How to Build Trust in your Organisation

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how to build trust in your organisation

The Acumen Edelman Trust Barometer (which measures the average level of trust in NGOs, business, government and media) for 2023 shows that, for the first time, no major institution can be considered “trusted” by New Zealanders.

In particular, it shows that trust in businesses has decreased slightly since 2022. Although interesting, this research only measures public perception, and where a strong foundation of trust really starts is internally, with the people who work there.

Often referred to as a key ingredient in any relationship, the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines trust as “assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something.”

Benefits of high trust and the importance of walking the talk

Having high levels of trust in your organisation means that you are more likely to create satisfied clients, better solutions to problems and have a better chance of employees becoming strong advocates for your business.

However, trust can be hard to judge as when things are not going as well as they could, it can be hard for leaders to get an honest answer.

So how do you measure the level of trust inside your organisation? Firstly you need to step back, be honest with yourself and take an objective look at what’s going on.

Look at the climate you create in your organisation

Leaders (whether formal or informal) set the tone. If you are someone with authority and/or influence, it helps to do some self reflection. What might need to change? For example:

  • What could you have done differently to have changed an outcome?
  • Do you actively listen to people?
  • Do you need to acknowledge gaps in your skills or knowledge?
  • Are you focusing on what’s important?
  • Do you consistently follow through?

See also some unexpected leadership traits for success.

An easy place to start is meetings

Meetings are a great place to gauge the level of workplace trust. Just by observing you can get a reasonable indication of whether people feel safe to contribute. You might consider:

  • Is everybody actively engaged?
  • Do meetings have a point or are they happening for meetings’ sake?
  • Does everyone leave with clear outcomes and follow up actions?

If not, then it might be time to take a look at what’s behind this.

Being aware of what’s being said outside the meeting room, where people connect informally ‘at the water cooler’ is crucial; it’s where you’ll find an indication of how people genuinely feel.

Word at the water cooler – Workplace Culture

Whether cultivated intentionally or not, every organisation has a culture. How your organisation is structured (e.g. are people working remotely, a large organisation with multiple teams in one place, or in different locations) and the quality of relationships within it, is going to impact the level of trust.

Being aware of what’s being said outside the meeting room, where people connect informally ‘at the water cooler’ is crucial; it’s where you’ll find an indication of how people genuinely feel.

Consider the following:

  • Do people have ample opportunity and space to connect on a personal as well as professional level?
  • Are people having positive discussions or are they venting?
  • If people are venting, are there appropriate channels for them to do so?
  • Are there appropriate mechanisms for feedback?

How positive this water cooler talk is and how often it’s happening is a great indicator of how effectively people feel heard, valued and respected. Encourage people to connect and aim to nurture positive discussions.

Tangible ways to measure trust

There are many channels and mechanisms for measuring trust. For example:

  1. A simple suggestion box.
  2. A regular sentiment survey.
  3. An external party to survey people.
  4. Regular discussions with a clear agenda.
  5. Internal focus groups.

While no one method is better than the other, it can be helpful to use a mix of method and frequency to gather different perspectives.

What really matters though is how you take action on this information. Without obvious impact or visible action, people are likely to lose trust in you, and/ or the system, and stop providing feedback because they see it as pointless.

Make it safe Of course, if people are going to freely speak up, you need to create a climate where people feel safe to do so. Ways to do this include:

  • Taking responsibility for your own mistakes
  • Acknowledging successes and lessons learned with your team
  • Giving people the right tools, permission and space to get on with their jobs
  • Showing appropriate levels of vulnerability
  • Encouraging people to hold one another accountable to set expectations
  • Providing mentorship and opportunities to grow.

As safety increases, you may notice an increase in people stepping up to take more initiative and/or responsibility.

The importance of following through If trust is a future state, then it is likely based on evaluations of past actions.

This is why, just like politicians who are often seen as being full of hot air, failing to follow through (without reasonable cause) can quickly diminish trust and damage your organisation.

Conversely, consistently following through will build trust and help your organisation thrive. So off you go… shoulders back and start walking.