Stephen M. R. Covey claimed in his book, The Speed of Trust, that trust is “the one thing that changes everything” – if removed, it can destroy the most thriving economy, the most powerful government, the most successful business, and the most influential leadership.
Business Replaced Government as Most Trusted Institution
For 20 years, Edelman has studied trust in four institutions (media, business, NGOs, and Government) and according to the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer, trust declined in the United States since May 2020. Due to governments’ failures during crises such as the Great Recession and the pandemic, business is now the most trusted institution in 18 of the 27 surveyed countries. It is the only institution seen as both competent and ethical. While CEO credibility is at an all-time low in several countries, respondents were more likely to trust their own employer’s CEO (63%) than government leaders (41%) and CEOs in general (48%) to “do what is right.”
The vacuum left by the government has led to increased expectations on business to take the lead on change and speak out publicly about societal challenges (e.g., training for jobs of the future, ethical use of tech, income inequality, diversity). In addition to shareholder value, societal values govern companies’ reputations and survival. An organization’s leadership team influences a company’s trustworthiness and reputation through their competence, intentions, and actions. When expectations are not met, trust deteriorates – think of Lucy yanking the football away from Charlie Brown.
Trust Delivers Significant Savings in Time and Resources
A lack of trust increases the amount of double-checking and micromanagement and leads to bottlenecks in communication. Trusted companies have more loyal and engaged employees, more substantial consumer buyers and advocates, more favorable media coverage, outperform the market and financially recover faster in times of crisis. Among other benefits, employees at high-trust organizations are more engaged and productive, express greater intention to stay, report more energy and less stress, take fewer sick days, and are more likely to recommend their company to others as a good place to work.
Trust is the “willingness of a party to be vulnerable to the actions of another party based on the expectation that the other will perform a particular action to the trustor, irrespective of the ability to monitor or control that party” (Mayer, Davis, & Schoorman, 1995, p. 172).
Considering this definition, it comes as no surprise that a recent meta-analysis supports the positive relationship between trust and team performance. The current nature of work and dependence on distributed virtual teams requires us to be vulnerable and maintain positive expectations. Lencioni’s model demonstrates that teamwork begins with trust, and leaders who cannot be vulnerable enough to share challenges and limitations with team members prevent trust-building. When leaders do not model vulnerability, team members are unwilling or scared to admit mistakes or weaknesses and are reluctant to ask for help. Customers, the company, and employees suffer within such cultures.
The Trust Equation
At Psynet Group we apply an equation to help understand what drives trustworthiness, and offer several solutions to tackle each of the variables in this trust equation.
At their base, organizations are people coming together to work toward a shared mission. From the moment an employee engages with an employer as a job candidate until the time they leave an organization, they make judgments about trust. As such, it’s essential to understand the trust equation in terms of perception. Two individuals’ perceptions of another person may look very different. Our perceptions are often based on observable data; therefore, our perceptions are sometimes irrational, biased, or subject to thinking errors like the fundamental attribution error. When we think trust is a concern, our first question should be about our own perception’s accuracy.
- Trusting others (e.g., your team) begins with trusting yourself and your capabilities.
- People are often promoted to managerial or leadership positions because of their technical capability – not because they are skilled at leading and developing people.
- A promotion validates their belief in their capabilities and can lead to overconfidence about their ability to lead people.
- Overconfident people are more likely to be trusted; however, they are also more likely to disappoint as they are particularly prone to making mistakes.
- Such mistakes often occur because overconfident leaders do not admit what they do not know, nor do they involve others in decision making.
When the behavior of a person in power is not consistent with stated values, it creates stress for those under his or her supervision and weakens trust. Character is a function of reliability, integrity, and intent.
- Reliability comes from consistency between words and actions – people can predict your behavior because they trust you will do what you say.
- Integrity is about being honest and stems from an alignment between behavior and stated ethics and values.
- Intent refers to our motives and self-awareness of those motives – are they admirable?
When it comes to culture fit, likeability is extremely important. Likeability may be the least rational as it can be based on factors such as how much someone smiles and body language. It is also based on how genuinely focused someone is in a conversation, how their words make people feel (e.g., compliments, praise), how many personal questions they ask, and how often they are available. Each of these behaviors is critical to building relationships and deeper social ties. Such relationships are foundational to trust and can make trust easier to restore when a breach occurs.
To the denominator, Egocentrism focuses on self or personal benefit over a focus on others and their needs. Self-oriented people, often talk over or interrupt others, appear distracted, say “me” and “I” over “we” and “us,” and generally do not focus on commitments to others. Do you know anyone like this? When egocentrism is high, others feel dismissed and unheard. They do not feel like they have an advocate and cannot trust that the egocentric person has their back or cares about their needs.
First, the trust equation can serve as a framework for selection and succession. At Psynet Group, we use a standardized assessment and expert interviews to answer questions such as:
- Do I trust the candidate’s capabilities?
- Do I trust their character – will they put the team and organization in danger with poor ethical decisions, are their values aligned with our values?
- Do they fit our culture – would I like to spend time with them?
- Are they committed to our mission or their own goals?
Second, behaviors that foster and extend trust can be coached and developed. Neuroscience research on oxytocin, a brain chemical shown to facilitate collaboration and teamwork, identified eight core management behaviors that promote trust by stimulating the production of oxytocin:
- Recognize excellence.
- Induce challenge stress – assign challenging but achievable work.
- Autonomy – give people discretion in how they do their work.
- Enable job crafting – allow choice in which projects people work on.
- Share information broadly – frequent communication about goals, strategies, and tactics.
- Intentionally build relationships.
- Facilitate whole-person growth – develop personally and professionally.
- Show vulnerability – ask for help.
If you haven’t gathered by now, we understand and develop talent in ways that others don’t. Care to have a short conversation on how we could potentially help you? Contact us at [email protected]. Even if you decide not to do business with us, you’ll get value from the conversation — and we know we will too.
About the Author: Brandon Young, PhD is a senior consultant with Psynet Group.