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Ken Blanchard

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An issue of trust


Ken Blanchard gives his opinion on the soft skills and leadership debate - with some interesting stats to boot.

Ouch! It seems many of our workplaces, far from being the fair, nurturing collaborative environments they should be, are in fact hotbeds of mistrust and dishonesty.

When I came across research suggesting only 20% of employees trust their organisations and just 11% believe their managers show consistency between words and deeds, I set up a webinar on the issue of trust in the workplace. Over 1,000 people took part in a straw poll which sadly confirmed these shocking figures - and worse.

Rumour and gossip had hampered 68% of participants, while 47% said secrecy and hidden agendas were rife in their organisations. 34% were no strangers to dishonesty or spin; 38% had suffered the effects of arrogance or aloofness from their peers, and 58% regretted their open communications & collaboration within their companies. 50% of those taking part in our online poll had left organisations because of these barriers, having been effectively forced out because of untrustworthy cultures. The poll also showed 52% believed their organisations were suffering low employee engagement or commitment because of a lack of trust.

It’s a very gloomy picture. So why isn’t trust a word you hear mentioned in the workplace? Because organisations tend to ignore trust until they are forced to take notice when an employment tribunal arises or their best people head for the door. Any wise organisation should address trust issues long before then; it’s in their best interests not only in terms of employee engagement, but also financially: Ernst & Young has suggested it costs 150% of a leaving employees’ annual salary to replace them.

"It is those who compromise ethics for results that have the lowest levels of trust and become most likely to fail in the long term, despite good short-term results"

Trust is essential. People can’t be passionate about their work and give their time and energy to it if they don’t have trust. The benefits of organisational vitality, employee passion and customer devotion can’t be underestimated if you want to make a profit.

At least two studies bear me out. A study by the Atlantic Consulting Group demonstrated a direct link between trust and profitability, with 84% of people in divisions that outperformed others having high levels of trust as opposed to just 27% in lower performing divisions. Then the Great Places to Work Institute (this organisation publishes the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For list) proved high-trust companies outperformed others by at least 6.3% in the marketplace, providing four times the returns as comparatively low-trust companies. Staff turnover was also 50% lower on average.

So how do leaders build trust? Not by doing what most organisations do - rewarding people according to their results. In our online poll, no-one at all thought rewarding people in this way was an important factor in building trust. What mattered, first and foremost, was being honest in word and deed. Following through on doing what you say you’re going to do was second and sharing information third. This highlights the big mistake many companies make: it is those who compromise ethics for results that have the lowest levels of trust and become most likely to fail in the long term, despite good short-term results.

This isn’t to say results are not important, of course they are, but as leaders we must go beyond rewarding results to build trust and engage – frequently – in good, trust-building behaviours that demonstrate the ‘ABCD’ of being Able, Believable, Connected and Dependable, behaviours such as:

  • Giving credit for good work
  • Listening to your people
  • Asking for input from your people
  • Showing concern and interest in their work and personal lives
  • Sharing information (including confidential information) with your people
  • Giving feedback in a caring and constructive way
  • Lavishing people with praise and recognition
  • Providing opportunities for growth and skill development

Equally, we must avoid trust-busting behaviours such as:

  • Failing to demonstrate expertise or achieve results
  • Breaking confidences, spreading lies or gossip
  • Neglecting to listen to, enjoy others’ company or show interest in them
  • Not bothering to give recognition or rewards
  • Ignoring the need to follow-through
  • Letting yourself become unorganised or unreliable

The last thing leaders can’t afford to lose is trust. Without it, our organisations are doomed. Please trust me on this one.

Ken Blanchard is the acclaimed business writer and entrepreneur whose first book, The One Minute Manager, still tops best-seller lists. A free copy of his latest book,Trustworks! is available to the first ten people to email quoting ‘TrainingZone'. Ken is also founder of leadership development consultancy The Ken Blanchard Companies, which devised the world’s most widely used leadership model, Situational Leadership® II and programmes on building trust. Find him on TwitterFacebook, his blog and the Business and Management forum


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