How bosses can build trust at workplace

The ability of leaders to get their employees to trust them stands as one of the most important aspects of management, but sadly one of the most neglected discussion topics. Business Talk has examined the most recent research on trust within organisations for Business Daily readers since 2013 with regular updates.

Denise Rousseau, Sim Sitkin, Ronald Burt, and Colin Camerer famously defined trust as the intention to accept vulnerability to another person.

Essentially, the willingness to take a risk on someone. Inasmuch, trusting executives in a firm is not automatic and takes intentional work and becomes difficult to build.

How do you get your employees to start trusting you, work hard, perform their tasks well, and stop seeking backup options in case you do not live up to their expectations? How does an executive get staff to believe them and act? How can a supervisor convince workers to lower their defences and work together and support each other?

The solution comes from building trust in top management, supervisors, and coworkers. The most prominent research result in the past almost 30 years comes from Roger Mayer, James Davis and David Schoorman and entails first, showcasing that you, as their leader, hold the ability to do your job and do it well.

Because, if you as the boss cannot deliver, then the employees working under your direction can have real negative consequences such as the department shuttering or the entity experiencing layoffs.

Second, demonstrating that you hold benevolence towards your staff. Benevolence means that employees desire for you to have good intentions towards them. You want them to succeed in their current roles but also you support them on their career journeys towards their success.

Third, employees crave bosses with integrity. Integrity means so much more than just the absence of corruption. High integrity superiors are upright even in their dealings with their staff and do not make false promises.

However, for some leaders, trust can prove precarious. Even after taking so much time and effort to build employees’ trust, it can indeed be broken. Destroyed trust is in desperate need of repair.

Business Talk previously showcased research that highlights how a manager should apologise when they violate their employees’ perceptions about their ability and benevolence but are better off denying when it involves an integrity-based violation.

But this month in the prestigious Journal of Management, Kinshuk Sharma, David Schoorman, and Gary Ballinger published a remarkable study where they investigate dozens of rigourous peer-reviewed research papers to uncover the latest trends in repairing trust. Some remarkable techniques are brought to light.

Instead of limiting your options to apologising and verbally explaining steps to improve in the future versus denying the transgression, keep the following six additional options in your managerial arsenal.

First, a leader can provide excuses for their actions. Perhaps a boss forgot to submit performance reviews for her or his direct reporting employees and therefore the entire department got left out of annual pay raises.

Staff would be furious and reduce their ability and benevolence-based trust in their manager. The leader could give excuses to justify their delay or neglect and typically blame someone else. Surprisingly, this kind of excuse action is highly effective.

Half-baked apologies

Second, sometimes executives include an apology that does not incorporate an acknowledgement that a transgression actually happened.

Such apologies are often referred to as half or half-baked apologies. Examples include: “I am sorry that you are offended”, “I am sorry that this happened to the department”, etc. An apology that does not include an acknowledgement that something did occur does not sufficiently correct employees’ negative views.

Third, leaders that give themselves or receive a penalty due to a trust violation helps staff members feel that some justice was done, and they can return to a positive performance trajectory.

Fourth, increase levels of transparency for an organisation or a team. Show external reports. Give unprecedented access to details. Such transparency aids to rebuild trust.

Fifth, an executive can introduce more robust checks and balances to prevent transgressions from occurring again in the future. Employees can relax and commence working with vigour knowing that repeat offenses are less likely.

Sixth, integrity-based violations of employees’ trust can be repaired via organisational restructuring, reforms, and leader replacement.

In summary, as a leader in your organisation, arm yourself with the appropriate tools to not just build, but also repair trust that your staff and colleagues perceive towards you.

Dr Scott may be reached on [email protected] or on Twitter: @ScottProfessor

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