Trust is a misunderstood term. We have all heard the saying “trust is earned” and that sounds great. But when you think about it TRUST is what makes the world go round. Without trust things would crumble. Without trust even the simplest of interactions wouldn’t work. For example, as consumers we trust companies to give us correct information when buying a product. We want to trust and believe that what we are told is true. Or when we are driving down the road we trust other drivers to be paying attention and to honor the rules of the road. We don’t always have the option to allow those we trust time to earn our trust. So how does that translate into business?
To begin with, it is important to distinguish that trust is not black and white–instead it exists on more of a gradient scale. So although trust IS ultimately earned we can apply a small amount of assumed trust to an employee right away with very little historical data. With that we are able to observe and see how that trust is used by the employee in either a positive or negative way which in turn shifts the trust gradient. It can be challenging when we offer trust and it is misused but that is a risk that we take every day when we trust others. Nevertheless, that doesn’t discount the destruction that can occur when there is an abuse of trust. The reality is that abusing trust can cause a fissure in the relationship that ultimately is too big to fix. So how should we apply trust to our employees while equally protecting ourselves? Well first let’s define trust.
The definition of Trust is a FIRM belief in the reliability, truth, ability or strength of someone or something. Let’s break down each piece of the definition further as it relates to the employee/employer relationship;
- Reliability–you want to know that your employee can be counted on. That they are producing work in the time and manner that is expected.
- Truth–you want to know that your employee is being honest with you.
- Ability–you want to see that your employee can accomplish what they say they can do.
- Strength–beyond physical strength you want to see that your employee has mental strength and strength of character to be able to handle difficulties.
As you can see there are many layers to trust which is why it is understandable that as business owners we hold it so closely. But it remains something we have to be willing to give. Mike Robbins said it best when he said;
“Trust is one of the most critical elements of healthy relationships, families, teams, organizations and communities. However, you may have an odd or disempowered relationship to trust—you’ve been taught that people must earn your trust, when in fact, it’s something you grant to others.”
In order to create and maintain a healthy work environment trust is something we have to give our employees with the hope that the trust will in turn be reciprocated and mutual.
Now to explain elements that can aid in building trust within our teams.
First, establish a solid foundation for your business. One that is clear so that employees know why the company was started, what you stand for, the direction you are moving, etc. It is truly magical what happens within a company’s culture when its employees can rally behind a vision. When a business has a solid foundation and when leaders within the business have clearly articulated that vision it results in inspired, empowered and innovative employees.
Second, look inwardly at yourself as a business owner and observe those you have placed in positions of leadership. Do the leaders of your company embody characteristics of humility, compassion and moderation? Or is it something quite different? When you find leaders that have those qualities there is a natural gravity that pulls more people into your business with those same qualities. In addition to that it creates an introspective space where the leader assumes responsibility when desired outcomes are not achieved.
Third, consider the many benefits that having a virtual team can have within your business. Not only does having a virtual team necessitate the trust exercise but it creates a healthy relationship to trust. If you are a business owner that struggles with trust you might in fact be someone most in need of this dynamic on your team. This is not to suggest that being virtual means throwing caution to the wind and seeing what happens–that would be reckless. But having a virtual team does lend to a more balanced approach. It requires the business owner to apply more trust in some areas. Along with that having a virtual team can help eliminate the unimportant distractions that are inevitable when leading an in office team and subsequently help focus attention on things that really do matter. Having a virtual team can also help expose those abusing trust. A common misconception about having a virtual team is that it is easier to take advantage of an employer in a virtual setting but that couldn’t be further than the truth. The reality is that when the distractions of working in an office are removed it can make noticing an inconsistency easier!
So how can you create an environment of trust with a virtual team? Below are some practical tips to foster trust:
- Turn the camera on–when conducting a virtual meeting. To retain that human connection.
- Communicate often–or when in doubt over-communicate. To ensure those working with you are apprised of project/company updates.
- Encourage impromptu meetings–to keep things moving and productive.
- Create a flexible space. Employees whose job requires them to be on a strict schedule honor their time off and encourage them to disconnect. Employees that work based on deadlines allow them to flex their day as their life requires.
- Don’t micromanage. If you feel the need to micromanage reflect on whether this is an issue with your leadership style or an issue with your employee.
- Be upfront and transparent–with your employees about the state of the company and the direction it is moving.
- Have company wide meetings–to foster community within your company’s culture.
- Implement an Employee Experience program. Having a dedicated team and budget with the purpose to unite and appreciate employees adds more value than it could ever take.
- Allow your team to balance organically. Sometimes an employee leaves because they are not a fit within the company or they have something else happening in life. Allow and be comfortable with the natural filtering of the team.
Fostering trust within your business and giving trust to your employees involves a mindset change. Though it may feel like a major shift–it really isn’t. Take time to consider all the ways that you give trust to others throughout your day–the frequency may surprise you!