Building Trust In Organisations Amidst Numerous Uncertainties

The world is changing at a rapid speed. When I open my Linkedin page, I am bombarded by so many articles that speak of topics like keeping up with the competition, artificial intelligence taking over the work of humans, new frontiers in research, cyber threats, as well as companies that have become casualties in the face of rapid globalisation and change. The latest casualties are Nokia and more recently, Yahoo, being sold to Verizon for a paltry 5 billion dollars. In this era of uncertainty, many people have become nervous about losing their jobs, or even trusting their organisations and leaders to do the right thing, and leading them through change. Organisational Trust is ever so important in this day and age and here are some of my thoughts on how to build this trust that is so important to sustaining our competitive edge.

Trust is a social phenomenon. A social organization of trust is one in which one individual trusts another, who then trusts others and so forth. Because of this social dimension, it is impossible to disassociate trust from a culture which by definition is about shared values, beliefs, and understandings. Trust is thus a component of organisational culture, specifically, the relationships among managerial trust, organizational trust and work satisfaction that shapes organizational culture. As a result of the flattening of many organizational hierarchies, trust is seen as being of increasing importance to many organisations. As flat organizations follow the decentralized approach, there are fewer levels of management which create an environment for faster growth and response between all levels. This type of structure promotes task interdependence with less attention to formal procedures, thus requiring a higher level of trust to succeed as teams need to communicate and work very closely together to succeed. A culture that facilitates trust is one of the most important tasks managers face. How do we build trust then? Here are some ideas for building trust in the workplace.

A) Openness and honesty – Openness and Honesty in my definition is about meeting commitments and promises, as well as communicating organisational information in a sincere and accurate manner and at an appropriate time. To illustrate this point, in one of my previous senior roles, I was put in charge of managing a very large wage restructuring project that involved thousands of workers. We spent hours explaining to the supervisors and employees what was going to happen, giving accurate information on the choices they can make, and timing the project such that employees have time to assimilate and understand the change. This resulted in a very positive outcome where the change was embraced and the project carried out successfully.

B) Concern for employees – This deals with providing a climate of care, empathy, tolerance, and safety when people are vulnerable in business activities. Sensitivity to people’s needs and interests is an important ingredient for building trust. It is important for managers to listen to what others have to say and try to appreciate and understand their viewpoints. This act by management demonstrates respect for individuals and their ideas. As said by Winston Churchill, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give”

C) Reliability is concerned with whether or not an individual act consistently and dependably. Trust is built when one can be counted on to do what they say and they are predictable and consistent in their actions. Predictability builds confidence as people know what to expect from their co-workers or leaders. Singapore has built its reputation of reliability because of the consistency that we have delivered as a nation and to foreign investors. Many global companies are setting up their headquarters here as a result of that.

D) Forging a common identity. In an organisation where groups hold common goals, norms, values, and beliefs associated with the vision, this results in a strong identity and bond. This bond fosters commitment and trust by shaping expectations about behaviours and intentions and lead to certain actions that will support this vision.

E) Leadership Competence. This does not specifically refer to the leaders’ technical skills and abilities in the technical aspects of the business. Competence refers to qualities such as influence, impact, knowledge, and the ability to do what is needed. Leaders are expected to display expertise in leadership skills that include the ability to challenge, inspire, enable, model, and encourage others to act in order to be viewed as being capable and trustworthy.

I was particularly moved by a recent article I read about Gravity Payments CEO, Dan Price. He took a salary cut from $1.1 million to $70,000 last April, allowing him to pay every employee at least $70,000 a year. Guess what happened? His employees bought Dan a Tesla Model S Car! This is a true demonstration of competent Leadership.

In high-trust environments, people are more willing to share information, admit to and learn from mistakes, and take on challenging tasks. In work environments where trust flourishes, the stage is set for improved morale and productivity.

Let’s begin today by trusting, and building a culture of trust within our organisations..

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Dr. Jaclyn Lee

Dr. Jaclyn Lee, PhD and IHRP-MP