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Building a culture of trust

Alex Arundale, Chief People Officer - Advanced

The Business of Trust
Last week I read with interest some research which revealed that ‘business is not only the most trusted institution among the four studied (business, government, NGOs and media), but it is also the only trusted institution with a 61% trust level globally.’  Peoples’ trust in their own employers was found to be even higher at a staggering 76%, placing new responsibilities on them as a credible information source.

That’s quite something, and a weighty responsibility for business leaders.

At a time when people are increasingly looking to work for, or with, an institution they can be proud of – one that can be relied upon to do the right thing – how can we do more to foster trust within our own organisations?

Building a culture of trust
Of course, building trust doesn’t happen overnight, it’s a continual, occasionally challenging, journey, often requiring the leader to be vulnerable, honest and authentic.  Not always a comfortable ask.  But at a time when ‘doing the right thing’ has become a core value for so many organisations (Advanced included) then get it right, and you will be rewarded with a team of loyal, engaged motivated, inspired staff.  Indeed, doing the right thing is particularly pertinent in our relationships with others – be they employees, partners, customers, prospects or suppliers.

It seems to me, if we want to connect in a genuine way, build bonds, communicate effectively and inspire trust we need to consistently employ another of the most important soft skills at our disposal – empathy.

Some people are natural empaths, they have an innate curiosity about other people’s viewpoints and the ability to put themselves in their shoes. Teams led by managers with this high emotional intelligence tend to produce excellent work and succeed as a cohesive group – even when under pressure. For others, it is a skill that has to be developed, nurtured and improved.

Empathy enables us to ‘read the room’ – even if it is a virtual one – and understand our human environment. It helps us to realise actual needs or feelings rather than those we assume are present. If we are empathetic, we can predict the effect of our decisions on the people around us and appreciate whether what we are trying to say has really been heard.

Empathetic leaders can also sense when they are required to lift the energy levels of their people and help create more positivity. Wellness programs or fun company initiatives lift peoples’ spirits and show that you care.  Rather than an employer/employee relationship, such initiatives show you care and level us all to being ‘just’ humans and increase trust.  Inter company competitions, for example, show interest, support and excellence that really lifts spirits, creating a heightened sense of community at a time when it is most needed.

Active Listening
As we all continue to practice physical distancing to keep each other safe, this shouldn’t limit our ability to relate to our colleagues and maintain social connections – indeed, it is more important than ever. Technology has been extremely successful in helping us with this while we work remotely, ensuring we can continue to be open and approachable via video calls or readily available using instant messaging.

Whatever tools we use to help us communicate, it is essential that we take the time and space to employ active listening. Someone can sense when they have been heard – and conversely when they haven’t. This means being present and alert while we listen – not using the time to think about what we are going to say when we get our chance or planning the next item on our ‘to do’ list. It is important to remind ourselves that the stories we tell in our heads about a situation and the way we perceive the world are different to those of others. Let’s not assume we can guess what people want or need.

The better we get to know and understand our teams, the easier it will be to spot if someone is struggling. A relationship grounded on trust will facilitate open and honest discussions around important wellbeing issues such as mental health or family considerations that may be impacting working life.

Of course, trust works both ways – it isn’t just about asking your employees to trust you. We need to believe in our recruitment processes and have faith that we have employed the kind of people who can be relied upon to solve problems, work with autonomy and manage workloads. Rather than introducing restrictive policies, it seems better to empower and trust people. Keep certain tenets in mind but apply them intuitively and flexibly to account for an individual’s particular needs.

Working life has changed in many ways in the last year, but having meaningful conversations, understanding the perspective of others, striving to do the right thing by them and fostering an atmosphere of trust continues to support success. Business has always been about relationships and human connections. Putting people at the heart of everything you do will persist in serving you very well.

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