4 Approaches to Building Employee Trustworthiness
Building trust in your organization greatly benefits the employees, the culture, and the organization’s performance, which are all tightly related. Building trust is undoubtedly important for a company, and increasing the level of trust could have a transformative effect.
Building trust would be easy only if two conditions are met. First, that trust would be absolute. In other words, there is an absolute, universal set of behaviors that, if followed, would build trust for everyone. Second, that all it took to change behavior would be to know what behavior you wanted to change and what new behavior you would like to adopt instead.
Unfortunately, neither condition is true. Trust is neither absolute nor universal. While some behaviors (such as telling the truth) are universal, others are not. In fact, the same behavior that would cause one person to trust you could cause another person to distrust you—for example, risk-takers trust other risk-takers, but those who avoid risk will not trust risk-takers because they believe they are irresponsible and reckless.
Furthermore, it is not enough to know what behavior you want to change. Knowledge is not enough. Behaviors are very hard to change. One study found that even if you know your goal, your probability of achieving it is only 10%. Even if you committed, set a timeline, and made a plan to achieve that goal, your probability is still limited to 50%.
You must first identify specific, critical relationships and specific behaviors that you must change in them. Those could be different in different relationships. Then, you must form new habits that will change your behaviors and build your trustworthiness, and thus the trust other people have in you. Even then, it takes time and many repetitions of the new behavior before it becomes natural. It won’t happen overnight.
It’s achievable but requires a different approach than what you have heard about trust. If you want your efforts to be effective, that is.
The process of increasing your trustworthiness has the following steps:
Identifying a critical relationship in which another employee (could be a coworker, a boss, or someone who reports to you) depends on you. If they don’t trust you, they will not rely on you.
Identifying your specific behavior that holds you back from being trusted by that person. Remember that trust is relative. That behavior might not cause someone else to distrust you, but it does cause the other person in this critical relationship not to trust you. The reason for focusing on bad behavior is because people respond much stronger (and negatively) to bad behavior than they do (positively) to positive behavior. Research proved that many times.
Creating a S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measurable, achievable but not too easy, relevant and impactful, and time-bound) plan that will allow you to form new behaviors that would negate the current ones. The plan should consider the process of forming new habits.
Execute until the new habit becomes automatic and doesn’t require thinking and effort anymore.
Sounds easy? Well, it’s not. There are too many places where you can make mistakes. You may identify a relationship that is not critical, or the dependency of the other person in you is not important enough. You may identify the wrong behavior to work on and spend time and effort trying to fix a behavior that is not holding you back from being more trusted in that relationship while not working on the behavior that does. Your plan might be too easy, too hard, not impactful enough, or otherwise easy to drop before forming new habits. Finally, according to that study, even if you do everything right, you still only have a 50% probability of success.
How can you increase your odds?
The rest of this article will describe four approaches to building employee trustworthiness.
You could learn by reading books, taking online courses, or otherwise individually.
You can do it at a convenient place and time.
You can do it at your own pace.
It is typically the cheapest alternative on a per-person basis.
Lacking deep knowledge and experience, you are more likely to make mistakes, such as identifying the wrong relationship or the wrong behavior to focus on.
Your retention will be the lowest, and so will the probability of forming new habits, given that nobody is holding you accountable.
You could attend an open enrollment or company-sponsored workshops to help create the right plan.
Workshops typically address multiple employees in the company in parallel.
You have an opportunity to interact with others and learn from their challenges.
You can also ask others or the facilitator to review your plan.
Peer pressure can provide motivation.
You are still prone to making mistakes in identifying the right relationship and the behavior holding you back from being more trusted.
You still lack an accountability partner, threatening the retention of what you learned.
You could either hire an external coach or have the company hire one to take you through the process.
A coach is more experienced with the process and human nature.
A coach could be your accountability partner throughout the execution phase and increase your probability of forming a new habit from 50% to 95%.
The coach may not be familiar with the company’s people, dynamics, and culture.
You may not trust the coach due to being external to the company and knowing them for a very short time.
They can be costly, especially if coaching multiple people in the company.
Internal HR Professional
The ultimate solution might be right under your nose—your human resources professional.
They are already trained and experienced in human behavior in the organizational setting, and addressing these human resources issue (trust) fits their job description.
They are internal to the company and are very familiar with the people, the internal dynamics, and the corporate culture and goals.
Having worked with the employees they are helping, they are more trusted by those employees than an external coach would.
They are already on the company’s payroll.
The conclusion is straightforward: building trust in the organization is not simple. It should be addressed one relationship at a time, identifying behaviors that hold 1 party to that relationship from being more trusted by the other party. It should also be treated by forming new habits that change behaviors, build trust, and transform the organization. The HR Professional is ideally positioned to help do that.