The power of trust: How companies can turn the tide in turbulent times
Doctors and nurses are demotivated at this critical time because of low and delayed pay and lack of understanding among the people about the conditions in which they are working. Schools are asking teachers to work at half pay or no pay. Employees are being asked to leave for ‘performance reasons’ though everyone knows the real reason. Big foundations, especially social enterprises with big budgets, are asking young employees to leave because of the so-called change in strategy. Migrant workers are confused, unable to understand the reason why humans have turned on humans.
These days the common words I hear from people from diverse backgrounds is, “I don’t trust them anymore!”
People often ask me what trust is. And I say, trust is when a child jumps out of a bed knowing that her mother, will catch her, no matter what, and will not let her fall. Trust is why you rely on the other person completely. Trust is the core glue that binds us as a society and trust is what makes organisations great.
In today’s column, let me focus on the broken trust at the workplace. Unlike between a child and mother, trust here is not innate, you have to cultivate it. And why do you need trust at the workplace? Trust is that building block of an organization that keeps it strong. It inspires employees to give their best to the company, and collectively that culture makes an organisation do things others thought impossible.
How do you build trust between the leadership and employees? The answer is simple: by being extremely transparent about the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’. The more honest, straightforward you are, the more you will build trust between you and your teammates. Lack of communication, lack of intent can lead to distrust. I believe, authentic leadership is only one aspect of what creates trust, how you communicate your intentions to your people is equally important for building trust.If the economic downturn needs cost- cutting, be upfront about it and make it ‘our problem’ and not ‘your problem’. Remember good days will come when you would need these employees running a marathon for you. Will they or won’t they run depends on what and how you act in times of crisis.
Have trust in yourself
To be able to build trust among your employees, first you need to trust yourself and have faith in your own abilities. You need to believe that being honest is being you and people will respect and follow you, not because you know the answer, but because you are honest that you don’t know the answer. How can you trust others unless you trust yourself by being honest? Employees can see beyond the photo on Facebook or a media announcement - they always know the truth so why not put it on the table and deal with it.
It also helps you trust others. Tell your employees that you trust them and see the magic. Doing this you are assuring them that they can trust themselves. Let me explain my point with a story from my childhood. I was 8 when I got suspended for a week from school because I made mischief in the class. I didn’t tell my mother about my suspension.
Every day, I would leave the house for school and spend the day outside the school gate. After four-five days, my principal spotted me outside the school gate. She asked me gently, “Why are you sitting outside?” I confidently replied: “My ears are so sharp that I can hear everything that is said in the class from that distance.”
My principal laughed and walked me to my class, instead of yelling at me for blatantly lying. She probably liked my wit. But somehow since she demonstrated an extraordinary trust in me, I mended my ways. And I learned that when somebody shows trust in you, it compels you to do whatever it takes to keep it.
Devising methods and tools to create trust
I have often mentioned that workplaces are like a maze - full of confusion, dissatisfaction, competition, and so on. Trust is not instinctive at the workplace. As a leader, you need to devise tools and methods to build trust among your employees and between you and your employees. One way of building trust is to give your employees an opportunity to share their honest opinion about you. At HCL Technologies, the 360° appraisal, a transparent system of reverse appraisal, including my appraisal by all employees, was our key to unlocking trust in our employees. Our belief was that an inspired, innovative and engaged organisational culture can only be built if employees have a genuine say in what we are trying to achieve together. Building this trust among tens of thousands of employees was crucial in launching the transformation journey that transformed our lives and the company.
And what when the person who you trust betrays you?
It does happen.
I call it the power of the coin. Like when you toss a coin, 50% of the time it is head, 50% of the time it is tail. Similarly, you can never be sure of trust in return. However, I firmly believe that even with only 50 % surety that you will not be betrayed by the person you trust, it is worth trusting him or her at the workplace.
The Coronavirus crisis, which has caused major business disruptions across the world, has presented unprecedented challenges before corporate leaders. In times like these, if you stand by your people and not let them fall, you will be able to build a trust-based relationship which will be the reason why you will outperform others when the tide turns.