Trust in leaders is low but consistent training in communication and building relationships can help.
A majority of employees lack confidence in their leaders.
According to recent reports, only 45 percent of employees have trust and confidence in the job being done by their organization’s top leaders. That’s a problem, said Patrick Kulesa, global research director at Willis Towers Watson, because senior leaders drive employee engagement.
The Willis Towers Watson 2016 “Global Workforce” and “Global Talent Management and Rewards” studies reported that 47 percent of employees believe leaders have a sincere interest in employee well-being. Even less (41 percent) think their organization is doing a good job of developing future leaders.
These findings aren’t surprising, said Stephen M. R. Covey, author of “The Speed of Trust” and co-founder of the FranklinCovey Global Speed of Trust Practice, but there is hope because trust is something leaders can learn to build.
“It is a competency — and for CLOs, that’s exciting,” he said. “They can help the leaders do something about it.”
Covey said trust is built through a combination of credibility and behavior. “The same way you can lose trust through your behavior, you can consciously and deliberately create it and sometimes even restore it,” he said.
Covey said CLOs should avoid approaching the topic of trust as something to be built from the outside in, but rather focus on building and sustaining from the inside out.
“The learning, growing and reinvention of leaders and teams — the very things that chief learning officers focus on — are vital to the credibility that builds the trust,” he said.
Trust is central to leadership at Raymond Handling Concepts Corp., said Stephen Raymond, president and CEO. For the second year in a row, RHCC was certified as a Great Place to Work by the Great Place To Work Institute, a research and consulting firm, after the firm surveyed 165 RHCC employees and found 92 percent agreed the company was great workplace.
Raymond said his company builds trust by doing business and making decisions based on their core values such as competence and integrity.
“Nowhere in our values is ‘maximize shareholder terms on investments,’ which is probably the unstated core value of most of those companies that don’t trust their bosses,” Raymond said.
He said having this trust within the company is a sustainable competitive advantage, which echoed Covey’s beliefs, too.
“There’s a high cost to low trust — it has economic consequences. Everything will take you longer to do and will cost you more,” Covey said.
Kulesa said recognition and appreciation by leaders can go a long way toward bringing up these numbers. “Leaders who take the time and effort to recognize when employees do things above and beyond are appreciated,” he said.
Raymond conducts a quarterly communication session with all employees. In addition to presenting company results, he reads letters and emails from customers that praise individuals for exceptional customer service and recognizes workers who have joined, been promoted or passed a service anniversary.
“It provides me with an opportunity to, at some level, have a personal relationship with everyone,” Raymond said. “Given my commitment to do it and its popularity with the employees, I believe that it has been significant over the years in fostering a culture based on trust.”
Kulesa said creating an inclusive environment and strong teams can boost employee well-being and trust. For CLOs, that means formal training about what and how to drive employee satisfaction along with training to be good communicators, he added.
“A lot of leadership comes down to effective communication and being able to have a line of sight into what leaders are actually doing,” he said.
Covey said the fundamental issue is interpersonal relationships. “If you think your leaders don’t care about you, you’ll tend not to trust them,” he said. “If they think you don’t care, they are going to view everything you do with skepticism, suspicion and distrust.”
At RHCC, the company conducts a yearlong training process for managers that includes structured mentoring to help up-and-coming leaders better understand who they are. Raymond said they track progress along the way, acknowledging people who demonstrate trust and firing leaders who do not. Above all, building trust in leadership is process that never really ends.
“Trust is one of those things that you have to be consistently and constantly working on because a slip can really screw it up,” Raymond said.
Ave Rio is an associate editor for Chief Learning Officer magazine. She can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.