Trust is widely considered to be at a low ebb today. Depending on whose polls and research you consider, employees’ trust of their bosses and their organization’s management ranges from a low of 7% to a high of 49%. Trust of corporate leaders by the consuming public has plummeted. The 2013 Edelman Trust Barometer, an annual survey of 31,000 people in 26 countries, shows trust of corporate leaders to tell the truth at a sobering 18%, and consumer trust of their organizations correspondingly low.
There’s a connection between employee trust and consumer buying decisions. In a study of hotels, researchers Simons and Mclean Parks (2002) found that in hotels where the employees reported a higher degree of trust in the hotel manager’s behavioral integrity, there was a corresponding 13% improvement in customer satisfaction and hotel profitability.
Another set of researchers, Dirks and Ferrin, reviewed four decades of studies on the impact of employee trust, and found trust correlated over time and in multiple studies to:
- Job performance (average of 16% enhancement)
- Commitment to the organization (49% enhancement)
- Job satisfaction (51% enhancement), and
- Commitment to the leader’s decisions (24% enhancement).
These employee results translate to behaviors that earn customer trust, and thus profitability. Roger Staubach, real estate entrepreneur and Hall of Fame quarterback, wisely observed, “If you don’t have trust inside your company, then you can’t transfer it to your customers.”
The good news, if you want to stand out as a trusted leader, is that the bar is low and the impact high. Building trust is a Golden Bullet for your leadership development agenda. But how? What’s the secret sauce to building employee and customer trust by being a trusted leader?
Here’s the roadmap:
- Understand what generates trust. It’s not enough to be good at fulfilling the obligations of the social contract between leaders and employees – fair compensation, fair treatment, good communication, etc. Trust is related to someone’s willingness to take risk and to get out ahead of the norm. In study after study, two distinguishing leadership traits stand out in creating trust and willingness of people to take personal risk: consistent, uncompromising integrity, and actively demonstrating care and consideration. The first creates predictability, and the second familiarity – two basic needs of humans. The same applies to the willingness of customers to take the risk of loyalty. They want integrity and caring consideration.
- Make trust-building an objective and an accountability. Trust is too often seen as magical charisma – some people just ‘have it’. Nothing could be further from the truth. Great leaders have created both personal and organizational agendas for building trust. Their plans are thoughtful and documented. They are backed up by data over time. They focus not on lovely words, but on rooting out the causes of mistrust and replacing them with behaviors – individual and organizational – that foster trust. They reward leaders of the organization for their trustworthiness as well as their results, and they take decisive actions when trust is compromised.
- Be patient, but persistent. Trust doesn’t get ‘completed’, like a project. It’s an ongoing effort that morphs over time. And especially if it starts from an environment of mistrust, it takes time and consistency to overcome skepticism.
- Engage in the behaviors that build trust. Stephen Covey, author of The Speed of Trust, offers a reasonable list of behaviors that, when practiced consistently, tend to build individual trust:
- Talk straight
- Demonstrate respect
- Create transparency
- Right wrongs
- Show loyalty
- Deliver results
- Get better
- Confront reality
- Clarify expectations
- Practice accountability
- Listen first
- Keep commitments
- Extend trust
- Make it real. Remember the words of the philosopher Herodotus: “Men trust their ears less than their eyes.”
Former Congressman Tom Ridge summed up trust’s Golden Bullet abilities quite succinctly: “Trust is a great force multiplier.” It’s a great multiplier in your leadership arsenal.