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If Employees Don’t Trust You, It’s Up to You to Fix It

Source | Harvard Business Review : By Sue Bingham

Three years ago, 37% of CEOs were concerned about a lack of trust in businesses, according to the PwC Annual Global CEO survey. Across industries, that number has climbed to 55%.

A high level of trust between managers and employees defines the best workplaces and drives overall company performance and revenue. As Stephen M. R. Covey writes in The Speed of Trust, “When trust goes down (in a relationship, on a team, in an organization, or with a partner or customer), speed goes down and cost goes up.… The inverse is equally true: When trust goes up, cost goes down, and speed goes up.” Because less than 50% of lower-level (nonexecutive, nonmanagerial) employees trust the companies they work for, employers have to carefully consider how they can build trusting relationships with their employees.

Employees who don’t trust their managers usually point to big-picture, obvious things: Their superiors skate the edges of ethical behavior, hide information, take credit for others’ hard work, or flat-out deceive people. Over my many years of helping organizations create high-performance workplaces, I’ve seen firsthand how untrustworthy managers damage morale and productivity. If employees are tight-lipped about problems until their manager exits the room and then suddenly have lots of things to tell me about his secretiveness, bullying, and penchant for pitting them against one another, the problems are easy to identify.

Less-obvious causes of distrust tend to originate more from the traditional environments in which leaders have been mentored than from specific behaviors of well-meaning managers. For example, traditional leadership training often focused on rule enforcement, which is akin to parent-child communication and not how trustworthy adults function. Today, leaders in high-performance workplaces don’t write policies around the few bad apples; instead, they expect people to act in the best interests of the company and one another. While it’s hard to fix problems you can’t see clearly, there are four ways to address these less-visible factors:

Hire for Trust

Many companies claim that hiring the best people is “job one,” but traditional hiring systems don’t make it easy.  From innovative interview tactics to involving your team in the decisions, using smarter hiring practices can result in hiring honest, accountable team members who create and sustain a culture in which people can count on one another.

First, don’t assume that technical skills and knowledge trump character, especially when hiring on the managerial level. Favoring knowledge over behavior-based questions that help you understand someone’s personal attributes completely overlooks the candidate’s integrity. Moreover, traditional questions such as “Why do you want to work here?” tell you nothing about a candidate’s ability or potential performance.

So ask questions that determine character. For example, ask when the person has tackled extra work to help their organization or team meet critical goals. Or when they put their clients’, coworkers’, or company’s interests ahead of their own. Have the people they’ll be working closely with join in, since the team will think of questions you may not have considered. To show that you trust the team’s judgment and value their input, if anyone has reservations, take that feedback seriously.

Finally, check those references! People who are fired for breeding distrust are serial job hunters. Do your research, and learn from other companies’ mistakes.

The Society of Human Resource Management found that 53% of companies that checked references uncovered falsities about the length of previous employment, and 51% discovered false claims about past salaries. It also found that 61% of candidates lied about their college credentials. Checking references might seem tedious, but replacing bad hires takes a lot more time and money.

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