Effective performance: it’s all about trust. 10 tips for managers to develop team trust


It is clear to many people today that we are experiencing a crisis of  trust. The recent global banking and financial crisis seems to have undermined radically the bedrock of all business success: TRUST.

All the traditional pillars of society are now more or less in question and all levels of society seem to be affected by this fundamental lack of trust. It’s not surprising that this crisis of trust has spilled over to the world of work and many internal employee surveys continue to show that employees the world over place seem to place less trust in their organizations and management to look after their best interests.

A lot of employees feel indeed they are now paying what Stephen M.R. Covey calls a hidden “trust tax”: the less trust they have in their organizations, the more they adopt counter productive behaviors to compensate, generating in turn further distrust. The excessive use of emails at work may be only one basic example of this “trust tax” because excessive email ties up unnecessary time for many people who don’t need to be necessarily on copy for everything.

And yet, never has trust been more necessary because as Stephen M.R. COVEY points out in his book  “The Speed of Trust“, nothing can be achieved long term without trust. Without trust, short-term gains may indeed  be acquired but at huge cost and after huge delays and in today’s fast evolving business environment, speed is key to business success.

Trust is therefore the fundamental driver of performance in the new global economy and indeed is “the key leadership competency” required to drive effectiveness. Especially in fast evolving, matrix, lean organizations, it’s not possible to monitor every employee and “compliance” can’t be the only management objective. Only a culture of trust delivers the behaviors businesses needed to get the results required at the cost and speed expected by customers.

For as Stephen M.R. Covey indeed points out, trust always impacts 2 key outcomes: speed and cost. When trust goes down, speed goes down and costs go up. When trust goes up, speed goes up and costs go down. In high trust environments, all the different ingredients which contribute to effective performance are encouraged: internal communication is smoother, collaboration is more effective, execution is faster thanks to quicker decision-making, innovation is greater, alignment is easier, employee engagement in increased, partnering and relationships with all stakeholders are more positive.

In low trust environments, of course, all of these ingredients are impacted and impaired. Communication becomes difficult at all levels as employees may hide information, collaboration within teams becomes more complicated, execution becomes cumbersome as decision making involves more and more people, the source of innovation dries up, there is misalignement between strategy and individual actions, employees become more disengaged and relationships with stakeholders inevitably suffer.

Trust is not some soft skill “nice to have but hard to measure“. Covey quotes a 2002 study by Watson Wyatt which shows that return to shareholders in high-trust organizations is almost three times higher than the return in low trust organizations. Trust or the lack of it impacts on the bottom line dramatically.

What’s more, managers can actually do something about it. Trust is something that can be developed and managers have a responsibility and an opportunity to build trust with their team members and with stakeholders  across the organization.

Here therefore are some tips for managers to help build trusting relationships within teams:

1) Recognize that trust is the key driver of performance and that building trust is a key management responsibility and objective. Too often, managers set themselves hard, quantifiable, task-oriented objectives but they rarely set themselves an objective of building a culture of trust. As trust is the bedrock on which everything else rests, this is very surprising, to say the least.

2) Walk the talk by setting example. Say what you do and do what you say. Meet your commitments small and big. You build credibility and trust by demonstrating that you keep your word and that you can be counted on to deliver. Team members lose faith and become demotivated when they notice a gap between the “talk” and the “walk“. Worse, they may even adopt the same behavior because as we all know, the manager’s behavior sets the tone with regard to what is/not acceptable behavior within a team. Pay attention to detail and to the small things because as we again all know, the “devil is in the detail“. Failing to meet commitments in apparently “small issues” can set the tone. Quite often, team members don’t see the big things but notice the “small details“.

3) Empower team members. Empowerment means giving each person a meaningful role aligned to his/her competencies where he/she feels he/she has “stewardship” for the job. In other words, each person feels responsible for getting the job done and for evaluating results. This doesn’t mean the manager exerts no control because there can be no delegation of responsibility without control. What it does however mean is that employees are given the chance to feel they have a form of “ownership” for their objectives and have accountability for results. As we all know, we all respond more favourably to being trusted and we are more motivated to get things done when it becomes a personal challenge and when we feel we are personally responsible for results.

4) Don’t delegate “tasks”. There may be times when a task needs to be completed and someone has to do it. A manager needs to delegate that task to a team member. However, delegating tasks must remain the exception rather than the rule. Managers should seek to delegate a set of responsibilities that allows a person to take responsibility and accountability  for the expected results for a given role in the team.  Being responsible for a given role obviously allows the person to be proactive and develop strategies to manage work. Being constantly asked to work urgent tasks prevents employees from being more effective. The simple matrix below illustrates  some differences between delegating tasks  and empowering through clearly defined roles.

5) Get out of the way. Once you empower your team members in an appropriate way, get out of the way and let each team member play his/her role. If something goes wrong or if things don’t progress as quickly as desired, avoid the temptation to step in and decide or act in place of the team member who has “stewardship” for the action. Unless absolutely necessary, don’t take back a responsibility granted and don’t short-circuit team members or act in their place. This only contributes to demotivating the person concerned who will feel that he/she doesn’t really have responsibility for the task at hand and that when push comes to shove, someone else will decide.

6) Align “roles and responsibilities” within the team. There can be no “empowerment” without role alignment within the team. Ensure that all team members understand their role and how it fits into and interacts with the greater whole. Too often, even when a manager defines a role with a team member, this is not shared with other team members and role confusion and conflict ensues concerning “who does what“. As organizations are not static, roles and responsibilities will evolve and the key role of the manager is to work constantly with his/her team to adapt roles and responsibilities in an appropriate and systemic way and in a win-win relationship.

7) Establish win-win relationships with team members. Quite often, some managers may see team members as simple cogs in a wheel serving the sole interests of the manager. Managers need to recognize that employees have their own agenda and own personal goals and these goals have to be understood and nurtured in true win-win relationships. If managers only see employees as instruments to help the advancement of their own careers and manage them in a “directive, hands-on” way, this will only lead to demotivation and poor performance as team members inevitably come to the conclusion that their contribution is ignored. Team members are not mere puppets to be manipulated at will. So know your team members, understand their needs and work to help them progress towards their goals in a “win-win” spirit.

8) “Recognize good performance in public, criticize weak performance in private“. Employee engagement is nurtured by recognition. Recognition can take many forms. Obviously, monetary recognition such as a pay increase or a bonus is one obvious way of recognizing performance. However, there are many other more subtle ways of recognizing good performance. One effective way is to give recognition in public in front of the team or through appropriate internal communication tools. A simple thank you  can go a long way. A contrario, never criticize in public. It impacts not only the person concerned but all team members and leads to demotivation and disengagement. If a team member needs to improve, the feedback should be given in private.

9) Consider objective setting and performance evaluation as a collaborative task with each team member. Use the annual appraisal process to reinforce the “win-win” relationship between the manager and team member. Start by allowing each team member to evaluate his/her own performance. This reinforces the feeling of personal stewartship and demonstrates that the manager trusts the employee to evaluate his/her own performance in good faith. Always give the employee appropriate time to respond to feedback, especially when the feedback is written down and/or captured in the annual appraisal. Never confront the team member with a “fait accompli”. Avoid always jumping to conclusions and hear what the employee has to say first. If one accepts that the vast majority of employees want to perform well, one should also recognize that employees are the best placed to know how they are performing.

10) Be open and transparent as a manager. Explain your intentions clearly. In complicated, fuzzy logic organizations where responsibilities are shared, it is becoming more and more important for managers to communicate clearly their intentions so that team members can understand the “why” a course of action is being taken. Too often, some managers resort to “command and control” techniques which gets things done quickly but in the long run, are counter-productive and lead to employee disengagement. Employees can’t evaluate if a manager “walks the talk” if the manager doesn’t first “talk the talk” by explaining clearly what his/her intentions are. Furthermore, hiding information or sharing information sparingly can confuse team members and disempower them by putting them in situations where decision-making is high risk or impossible. Indeed, sharing information and involving team members in decision-making will build trust and reinforce confidence. Openness inspires openness. This doesn’t mean sharing all information with everyone but it does mean ensuring that all team members have access to the information they need, no only to do their jobs better but to avoid errors resulting from decisions taken without the relevant information.

Follow these 10 tips and you will transform you “trust tax” into a “trust dividend“. You will also go a long way to building trusting win-win relationships within your team and thereby drive better performance and higer engagement in the workplace.

View Stephen M.R. Covey for more insights on the importance of trust in driving higher performance.

The speed of trust by Stephen M.R. Covey

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