkers achieve a similar level of success. Management takes note of her leadership abilities and offers to create additional opportunities for her. Management not only helps her gain new skills through formal education and training opportunities but promotes her within the company as well.

Such a gesture of appreciation by management validates the employee, her initiative, and her hard work. It represents one of the most effective demonstrations of trust and respect between employer and employee. This is non-negotiable rule number two: Leadership should always recognize the efforts of team members and reward accordingly, either through additional opportunities for growth within the company and/or through additional formal learning opportunities. Through these gestures of respect, the company is effectively communicating a key component of trust: “We believe in you.”

The Pinnacle of Trust: Company as a Second “Home”

The notion that a company needs a tyrant at the helm to get things done is a myth. The best companies incorporate elements of “home” into the workplace. What does this mean? It means bringing an environment built on trust into the cubicles, conference rooms and break areas. It means fostering a culture of inclusion, tolerance, and open communication.

Needless to say, the workplace environment must be welcoming, receptive to employee feedback, and “safe” in all ways for employees to deliver their best work. This type of workplace environment is absolutely key in this modern age. Such a workplace builds trust, security, and a workforce that is loyal to the company for years to come. All companies should strive towards this model. The most trustworthy among them will achieve it.