Is Trustworthiness a Professional Competency?
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.