Trust is often overlooked as organizations search for ways to improve and grow. To increase productivity, improve profitability, and decrease turnover, improving trust among team members could be the answer to an organization’s talent-related challenges.
Research backs up the importance of trust. The most recent edition of Interaction Associates’ annual survey, Building Workplace Trust, shows that organizations classified as Trust Leaders perform far better financially than those labeled as Trust Laggards. The report says that employees consider trust critical to being effective in their jobs.
Trust is the catalyst that spurs innovation, the bonding agent that holds everyone together, and the lubrication that keeps things working smoothly in an organization. But trust doesn’t happen by accident. Leaders need to have a specific plan to establish and nurture trust.
The primary goal of leaders who want to bring about change should be to build trust at all levels. There is nothing easy about change, but there are some practical strategies you can use, starting today.
- Be transparent but not unrealistic — As a leader, you have a vision for the future. Your team wants to hear from you, but approach your message with a bit of cautious optimism. Talking a big game and making broad sweeping promises can be dangerous. Showing your people where the organization is going and enlisting their help in getting there is a much better idea. They will feel a sense of ownership and be more likely to get on board. Additionally, the transparency you show as you communicate will help your team feel trust in the leadership of the firm.
- Ask, don’t tell — Asking open-ended questions and seeking knowledge from team members is a much better strategy than the old way: telling your team what to do and expecting the team to comply. Saying “Tell me more about why the process was designed that way” builds trust more than saying “That process doesn’t make sense. Why do you do it that way?” The former shows inquisitiveness and a desire to learn, whereas the latter comes off as judgmental. You’ll learn a lot more from your team by asking open-ended questions.
- Faster, cheaper, easier, better — Soliciting ideas from the team and acting on those ideas is an excellent way to build trust. The accounting profession is full of intelligent and motivated individuals. Capitalize on that intelligence by asking finance professionals what ideas they have to work faster, cheaper, easier, or better. Who knows better than the people closest to the processes, technology, and clients? Don’t think you have to come up with all the answers yourself. Involve your team in developing plans and making decisions, and trust will flourish.
- Lifelong learning for everyone — Lifelong learners understand that they don’t know it all. Leaders develop trust much faster with teams if they show the ability to learn as well as teach. Lifelong learners are open to new ideas and to taking direction, and they are appreciative of others who are willing to share expertise. Those are the same characteristics you must have when leading a team.
- Go slow with change — Change does not come easily. However, over the past few years, many changes have been happening, even if they are uncomfortable. Cloud computing, value billing, and lean processes are some of many changes. While we want and need change in our organizations, we must plan scheduled changes with input from team members. If you try to implement too much change before the team has developed trust in leaders, the team members will resist and work against you rather than with you.
- Act like a leader — This may sound elementary, but be respectful and nice to your team. Leaders are sometimes so busy with day-to-day operations that they forget to do the one thing that will build strong trust in their team. Say please and thank you. Show gratitude for a job done well. Smile at people and ask how they’re doing. Little things go a long way in building trust.
- Extend trust — Someone has to make the first move when it comes to trust. Trust can’t be developed unless one person is willing to assume some risk and extend trust to the other person. It is the leader’s responsibility to go first in extending trust. Doing so sends a signal to your team, and it creates a safer environment for them to reciprocate and extend trust to you.
These strategies are not hard, but they do take time and commitment. Make the commitment now, and watch trust grow in your organization.
Sandra Wiley is the COO of Boomer Consulting in Manhattan, Kan., and is a speaker on topics such as team building, talent development, and performance improvement.