by Lea Brovedani
Date Published March 7, 2015 - Last Updated February 26, 2016

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2014 issue of SupportWorld magazine.

How important is trust to your business? Important, right? But did you know that most senior executives believe their direct reports trust them more than they actually do? There’s a whopping 43-percent difference between how a manager perceives he’s trusted and how much employees actually trust him.

Building a high-trust culture takes time and persistence. It won’t happen overnight, but it’s worth the effort. According to research completed by Trust Across America:

  • High-trust organizations consistently outperform their rivals.
  • Trust is the foundation of high-performance teams.
  • Trust reduces employee turnover.
  • Trust increases productivity and innovation.
  • High trust leads to long-term business success.

Trust is the willingness to be vulnerable based upon positive expectations about another’s behavior. Are you thinking, Yeah, right. There’s no way I’m going to be vulnerable. That’s a weakness.? In Brené Brown’s work on vulnerability, she said, “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never a weakness.”

You can have the most sophisticated processes and systems, but if you can’t establish a relationship of trust with your customers, then you’re not going to succeed.

If customers are taking their business elsewhere, they've lost trust in your company.

To build trust, you need to have people at all levels of expertise, with varying degrees of responsibility and decision-making authority based on their competence. Most people fall somewhere along the following continuum:

  1. “Follow these instructions precisely.”
  2. “Look into this and brief me on the situation. I’ll decide.”
  3. “Look into this and brief me on the situation. We’ll decide together.”
  4. “Brief me on the situation, and tell me what you need from me to assess and handle it. Then we’ll decide.” 
  5. “Give me your analysis of the situation (reasons, options, pros and cons, etc.) and your recommendations. I’ll let you know whether you can go ahead.”
  6. “Let me know what you decide, but wait for my go-ahead before proceeding.”
  7. “Let me know what you decide, then proceed unless instructed to do otherwise.”
  8. “Make a decision and take action. Then, let me know what you did (and what happened).”
  9. “Make a decision and take action. You don’t need to check back with me.”
  10. “Decide where action needs to be taken and manage the situation accordingly. It’s your responsibility.”

How do you know where people fall on the continuum? How do you move them from one to ten? You monitor them. This not only tells you where an individual falls on the continuum but also where they might need coaching to improve and move up the ladder.

Many people think monitoring is the antithesis of trust, that if you completely trusted your people (and they trusted you), there’d be no need for monitoring. Tammy Isa is the executive VP of performance achievement for the Orbit Group, which works with clients around the world to help them increase the efficiency of contact centers. I asked for her opinion on the relationship between trust and monitoring, and she said, “The monitoring process is about transparency. It’s about rallying for commitment. Sometimes an intention isn’t fulfilled with an action or commitment to it. It’s a two-sided coin. I trust you, and I trust that, being human, [the task before you] will be hard and you might not feel good enough or competent enough to do it. I trust both things, and, as a result, I’m going to support you and monitor that process so I can offer more support to help you get through this.”

Trust is a big deal. When people aren’t working together optimally, it usually stems from a lack of trust. And if customers are taking their business elsewhere, then you can be pretty sure that they’ve lost trust in your company. Once trust has been damaged, it can be difficult (though not impossible) to rebuild.

As a leader, your role is to build teams that trust each other. Everything starts with you.

If you want to build (or rebuild) trust, follow these five simple lessons: 

  1. Commitment: Showing up is an essential part of commitment. It means diving into the deep end and fully committing to the task at hand. It involves following through and doing what you say you’ll do. Keep your commitments, no matter how small or large. Do what you say you will do. Always. (If, for whatever reason, you can’t keep a commitment, communicate with the other party and ask to be released from it.)
  2. Caring: People will be loyal to you if they know you care about them, and that includes both the people who work for you and the customers who purchase your products or services. Customers will accept your advice if they know you care about them, so listen to them when they call.
  3. Consistency: If you make a mistake, own it. Decide what your values are and use them to make decisions. They will guide you and keep you constant.
  4. Competency: People will question your competency if they don’t see it in action. If you’re a manager, manage. If you say you’re the best at something, then make sure you are. Don’t be satisfied with mediocrity. Be the best you can be. Keep your skills fresh by being a lifelong learner.
  5. Communication: When you’re having a conversation with someone, do they have your full attention? Are you allowing the frustrations of the day to affect the tone of your voice? Give people your full attention and show them, through your pauses and comments, that you hear them. Communicate with them in a way they understand.

If you truly want to build trust, then you must be patient. You can’t rush trust, and don’t expect to be trusted because of your title. Champion your team’s goals, and make sure they understand that when one of you wins, you all win.

Lea will be presenting on this topic at HDI 2015 later this month. Check out session 404, and register to attend in Las Vegas!

As a leader, your role is to build teams that trust each other, and everything starts with you. Make small agreements and keep them; then make larger commitments and keep those. Clarify expectations, since unclear expectations can undermine communication and trust. Always communicate immediately if you can’t keep a promise, and resolve broken promises immediately. And don’t put so many controls in place that you inhibit your employees’ thoughts and feelings. Your employees are integral to your company’s trust culture. Trust them.

Lea Brovedani has spent more than ten years studying the effect of trust on the bottom line—she knows how important trust is for healthy relationships. Her past experience in management has given her a broad view of the impact of trust in the workplace. She is the author of Trusted: A Leader’s Lesson and Rebuilding Trust (2013). She can be reached at [email protected] or through her website.

Tag(s): customer service, customer experience, professional development


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