Global Survey of Workplace Trust Highlights Weaknesses

By Barbara Brooks Kimmel

Few would argue that trust permanently impacts every workplace in both the short and long-term. Trust also impacts relationships with external stakeholders including customers, suppliers, and community members, to name just a few. Remote work during the pandemic has highlighted the need to strengthen and, in many cases, rebuild lost trust. However, the challenge remains in understanding what trust means in stakeholder engagement, and the acknowledgment and willingness to take the actions required to elevate it. Employee surveillance software and vacation bonuses certainly won’t get you across the trust finish line, so what will? I will give you a hint. All trust is interpersonal and leadership must set the example.

In the workplace, Trust Across America-Trust Around the World (TAA-TAW) considers trust to be the OUTCOME of principled behavior and our Trust Alliance members, some of the world’s leading trust scholars and practitioners, spent over a year identifying and reaching consensus on twelve primary behaviors impacting trust. We call them TAP (Trust Alliance Principles) and they have now been freely accessed over 150,000 times in 16 languages. The interpersonal behaviors are equally weighted with the weakest behaviors breaking the trust chain. If the weak behaviors are not identified (and they often differ from team to team even in the same organization), how can trust be built or rebuilt?

As talk of “reopening” continues, let us take a look at what our ongoing workplace trust survey (Building Trust One Principle at a Time) results are showing. Anyone can take this survey by clicking on the link on our website. We now have results from well over 600 respondents, and they have been consistent over time.

Tracking (46.57%), Accountability (43.22%), Transparency (37.48%) and Notice (32.22%) represent the top four weaknesses according to employees in over 600 workplaces worldwide. Now that we have this information, what should we do with it? I reached out to some of our Trust Council members for their thoughts about the results and how leaders should be tackling the weaknesses.

Linda Fisher Thornton, CEO of Leading in Context LLC and one of our original TAP Committee members offered this. These results are mostly aligned with what I have observed. I have seen gaps in Accountability, Transparency and Notice in organizations throughout my career, so I expected those to be frequently mentioned. As relates specifically to the behavior of Tracking, there are many existing measures to track ‘financial performance,’ but not many well-known measures for ‘values performance.’ Even though there is so much known about the transformative power of values-based business and leadership in driving financial outcomes, a large gap in tracking remains the norm.

Bart Alexander, a Principal at Alexander & Associates and another TAP Committee member expanded on Linda’s comments:

Respondents to the Trust Across America survey have identified Accountability and Tracking as the two weakest principles that they experience in the workplace. Organizations are always challenged to align behavior to avowed principles and pronouncements. Many have now had their inconsistencies exposed by increased transparency. In fact, the third weakest principle identified in the survey was Transparency itself.

Going forward, organizations can take the time to determine whether they are acting on principle and aligned with their public positioning. The work is particularly important at this time of corporate communications activism on climate and justice. Employees, customers, suppliers and advocacy organizations all will expect increased transparency and active reporting of ESG metrics. This is really about, “Talk the talk AND walk the walk.”

David Belden, a leadership development executive at Execuvision International speaks about the survey results in the context of current events: Tracking and Accountability being the two highest scoring deficits in organizations are exactly what I would expect. In times when people cannot, on a daily basis, affirm the importance and relevance of their contribution, it is increasingly important for the organization to do it instead.

Under “normal” conditions, a person can casually inquire about how their work is being assessed. This is usually accomplished through informal, in-person conversations. In the absence of those spontaneous conversations, a method of clear metrics is mandatory.

It becomes a leadership imperative to ensure that every individual clearly understands the short- and long-term objectives the organization has set. Ultimately, this means, in a remote work environment, that trust plays an even greater role than ever before. As a member of the organization, I must know that the objective remains the same, that my role is important and clear, and that everyone, myself included, is held accountable for reaching our goals.

What ACTIONS can be taken right now?

TAA-TAW offers a one question/one minute diagnostic (AIM Towards Trust). It has been used in dozens of teams and organizations to quickly identify behavioral trust strengths and weaknesses, and to plan a targeted trust strategy. Once this strategy is in place, complimentary tools and resources have been developed as well. Additional resources range from:

  • Trust elevating group discussion questions- Using Tracking as an example, a team might spend time discussing the following: How do we determine if the goals of our team and our organization are encouraging the right behaviors or causing people to do wrong things?
  • Visual cues and reminders. We have developed several wall art packets called The “Art” of Trust” and here is one one example addressing Accountability.
Copyright 2021, Next Decade, Inc.
  • Online workshops, ebooks with resources to address each behavior, facilitation and in person retreats are also available.
  • Additional diagnostic tools have been created to gauge the level of trust with external stakeholder groups.

In conclusion, Bart offers this: Organizations can make a specific commitment to build an aligned and trustworthy culture. They can “Tap into Trust” and review some key principles that are all essential to addressing the difficult conversations, across the organization and with stakeholders.

Keep in mind, when you don’t know what’s broken, it’s hard to fix it. Almost every team in every organization has trust challenges both internally and with external stakeholders. If it’s not clear what is weakening trust you can talk about trust, but you will be unable to take effective actions to fix it.

Founder Trust Across America-Trust Around the World. Author of Award Winning TRUST Inc. series

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