As I have learned through my career in business, as well as years of business consulting, team trust in each other, as well as management, is critical to the long-term success of every venture. It is key to employee engagement, a positive culture, and the productivity necessary to survive and thrive in this rapidly changing worldwide economy which challenges every business today.
I have found that trust in business relationships doesn’t happen by default these days, no matter what your title, just like in private relationships. Everyone knows and admires a few trusted leaders in business, for example, Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group and Warren Buffett, founder of Berkshire Hathaway. The rest of us are still earning the trust of our team members.
So what can you do today to build and maintain that trust, through hard times as well as good ones? Here is my list of eight key strategies and tactics, gleaned from my own observations and feedback, which I believe will define you as a trusted leader, and will result in loyal teams to amplify your business initiatives into long-term success and satisfaction:
Share your values and expectations to everyone. People need to know what is expected of them, and they actually prefer high expectations to low ones. Personal regular communication is best, rather than some nebulous written mission document. Make sure they understand how your values align with their own interests and needs.
Provide regular positive feedback in front of peers. We all need a show of appreciation from leaders and peers for our efforts and results. The best feedback is often not monetary, but simple verbal recognition in front of the team for a job well done. A culture of trust is built over the long-term by consistent sharing of results and efforts.
Simplify the organizational structure to reduce overhead. Too many levels of management create uncertainly and stress, increase political infighting, and minimize trust all around. With fewer levels, people are incented to accept more accountability for their actions and get more personal satisfaction from their contributions to results.
Build personal relationships with key team members. Trust requires a feeling of empathy and concern for team members, both inside and outside of work. Your actions speak louder than words in this regard. Suggestions include recognizing key individual needs for time off, personally rewarding exceptional efforts, or just saying hello.
Don’t try to micro-manage every team assignment. Empowering team members to do their own work their way is an important trust factor. Of course, you should always be available and willing to coach members when requested, or share your experience and skill. Make sure they have the tools and training to do the job requested and expected.
Don’t hide behind negative emotions and outbursts. Trusted leaders are seen as calm, approachable, and warm, rather than cold and egotistical. Too many teams I know live in constant fear of unjustified reprisals and repeated demands. They want to see you as occasionally vulnerable, and willing to accept feedback and team recommendations.
Proactively offer career growth options and feedback. Trusted leaders are always looking to push team members ahead, rather than holding them back from career advancement. Rotating key people between organizations, and providing temporary assignments for growth, are signals to your team members that they can trust you.
In addition, you are doing yourself a favor by creating a trusting team and setting yourself up for loyalty and success down the line. Investing now in your employees makes them more valuable to you, whether that payoff comes now or later.
Include team members in regular business status updates. More transparency and openness from company executives on customers, competitors, and business results is key to engagement, loyalty, and trust. This requires active listening on your part, as well as responsiveness to team questions and concerns via all communications channels.
While certain information is absolutely worth keeping on a "need to know" basis, those circumstances are few and far between. There is a huge difference between keeping initiatives under wraps, and employees not knowing the status of the company. The former is acceptable. The latter is not.
Even with these initiatives, please understand that trust doesn’t happen overnight, so be prepared for a journey, including some fallbacks and restarts. In my perspective, the bar has been raised by the new generation of workers, with their instant access to social media and global business cultures, but the principles are the same. Don’t count on your ego or position to save you.
*** First published on Inc.com on 2/27/2023 ***
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