The six steps to rebuilding trust


Part Three in a series of three articles on rebuilding organisational trust and drive employee engagement

We come to the third article in the series. Now that we understand the importance and elements of trust, I’d like to share six clear steps to rebuilding it. You’ve been sharing some brilliant trust anecdotes and ideas of your own on our social media presences on Twitter #DoTrust and our LinkedIn page Blue Sky Performance Improvement – so please keep them coming! In the meantime, I want to begin with a story of my own…

website-team-trust-imageUSAA is an American insurance business originally set up to sell insurance solely to service men and women. A few years ago, when a large number of service personnel were off fighting in Afghanistan, USAA decided to send thousands of cheques for car insurance back to their customers abroad. Amazing, yes; but what’s more amazing is that over 2,500 of those cheques were then sent back in turn, from customers who explained that “we just want to know that you’re there.”

Today, that business outstrips every other US financial services business in terms of trust, and has grown to become the biggest insurance business in the States.

Here are my six steps for becoming as trustworthy as USAA:

  • Do the maths

Let’s start with the bottom line. How many of you would buy a car from a dodgy second hand salesman? Or a pension from a company going bust? Customers simply won’t buy from a company they don’t trust.

Trust brings a massive internal saving too. High trust organisations are more efficient. People are honest about their struggles and get the support they need. Tough conversations are had, decisions are made, and meetings actually work.

Internally, costs go down. Externally, sales go up. Here are some startling stats:

  • There are 53% less sick days in organisations with high trust
  • People are 87% less likely to leave an organisation with high trust
  • Out of a survey of 300,000 leaders in over 60 countries, 89% of people put ‘honesty’ as the main trait they wanted to see in their leaders
  • The relationship with your boss is cited as the number one reason people leave an organisation
  • The CIPD quarterly report found that only 36% of employees trust senior leaders and 58% had adopted a ‘not bothered’ attitude for work

In short, trust is not a soft issue. It directly affects your financial success.

  • Engage leaders intellectually and emotionally

The most important element of rebuilding trust in any organisation is to engage senior leaders. They must actively promote trust, or it’s all simply rhetoric.

Use the figures from the analysis above to get them to sit up and listen. Once you’ve engaged them intellectually, dig deeper into some of the feedback generated from focus groups and surveys to stir their emotions too. When they read comments like ‘senior leaders make decisions to serve themselves not the business or the customers’ they start to take the issue personally.

  • Share the raw facts

When working with our clients we use an organisational trust survey alongside trust focus groups in which anyone can get involved. The output from that allows us to break trust down into 13 behaviours and rate an organisation against them.

Part of my job is to sit in board meetings and coach in the moment. One day I was sitting in a meeting when a decision was taken to merge two divisions. This would have a massive impact on employees, so it was decided not share the news until a plan could be formed. As we were walking down the corridor, the director bumped into a member of his team. He then proceeded to outline word for word the decision that had just been made. Neither of them blinked. This was ‘normal’ behaviour, and I needed to help the company face up to what was happening.

Taking a long, hard, honest look at where you are is an essential basis for change.

  • Create role models and evangelists

Knowing something isn’t enough. I know eating chocolate doesn’t do much for my thighs but it doesn’t change my behaviour. Outside help is required.

Start with your senior leaders, using team coaching to truly embed the commitment and skill to create change. What does a truly trustworthy dialogue look like? How do we deal with difficult issues and still retain trust? What do we do for leaders with great character but low competence, or vice versa? Senior teams need to become role models and start communicating the importance of trust at every opportunity.

  • Spread the word, spread the skill

Run trust workshops and start with volunteers. Take them from all over the organisation and mix them up to create your initial champions. No matter what their seniority or role, these people need to start holding others accountable for their behaviour, in a supportive not accusatory way.

There’s a story that gets repeated in Blue Sky quite regularly. When our office manager Charlie first started at the business, we held a meeting to talk about our own trust culture. When I did something which she felt didn’t reflect our values, she called me into the front room and said ‘I want to give you some feedback.”  Despite her nerves, we had a chat that has cemented a now-unshakeable relationship, 14 years on. Basically, act like Charlie.

Don’t sit on your laurels

Finally, use your own trust survey as an on-going KPI. It takes six minutes to complete and it gives you a consistent register of where you rate on character, competence and trust behaviours. If you want to go forward to build a developmental programme, this helps you identify exactly what needs to change.

Don’t forget to let us know your own experiences and thoughts. You can share your own stories on twitter #DoTrust or through our LinkedIn page and of course your own blogs and social presences.

Elke Edwards - Blue Sky Performance Improvement Elkeatbluesky


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