That employees trust those in charge of an enterprise is vitally important for two reasons.
Firstly, the more employees trust management, the more prepared they are to go above and beyond in pursuit of the organisation’s objectives. There is a cause-and-effect relationship, in other words, between trust in management and employee willingness.
Secondly, a precondition for sustainable organisational change is high trust in the relationship between leaders and the people they lead. When trust is high even radical change is doable. When trust is low – or worse, when there is distrust between the parties – change is inordinately difficult, if not impossible, to effect.
In short, employees will go the extra mile and embrace change to the degree that they trust those who exercise authority over them.
But what accounts for this highly sought-after, but often not realised, trust in those in authority in organisations?
Our experience, consistently and without exception over the past 25 years, is that management (both individually and collectively) are trusted or not on the strength of their personal interest in the wellbeing of their people.
Employees gauge the genuineness or authenticity of that interest not on the basis of the sophistication of management communications or the company’s human resources policies and practices.
Rather, trust is built or eroded according to the choices that employees witness managers making. Whenever manager(s) choose to put their employees’ interests before their own interests, they gain trust. Whenever they suspend their own needs (and of course they have needs of their own) or sacrifice their self-interest to do the right thing, people experience them as sincere. They see their managers as values- rather than needs-driven and therefore trust them.
Conversely, when managers act in pursuit of their own interests, when they ride roughshod over the needs or concerns of their people, they lose trust. Whenever they do the expedient or convenient thing, rather than the right thing, their employees conclude that they are self-serving and cannot be trusted.
Managers stand or fall at the end of the day on the basis of what we refer to as intent or motive; on the degree to which they are assessed as being in the relationship to “give” or to “take” from their people. The more they are deemed to be in the relationship to “give” to their people rather than to “get” from them, the more they are trusted.
The “give” however is not a giving of money, it is a giving of self. Across the world, people do not respond to the question “who would you work for willingly?” with the answer “he/she who pays me the most”. Rather they say that they will go above and beyond for the person who does two things for them: cares for them sincerely and genuinely as a person, and grows them or enables them to realise the best in themselves. Trust, in other words, comes at a price. That price is not money, it is care and growth.
Anyone in a position of authority would like to be trusted by those he or she exercises authority over. It is clearly in the leader’s interests that this is the case. The irony however lies in the fact that management’s best interests are met not by pursuing their interests – but the opposite.
Management’s best interests are actually met by pursuing and looking after the best interests of their people, not their own interests. Why this is the case is in fact obvious. While it is human nature to resist or retaliate when feeling taken from, it is equally instinctive to respond to being given to by giving back.
25 years ago, the thought of looking after your people’s interests rather than your own was an alien one. This is no longer the case – possibly because it is has become increasingly apparent where a wholesale “take” leads to. Nowadays the premise of “my people’s interests first” is no longer even that contentious. The current challenge is not whether to put your people first or not. The question is rather how to do this.