It’s not much of a revelation to say that trust in the workplace is a good thing. There’s plenty of evidence demonstrating its positive impact. And yet levels of trust in organisations aren’t looking nearly as healthy as they should.
Investing in a high-trust workplace culture yields distinct, tangible business benefits for sure. But you can’t just decide you want a culture of trust and expect it to appear. You don’t just pick it up off the shelf and spend a few months implementing it. Building trust is complex.
What does it actually mean when someone says ‘I don’t trust management’? Is every manager in their organisation flawed, corrupt and not deserving of their trust? And how many times have you heard the view that senior leaders aren’t trustworthy…even when many of the people saying it have never interacted with them in any way? A spirit of trust can permeate an entire company –as can mistrust.
The subject of trust was examined recently by Leadership Institute Roffey Park in its paper ‘The emergence of trusting relationships: Stories and reflections’. It provokes an interesting debate thanks to the issues it discusses.
One of them is about the very nature of trust in an organisation. Is an organisation actually an entity that can have trust invested in it? Or should the focus be more on the individual relationships between humans? One observation is that companies have become over reliant on frameworks – and that’s been at the cost of thinking about the people using them. Organisations create a false sense of control through these frameworks and fail to invest enough in understanding what’s happening ‘on the ground’.
‘Large organisations are quite adept at inventing frameworks. Although responding to a legitimate need, they seem to do little to develop trusting relationships and sustainable ways of working. We are putting greater trust in these frameworks rather than those people with local expertise and knowledge.’
Trust is social
The constant tightening of the policymaker’s grip needs loosening, it suggests. Instead, there needs to be a move towards greater involvement in social processes and a greater ability to inhabit others’ worlds. This is a recurrent theme. There’s a danger in undervaluing the fact that trust builds person to person. At many different levels and with many different individuals for sure – but genuine trust develops within concrete relationships. As the report says, when it comes down to the nuts and bolts of everything, it all depends on people making relationships with each other.
That means being yourself and being prepared to present yourself with authenticity. It means sharing your own experiences of life. It’s taking the relationship beyond the superficial. And it means letting others be themselves too and being aware of the whole person, not just the employee.
Read through some of the stories in the Roffey Park report and you’ll see endless instances of where things start going wrong; usually when a far less personable individual takes the reins. In their mind they’re ‘business focused’ and have no time for ‘being sociable’. But just look at the damage they’re doing. Breaking down trust. Encouraging people to stay away. Disengaging people.
Then look at the stories talking about the impact of managers and colleagues who took time with others and showed they cared. The ones who saw other people as individuals whether in or outside work. And then acknowledged that fact through their actions.
Has the time come to stop thinking big, in terms of achieving culture change? Instead, think small. Relationship to relationship. What can you do to encourage everyone to place value in and nurture genuine relationships with each other?