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Nigel Purse

The Oxford Group


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EU ‘snooping’ ruling: it’s about trust, not rights


News of Europe’s top court ruling that an employee whose boss read his messages had not had his rights violated this week has sparked much discussion. I believe that looking past the headlines, this is more an issue of organisations developing a trust culture than instilling one of fear through ‘big brother’ style surveillance.

For me, the real area for discussion here is the state of relationships between employees and their managers. Rather than reaching for surveillance, employers should be looking at why trust has broken down within their organisation. Why might employees stray from company policy?

The starting point for building a culture of trust and stable relationships with employees is making sure managers are having the right conversations with their teams on a regular basis. Line managers play a crucial role in motivating and engaging staff, and empowering them to have the right conversations that encourage engagement and build a culture of openness and trust is crucial.

In today’s work environment, many people have forgotten a simple truth: the power of authentic, two-way, human conversations to build trusting relationships. It is these trusting relationships, not surveillance, that lead to true employee engagement.

There is a view – an outdated one, I believe – that says effective leaders ‘keep people on their toes by instilling a bit of fear and uncertainty’. I believe that in today’s world of work, where intellectual capital is key, and you need people to bring their intelligence, creativity and passion to their work, this approach is doomed to failure.

People’s expectations of how they will be treated and how they will be talked to at work have changed profoundly, and the way we talk to one another in organisations is a critical differentiator of success. Managers and leaders cast long shadows, and introduce patterns of discourse that give permission for others to adopt those habits. The quality of conversations we engage in could not be more important in the modern age.

Building trust doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and effort. But, if they know the conversations to have, they are equipped with the right skills and empowered to use them, managers are perfectly placed to develop a culture of trust that will lead to a more engaged and productive workforce.

Here are five ways managers can build trust with their people:

  • Rethink relationships: Stop viewing relationship building as a ‘nice to do when you have the time’ and start seeing it as an essential part of effective management performance. There’s plenty of evidence to show that people’s engagement at work correlates directly with the quality of the relationship they have with their manager, and it’s no secret that trust sits at the heart of a strong relationship.
  • Show your human side: Successful managers have moved away from the school of thought that managers shouldn’t get ‘too close’ to their people, for fear of undermining their authority. And research shows that although ‘utility’ relationships – where the focus is purely on what the other person can provide – can function on competence-based trust, ‘personal’ relationships – where the focus is on the relationship with the other person and has commitment and emotional attachment – are perceived to be of higher value and bring greater levels of trust.
  • Be authentic: Effective leaders use authentic, two-way human conversations to build trusting relationships with team members. You don’t have to be slick, word perfect or a great conversationalist for this to work. You just have to be authentic – enter each conversation with the genuine intention of better understanding your colleague, showing care and stewardship and providing support and encouragement. Even if you’ve never had this kind of conversation before, it is never too late to start. It can signal a new phase in a relationship between a manager and a member of their team.
  • Agree mutual expectations: Having a conversation with a member of your team about what you are each trying to achieve at work, and why, and agreeing the expectations you can have to support each other in achieving these outcomes, sets the tone for mutual benefit and trust.
  • Show genuine appreciation: Letting people know when they are being successful, understanding the reasons for that success, letting them know how much you appreciate their contribution and finding further ways to deploy their skills and talents to benefit themselves and the organisation helps people feel valued and trusted, which in turn means they are more likely to continue making a valuable contribution to the organisation.

When you have trusting relationships with the people in your team; anything is possible. When trust is absent, little of long-term value can be achieved.

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Nigel Purse


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