How to build a culture of trust

Culture is one of the most important factors for attracting talent to your workforce. It is, however, not tangible or easily measured, making it hard to define and implement. To make it even more complex, each person has slightly different expectations and needs when it comes to culture. Extroverts and introverts, for example, want different things from a company to feel happy. So does people in different life stages, with a new graduate wanting different things from his workplace than a newlywed couple or someone who has just had a baby. Building a culture of trust is not always easy.

So how do you keep everyone happy? Look for the commonalities, not the differences. Each company and each person are slightly different, however, there are a few things that everyone wants and needs. One of these things is the shared value of trust, with values being the building blocks of culture. Company culture is shared values in action.

The essential value for any company to succeed in today’s business world is trust. Trust breeds responsibility, it nurtures more effective communication, it develops autonomy. Ingredients for success.  For a workplace where people collaborate and support, rather than work against each other, there needs to be trust.

People do as you do, not as you say

It is the role of the leader to demonstrate what trust looks like. There is, however, a fine balance between trusting someone to do something and leaving them to fend for themselves. The one is empowering, the other is demotivating and disempowering. The one breeds effective communication, the other breaks down communication. So how do you breed a culture of trust?

1. Do what you say, say what you do

A continued display of integrity is the most powerful tool to build trust. When you say you will get back to someone and doesn’t, it reflects not only that you don’t value your people, but also that they can’t trust you.

Always deliver on your promises and don’t promise or commit to anything if you are not able to. When something unforeseen happens that stops you from delivering on your promise, which does happen from time to time, communicate pro-actively. Tell the person you can’t get back to them and why, and make an alternative arrangement. And stick to it this time. Don’t wait for them to follow up with you, and don’t make it a habit of postponing.

Be pro-active, or delegate, but always keep your promises.

2. Trust is earned

It is tempting to believe that people will trust you as a result of your role in the company. And though some people might make you believe that this is true, in actual fact, it’s not. You can’t tell someone to trust you.  Trust is a continued display of integrity.  It is a continuous process of proving that you are reliable and trustworthy.  It’s not something you achieve by an external event, it is a daily practice.

Realize that you will not win the trust of your employees within a few days or weeks, especially if the trust has been broken in the past. Make it a habit to be reliable and consistent in your behavior and keep at it, even though it feels as if you’re not making any progress.

3. Don’t trust blindly

When you have a small child that has never seen the fire before, you don’t simply trust that they will not burn themselves and allow them to go and play next to the fire, you stand close by their side making sure that they don’t get too close. You don’t keep them away from the fire, but you also don’t allow them to blindly walk into the danger and hurt themselves.

At work, the same applies.  Don’t trust people blindly because they are adults, especially at the start of your journey to build trust. Trust with an open, caring eye.  Allocate tasks and set goals, but schedule catch-up sessions to make sure that the person is on track, without micro-managing each step.

Communication is key. Reward successes and have an open-door policy to ensure that you are accessible and the employee has the confidence to tell you about failures and ask for guidance.

4. Provide the tools

When a child learns a new skill, you slowly and carefully show them how to do it, then you hold their hand as they try, and finally, you allow them to try it by themselves, watching carefully and providing feedback.

One of the biggest mistakes that managers and leaders make is giving someone a new responsibility without the necessary tools and guidance on how to do it. They value self-thinking and autonomy and think they are empowering the employee, however, that is like telling a child to tie their own shoes without first showing them how to do. Trust grows.

When a new team member joins the team, first spend adequate time with them to make sure that they are on the same page as you. As the person demonstrates that they can be trusted, loosen the reigns and allow them more freedom as the trust grows.

5. Feedback on failures

When people break your trust, the easy thing to do is to turn your back and reject them and their behavior. Alternatively, you take the responsibility away from them because they failed on their first attempt.  That is understandable because you are disappointed and hurt.

Yet, you don’t look at a child learning to walk and when they fall after the first attempt you stop them from trying again. You kiss away the hurt and you help them get up and try again. You praise even when they take one wobbly step. The praise is what motivates them to get up and try again.

When people break your trust, it is time to open up and talk about what happened with honest and compassionate feedback. Have a conversation asking what happened, with an open mind and the intention to try and understand why they failed you. Ask them what they need to be able to deliver next time.

Be careful however to notice when the response is merely an excuse, or whether it was a genuine unintended failure on their side. If it sounds like only an excuse, don’t accept it. Dig deeper, and if necessary, take action.

Every action has a reaction, and the way to build responsibility is to show people the impact of their decisions by not being afraid to act. However, most people are learning and everyone makes mistakes. Allowing them to make mistakes is as key as communication to building a culture of trust.

Conclusion on building a culture of trust

Trust is a key element for any successful and happy workplace, yet, it is a difficult value to learn and teach.  Trust is a continued practice and takes courage.  To demonstrate trust in the workplace, be consistent, communicate often, provide the tools and guidance, and allow failures.

  • About the Author
  • Latest Posts

With more than 20 years experience in the software development industry, Kate specializes in helping teams get unstuck, communicate better and ultimately be more productive. She believes in efficiency through fun implementing lean, agile and playful design as tools for process improvement and organizational change. Her goal is to create more happy, healthy and whole workplaces where each person thrives and productivity soars.