Often when we think of trust in the workplace, the general belief is that a good workplace environment has trust. Trust must exist amongst the employees as coworkers and trust must exist with the management team. Employees must feel trust that the decisions being made are being made with everyone’s best interests in mind, while meeting the objectives of the company. This trust forms the basis of the culture of the company that will propel the company forward towards success and will sustain the organization when times are tough and the employees are counted upon to do even more to ensure the company bounces back. When trust exists, employees are able to change direction, seek out new ways of doing things, and embrace the work they are doing as they are committed to the success they are witnessing by the actions that follow, the decisions that are being made.

In all situations, there is an understanding that as a new employee joins a company, he/ she trusts that the role they have been offered plays out just as it is described. Employers also have an understanding and trust that the employee will fulfill on his / her own commitments to the role and that he/she is as skilled as he/she has presented. The relationship begins on the basis of complete trust. Even probationary periods are often looked upon as being incidental and that the time will pass and the employee will excel! Trust in the workplace allows employees to take risks and really flourish. Trust in the workplace allows employers to set high objectives and take on new, challenging initiatives.

However, when trust does not exist or is broken, the culture of the company begins to deteriorate. Employees begin to second guess their own commitments, are less likely to take on new assignments and slowly disengage with performance becoming less than optimal. Often, employers make decisions or take actions that cause employees to lose trust. Quite often leaders who do not continuously inspire their employees or do not present themselves as the strong leaders they need to be at all times, trust may be lost. We have certain expectations of leaders and of co-workers and when these expectations are not met, often trust is diminished.

What is it about trust that changes how we accept or not accept a person to be part of a team? Once trust is broken can it be rebuilt?

Trust can be defined as having 3 key elements which must exist and could be potentially compromised. These 3 are: 

  1. Character
  2. Competence
  3. Reliability 

Character is referred to as one’s intentions

Character is what you’re trying to do, your goals and values as a person. If people think you’re only out for yourself, driven by blind ambition, and don’t care about the group, or the work, then distrust of one’s character occurs, regardless of what one knows. Character is a reflection of how you are on the inside and the level of integrity you display in your relationship to others. One’s emotional intelligence and social intelligence comes into play where intention is demonstrated by caring, transparency and openness and integrity is demonstrated by honesty, fairness and authenticity. This is one of the areas that is often viewed as being difficult to rebuild, if the trust that is broken is viewed as being associated with the character of the person.   This is highly personal and there could be a fine line with which once it is crossed, to some, cannot be rectified. 

Competence is what one knows.

It is the skill set and talents that others believe one needs to have to be able to get the job done. Competence can be coached and can be addressed through additional training. However, once the training and additional support is provided, it is viewed as being the one chance has been provided to be redeemed. Often, a second chance for additional training is not viewed as being worthwhile. Competence is a reflection of how one is on the outside, one’s capability, and the results one can achieve in the role. This depends primarily on the level of development of one’s mental intelligence, education and what has been learned during one’s professional career. Capability is demonstrated by skills, knowledge and experience. Results are demonstrated by reputation, credibility and performance. Utilizing the experts around oneself is also a good indicator of competence as it is expected that one does not know everything, however, knowing how to work with others and relying on their talents in achieving objectives is key to demonstrating competence. Competence is one area that if trust is broken based on a lack of competence, again, it may be difficult to rebuild.

Reliability is whether one can be counted on.

Deadlines are met, commitments are followed through upon, and the deliverable is at the standard that is expected. Reliability is judged over time and measured with repetition of success. When this element is present, it is felt that the other two elements are even stronger. Trust without reliability is felt as being short lived and long term plans cannot be achieved as the investment of time is simply not viewed as being worthwhile. Reliability is viewed as the one area that with a conscientious effort, one can rebuild the trust that was broken. Again, the fine line exists when time is considered, results are not demonstrated and trust is viewed as being non-repairable in this area.

Trust within an organization impacts business results, organizational alignment, innovation, staff engagement, relationships, and shareholder and customer confidence. It cannot be looked upon as an afterthought, but rather as a concerted effort to be instilled each and everyday by each and everyone’s actions and decisions. Understanding that trust must be present and continually built upon as a focus is what can differentiate one person from another and one organization from another.

So, as leaders in one’s respective area, ensure that the building of trust is intentional. Day to day investments of trustworthy actions and words are necessary. Evaluation of where trust is in the organizational is a worthwhile activity that all good leaders should emphasize and place high on the priority list of things to do.