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Grant Bowman

The Trusted Executive

Managing Director

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The transformative power of trust

Trust begins at the leadership level with executives and senior managers delivering a trusted, safe and secure environment for all staff. Let’s look at the importance of trust and how it can be nurtured.
two people standing on rock signifying trust

Public trust in our leaders, be they political or business, has never been so low, with many leading institutions hugely damaged reputationally, through a litany of scandals and repeated failures to address these. 

From the Post Office to NHS Trusts and The Met Police hitting the headlines for poor management decisions and behaviour, CEOs “express regret” using phrases like “lessons learnt” and “totally unacceptable” and believe this will cut it.

A fish rots from its head – an organisation’s culture and values of leadership are critical in setting the right direction. Executives and senior managers can talk the talk, but the delivery of a trusted, safe and secure environment for all staff is a prerequisite.

The importance of trust

For as long as there has been organised employment, there has also been mistrust between employees and the people they work for. But things now are perhaps as strained as they’ve ever been. 

A survey conducted by the Harvard Business Review found that 58% of employees would trust a complete stranger before they would trust their own manager. 

This demonstrates that changes need to be made in all organisations, because it’s highly unlikely that trust levels will improve in businesses that ‘carry on as normal’. 

It’s vital to take a more positive, proactive attitude that inspires trust at all levels of a workforce. This ensures everyone is pulling in the same direction for the business and everyone feels that everyone else is making the same commitment. You can no longer trust in power –  you have to rely on the power of trust. 

The delivery of a trusted, safe and secure environment for all staff is a prerequisite

Exploring the nine habits of trust

There are many reasons why businesses struggle with trust in leadership – after all, no two businesses are the same. 

Sometimes, it’s because of a dysfunctional culture that doesn’t allow the right behaviours to exist or it’s down to leaders that know they need to make changes but can’t identify what they are. And sometimes it simply comes down to ego, where leaders or CEOs don’t have the humility to accept that there are problems to fix.

By using the only academically verified behavioural model The Nine Habits of Trust where the nine habits are divided into three pillars of three habits, each trust can be improved across an organisation. 

The three pillars:

Ability: Delivery, coaching, consistency 

Integrity: Honesty, openness, humility 

Benevolence: Evangelising, bravery, kindness 

The Nine Habits of Trust interactive infographic

The nine habits of trust model

You can no longer trust in power –  you have to rely on the power of trust

Making a difference with trust

The difference trust can make to a business can be transformative. Research has suggested that when trust levels across a workforce are high, energy levels increase by 106%, productivity increases by 50%, stress levels reduce by 74% and engagement increases. 

These margins are so substantial that businesses who are ahead of the curve in improving trust levels can drive significant competitive advantage. These include greater profitability and improved talent retention and acquisition. 

In contrast, when businesses have a high public profile, their leaders and decisions naturally come under intense scrutiny by the media and the public. This can make their trust especially fragile and prone to major fluctuations in either direction, if decisions aren’t communicated confidently and clearly. 

Forging meaningful connections

Keeping employees and teams connected has become more complex in the era of hybrid and flexible work. A lack of trust often results in poor communication and transparency, with knock-on effects on productivity and performance. Ensuring every employee is fully connected, wherever they’re working, is therefore a must. 

Fostering a positive workplace becomes increasingly challenging when fear and mistrust are ingrained into organisational culture. This can have a serious impact on team morale, cohesion, collaboration and, ultimately, employee wellbeing. A good culture must make employees feel that they’re happy and secure in their work environment and relationships. 

While employees will generally do what they’ve been contracted to do, they won’t put any extra effort if they don’t feel trusted. This is how a feeling of inertia can set into an organisation, which can quickly be picked up on by customers and clients if the service they receive is mediocre. 

Businesses who are ahead of the curve in improving trust levels can drive significant competitive advantage

The Leadership Trust Index

Developed over several years and overlaid against the work of neuroeconomist Dr Paul Zak the Leadership Trust Index (LTI) can give those vital insights. It is estimated that a 20% increase in an organisation’s LIT score can generate a 15% reduction in stress levels, 3% decrease in sick days across the workforce, 10% increase in productivity and 15% increase in employee engagement.

But as working environments and expectations rapidly evolve, it’s perhaps becoming more critical than ever. Joint research by the Harvard Business School and the Edelman Trust Institute found that employers are now considered more relevant sources of truth than government bodies and officials. 

The importance of trust stretches far beyond interpersonal relationships into every area of modern business. Research by The Trusted Executive has indicated that 89% of board leaders consider trust to be a critical factor in talent attraction and retention, and 91% say it’s essential to maintaining customer loyalty. 

Employers are now considered more relevant sources of truth than government bodies and officials

Shared values for a positive culture

Despite all this, most leadership teams still don’t have the mechanisms in place to gauge levels of trust within their organisations. This makes it far more difficult to measure business success and to make the right decisions in the future. 

Now more than ever, employees of all types of organisations want to feel that their employers share their values. These can range from a commitment to hard work or a common passion for your industry to social and ethical considerations or an emphasis on wellbeing. 

In any case, trust is a vital part of building a positive, value-driven culture at all levels of a workforce. Understanding how well your senior leaders are trusted now, and where you can make improvements, is the first step on this very important journey.

If you enjoyed this, read: How to govern and support culture from the boardroom

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Grant Bowman

Managing Director

Read more from Grant Bowman

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