For 19 years, Greats Places to Work and Fortune magazine have been formulating The 100 Best Companies to Work For list. Surprisingly, the distinguishing theme underpinning all of the best companies is not their fancy freebies, parties or lavish annual leave policies. It’s how much trust there is between co-workers and managers.
Companies that scored highly for trustworthiness also finished first for metrics on higher profitability, revenue growth and stock performance. But just like people, these organisations are not perfect. The research uncovered major discrepancies between the experiences of those on the frontline, as well as differences between gender, ethnicity and even full-time versus part-time workers.
What’s becoming increasingly obvious is that organisations that have company leaders right down to front-line workers who all embrace the value of a candid and open exchange of ideas and information, create highly functional and profitable enterprises.
After all, it’s trust that enables different people within an organisation to consistently rely on each other. It’s trust that enables your customers and other stakeholders to believe that you will deliver on your promises and behave responsibly. It’s trust that enables a company or brand to bounce back after a crisis. And it’s trust that enables an organisation to change and grow.
Yet, very few organisations strategically improve trust in order to improve performance. One of the problems is that trust is an emotional issue and it’s hard to see, let alone fix internally. It is often outside the sphere of leadership capabilities. Even when they do realise trust is a problem, they each have a different frame of reference making it tricky for everyone to know the best steps forward. Often leaders, waste time and headspace focusing on the wrong trust elements or deny it’s a problem.
Here are four common leadership frustrations that are all signs of trust issues that negatively impact workplace culture.
1. Working around People, not with People
A common CEO gripe is that newly formed teams (and even existing) operate more like a collective of individuals rather than a team. Team members prefer working with those they know and avoid newcomers or even those with different job titles. Email is preferred to discussions and the most knowledgeable person in the team is rarely consulted. The result is that people work in different directions and make poor-quality decisions.
On the surface, these teams may appear to be operating at a decent level. It’s only when leaders start comparing the outputs of a few teams together that the stark difference between performance become apparent. High trust teams are inclusive, get more done and reach goals faster.
2. Fear of Relying on Others
Following on from teams is the even bigger issue of departments and units not collaborating together. Research by Harvard Business Review reported that only 9% of managers feel that they can rely on cross-functional colleagues all of the time, and only 50% say they can rely on them most of the time. Managers also say they are three times more likely to miss performance commitments because of insufficient support from other units than because of their own teams’ failure to deliver.
When managers cannot rely on colleagues in other functions and units, they undermine execution by duplicating effort, letting customer promises slip, delaying their deliverables or passing up attractive opportunities.
3. Avoiding Delegation
One of the most important capabilities of a successful leader is being comfortable with delegating work. This makes them more effective because they get more work done and let their direct reports know that they are confident in their abilities to deliver. It improves accountability and goal kicking.
Leaders who avoid delegating tend to rely on themselves falsely believing only they are capable of doing the work. Over time, they feel alone, even betrayed by the organisation, because they feel overworked and overwhelmed. At the same time, they get categorised as being a micro-manager, limiting career opportunities.
Managers who delegate well have the time to focus on the bigger picture. They avoid jumping from one fire to another. Not only does it increase their job satisfaction, but those reporting to them feel empowered, accountable and more confident in their own abilities and even the leader.
4. Not Speaking Up
A study by VitalSmarts found that when people were afraid to speak up about issues, employees were engaging in resource-sapping behaviours such as: complaining to others (78%), doing extra or unnecessary work (66%), ruminating about the problem (53%), or getting angry (50%).
These are costly behaviours. The same research found that the average person wasted seven days undertaking these dysfunctional problems instead of talking about it. Silence damages deadlines, budgets, relationships, turnover, employee engagement and meeting goals.
After all, when you don’t get the unpleasant stuff out of the way, you waste a lot of time. It’s hard to get moving on anything if people won’t talk through issues or how to resolve them.
Humans are designed to avoid conflict. Both leaders and employees alike fear speaking up about their concerns or even alternative opportunities in case it makes them look stupid or unpopular.
It is an important leadership challenge to create a strong, shared culture where people are unified, to avoid a political and potentially adverse environment.
Getting Ready for a Collaborative Future
With technological advances increasing and change occurring at a rapid rate, the reality is that employees within an organisation need to rely on each other more. There is a revolution occurring in how we need to interact together at work.
Yet, few companies actually consider how to address this specific issue, especially from a trust perspective. Some even accept their current operating model as a normal part of doing business and how people collaborate.
But the companies that will successfully meet the challenges of tomorrow will be those that require employees change how they interact with one another. And it all starts with leaders who can build trust.
Marie-Claire Ross is the Chief Corporate Catalyst at Trustologie. She is a workplace sociologist, author and consultant focused on helping leaders put the right processes in place to empower employees to speak up about issues, challenge each other and share information. You can see her at Leading Well Conference on April 27 2018 discussing 5 Hidden Trust Decelerators that Sabotage Leadership Result.
Marie-Claire Ross will be speaking at the The IML Conference 2018. The series explores the topic of Leading Well, and this Melbourne event will focus on how to develop and build high performing teams that drive financial success and ROI. This conference will be an interactive day including keynote presentations, panel sessions, case studies and Q&A’s. Join us for the third-year running to uncover the latest management and leadership thinking.