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Posted by on Aug 8, 2014

Is Trustworthiness a Professional Competency?

Trust_FallingTrust as Essential for Engagement

According to the 2010 Deloitte Ethics & Workplace Survey, 48% of employees cite loss of trust in the organization as a driving factor in the decision to look for a new job. In a recent Federal News Radio survey, 90% of respondents answered “yes” to the question, “Does the government need to rebuild trust with its employees?” and almost 68% of survey respondents believe lack of trust is causing employees to leave government service.

“Trust is a symptom of whether or not employee engagement exists. It’s not possible, I don’t believe, to have employee engagement without trust,” said Bob Tobias, director of public sector executive education at American University. With increased employee engagement, Tobias noted, comes increased organizational performance.

Given the importance of maintaining trustworthiness among its employees, where should an organization start? Deloitte’s study pointed to executives. All factors considered, an organization’s leaders are the single most powerful influencing factor on whether employees trust an organization.

Transparent Communication from Leaders

What do employees look for in leaders? Executives and employees alike agree —transparent communication by leadership is one of the most effective ways to build and maintain trust at work. 92% of executives ranked this among their top three ways to build trust, and nearly one third of employees identified it as the most important thing an executive can do to promote trust in the company.

A recent look into employee morale at General Motors is compelling evidence that straightforward communication contributes to employee trust. Marking the largest increase in employee morale ever observed by the third-party firm who conducted the survey, trust in organizational leadership at General Motors in 2014 is the highest observed in the history of the company — even amid a global company crisis.

What improved trust at GM? In a word: candor. Plenty of face time and open conversation about the tough issues has boosted morale dramatically. GM executive Mark Reuss recently commented at an industry form, “Mary [Barra] and I…tell them what’s going on, where we’re at, where we’re going to be in a month, where we’re going to be in a week. We’re being really transparent.”

In NASA’s history, observers around the time of the loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia cited lack of trust as a key factor that shaped employees’ reluctance to speak up when they first suspected something could go wrong. NASA has since re-established trust in the organization and in 2013 earned the top ranking in Best Places to Work in the Federal Government, boasting top employee engagement numbers. How did NASA do it? NASA charged its leaders with developing and maintaining a culture of trust, including offering two different courses on trust as part of their leadership development.

Trustworthiness as an Organizational Priority

Trustworthiness is not just about having employees feel good about the organization or their work. When a leader’s trustworthiness instills trust in the organization and has a lasting impact on employee engagement and retention, trustworthiness stands clearly as a professional competency. More importantly for your organization, you can train leaders to see where promoting trust is critical.

The adage “If you can’t count it, it doesn’t count” is relevant here. How does your organization use honesty or trustworthiness-related survey data to make positive changes to your organization? In what ways could you integrate measures of trustworthiness as a metric for working toward achieving your organization’s mission? Where in your processes is trust vital for optimal performance?

What strategies could you see being effective in your organization? Share your ideas in the comments below.

2 Comments

  1. One particular line in your blog struck a chord for me. The idea that employees have expectations for leaders would come as a surprise to many leaders. The idea that employees are constituents of leaders is the foundation and driving force for the concept of Servant Leadership. Organizations should select and promote leaders who are aware of this constituency. Leaders who actively gather feedback on their own performance instead of waiting for a scheduled 360-degree feedback mechanism may be able to fine tune their own performance, impacting trustworthiness — and by extension, employee engagement.

  2. Kim, what a great blog!
    Here’s one take: Transparency, disclosure and openness are great . . . until leadership is uncomfortable with what it has to communicate or conceal.
    When the values of leaders collide with the interests of customer or the workforce, or are at odds with the values written on posters in the organization, there is trouble ahead.
    A tangible example of this is an organization that says it values its employees, and then takes steps that harm employees’ interests.
    Leaders who say they value customers, and then write legal agreements that make it virtually impossible for customers to understand what is being said (have a look at your cable or cell phone agreement) are an example of the gap.
    Another is leaders who say they are in the business to help customers, but act in a way only to maximize shareholder return.
    Or, leaders who talk about how important customer service is, when the operative, real model for customer service in most large corporations is to drive down the cost of providing customer service as close as possible to zero, or until the lines cross of cutting spending on customer service and customers leaving (revenue). If you don’t think this is the model, why do you think you are being pushed to the web for (usually lengthy) “self-service” customer service so much, or why hold times are so long?
    The real kicker with communication from the top is that it creates accountability for explaining motives.
    I came across a leader some time ago whose view of employees was that “they are no damned good.” This view, when communicated transparently, would only make things worse. So, the real issue for leaders, beyond the communication and transparency, is “What are you really all about?” That’s exactly what employees want to know.

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