Want Your Employees to Trust You? Show You Trust Them

Executives and managers invest a lot of effort and time building trust in their teams: establishing trust within their employees and ensuring that their employees trust them in return. But many employees say they do not feel trusted by their managers, and when employees don’t feel trusted, workplace productivity and engagement often suffer. It’s up to the managers to signal trust in their employees in consistent and thoughtful ways. Research offers evidence of ‘ripple effects’ of a manager-employee trust gap. Employees who are less trusted by their manager exert less effort, are less productive, and are more likely to leave the organization.

In short, trust begets trust: When people are trusted, they tend to trust in return; but people must feel trusted to reciprocate trust. Managers have to do more than trust employees; they need to show it. Based on research work and time spent in companies studying trust, Holly Henderson Brower, Scott Wayne Lester and M. Audrey Korsgaard have identified some of the most important ways managers erode trust and how they can signal it more clearly to their teams.

Taking stock. Don’t assume that your employees have high trust in you, instead learn to read their trust levels by understanding the risks and vulnerabilities they face. Take an inventory of the practices, policies, and controls found in your organization: Are they risk-tolerant? Are they designed to engage employees or to protect the organization from them? Take an assessment of your own conduct too — the list of questions above is a good start. If you’ve answered “no” to any of these questions, your employees likely do not trust you as much as you would hope.

(Carefully) giving up control. The onus of establishing mutual trust is on the manager. That means not only cultivating employee trust, but conveying prudent & incremental trust in them. Managers need to adequately scope assignments, grant resource authority, and not undermine it later – ceding control also requires a certain tolerance for mistakes. Rather than taking harsh corrective action, treat employee mistakes as opportunities to facilitate learning.

Sharing information. Another important way in which leaders take risks is by communicating openly and honestly with employees. Being transparent signals that you trust your employees with the truth, even in difficult circumstances. Openness not only pre-empts suspicion of bias, it conveys that the manager trusts employees with sensitive information.

Investing in employee development. Finally, letting employees know you are willing to invest in their potential and advocate for them conveys confidence and trust. Get to know their career aspirations, then help them reach their goals. After all, as a manager, your own success is dependent on the success of those you develop.

The team at Actuate Business Consulting, a knowledge based management consulting firm in India, believes that managers may be unaware of the unintended signals they send regarding how much they trust their employees. But, to build an environment of sustained mutual trust, they need to learn to read the trust landscape and take care to clearly signal trust & confidence in employees. Leaders can signal trust in their teams by taking stock of their actions, carefully giving up control, being transparent & share information, pushing for needed changes in the organization, such as, investing in innovation and investing in employee development.

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