Trust is a hard thing to earn. People who are giving you their trust are basically offering up the most vulnerable piece of themselves with no guarantees that you won’t ever betray them.
But for companies, both big and small, earning employee trust is one of the most important building blocks on which their future successes will rest. Trust is the glue that will hold their many moving parts together in a unified whole, and unless the glue is strong enough, the edifices will crumble under their own weight and ultimately fail.
Building strong bonds of trust in the workplace, where people essentially come to earn a paycheck, is a formidable challenge. The ostensibly commercial nature of doing a job inspires selfish considerations of `what’s-in-it-for-me’ in most employees — and that’s just how it is.
But business leaders always have a choice. They can be as profit-minded as their employees, and compel compliance in workers through fear and threats of dismissal. Or they can create an open, transparent atmosphere of trust that inspires people to want to work hard because they love being part of something bigger than themselves, and knowing that each of their contributions matter.
The relational aspects of the trust-building exercise that I have enumerated below cannot be emphasized enough, because employees are not automatons in an assembly line. They are human beings, and a sum total of their dreams, hopes, aspirations and fears. Commandeer those emotions as boss of the company, and you are well on your way to earning their trust. Treat them like paid minions, and they’ll slack on the job and hate your guts for it.
Here’s my own primer of do’s and don’ts for any business-owner who is looking to build a strong culture of communication and trust as a foundational practice that will pay rich dividends in the future:
# 1: DON’T SKIMP ON ENCOURAGEMENT
Encouraging others is the easiest thing to do, and the difference it can make to the group morale is incredible. When employees know they’re working for an appreciative management, they are always willing to go above and beyond because praise and appreciation are very addictive things. Always recognize good work. And don’t wait 30 days to choose an `employee of the month’ either. Call attention to day-to-day successes, because small triumphs roll into big wins as time goes on.
# 2: MAKE CRITICISM CONSTRUCTIVE
Performance feedback is a great tool for change when it is used correctly. That means focusing on the situation and not the person. Separate the action from the person, and an employee will be more likely to improve it. Beat down on the person instead, and question his/her worthiness to perform the job, and you have just lost their trust forever.
# 3: VALUE EMPLOYEE INPUTS
Have a system in place whereby every member of staff knows that their concerns and suggestions are taken on board by the senior management. There are two reasons for this. First, employees feel more included and valued when their opinions are heard and considered. Second, their micro-level knowledge of certain tasks means they may have the best ideas on how to improve them.
# 4: LEAD BY EXAMPLE
Human beings are psychologically wired to look up to figures of authority. Earn that status, and do not expect workers to idealize you just because you are the boss. Become an example of what you preach in the employee handbook, and don’t go breaking those rules yourself.
# 5: DON’T PLAY FAVORITES
Favoritism is poison in the workplace. Nothing divides people more and gives rise to suspicion and gossip as an office culture where a coterie of crony employees has a hotline to the boss’ ear.
# 6: COMMUNICATE TRANSPARENTLY
Include your entire team in status update emails and keep everybody posted on developments that apply to their area of work. Nobody likes working in a vacuum, and the more inclusive you are in your communications, the more invested your team will feel.
# 7: KEEP YOUR PROMISES
Make promises to your team only when you’re sure you can keep them. Flaking on your own word diminishes your image and shows you up as pretty unworthy of your leadership position.
# 8: DON’T LIE
Don’t tell tall stories to impress on your employees that all is well. Don’t suggest that the company is going great guns when it really isn’t. Employees are the worker bees in the hive, and they can always tell when honey is in short supply. Fibbing like this only destroys your own integrity as a leader because your staff can see right through your dishonesty. And trust? Oh, they’re never going to give you that!
# 9: PAY ON TIME
Goes without saying. Your employees come to work everyday for a paycheck. Don’t get so carried away by lofty notions of `visions’ and `missions’ that you are fool enough to think that employees will sacrifice their need to eat and pay rent just because you happened to have had a good business idea. Pay people on time. Every time. Or kiss their trust goodbye.