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Building Employee Trust – What Does It Mean?


In my earlier post on Employee-Manager Trust: How Do Employers Rate?, I recounted the results of Right Management's recent survey. That survey put a spotlight on the alarmingly low levels employee trust in today's organizations. It revealed that three quarters of all employees mistrusted their managers.

The kind of trust the survey authors were researching into was trust in managers' ability to make the best decisions for their organization. However, that is just one component of the trust equation. When we say that we trust another person, what does that mean? Well, it may mean that we believe that they:

1. have the requisite skills and knowledge 2. accurately judge their own strengths and limitations 3. not act primarily from self-interest 4. maintain confidences 5. follow through on their commitments 6. are being truthful

To round out this definition, we can put each trust component into one of two bundles. The competency bundle includes the first two components. Right Management's survey touched on this bundle only. The second bundle is the integrity bundle and includes components 3 to 6 above. This bundle is about the person displaying their true character and intentions; being who they say they are. Stephen Covey calls people who fail in this respect "duplicitous".

In engaging the hearts and minds of our employees, it is this second bundle, the integrity bundle, that is as important, if not more important, than the competency bundle. If a manager is lacking in skills or judgment, but is sincere, his or her employees are more likely to work with them in mutual problem solving and goal attainment. A manager that is highly skilled but seen as manipulative and deceitful by his or her employees will quickly find employees checking out at the gate. And once this kind of trust is lost, it will be difficult for the manager to regain, if not impossible.

What examples can you think of in your work where your manager lost your trust? What aspect of your trust did they lose (look at components 1 to 6 above)? In a future post, I will gather all of your contributions and summarize them into a list of examples of how managers can lose the trust of their employees.

2 Responses

  1. Trust is about delivery

    I’m not so convinced that a manager without competence but with sincerity will be "trusted" in the right way.  If trust is about delivery, then not being able to deliver (without help) will surely undermine trust.  I also wonder where time is in the list you give – trust is not automatic, and is influenced by past experience – which takes time to build.


    — Karen, fe3 consulting

  2. Trust in the Workplace

    Hello Karen. Thank your for your probing thoughts. Yes, I agree that if a person is not competent, that will undermine trust. I was suggesting that lack of competence will not undermine trust to the same extent as acting deceitfully, for the reasons I gave.

    And I also agree 100% that there is a time element to buiding trust. Stephen Covey refers to this time aspect as our emotional bank balance. We build trust in another person every time they make a deposit. These deposits include keeping a committment, acting in my interest, keeping our conversations confidential, etc.

    Thanks Karen for adding your insights.

    Les Allan
    Author: Managing Change in the Workplace

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