Seven tips to avoid trust erosion

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Business leaders in Australia need to improve levels of trust with their employees if they are to maximise business productivity.
A recent survey leaders and employees in Australia and New Zealand by leadership development expert Forum showed a ‘trust gap’ between leaders and employees, with employees rating trust as almost twice as important as their leaders do.

Less than half of employees – 43% – surveyed trusted their leaders to a great or very great extent. However, 97% of employees and leaders say having a leader they can trust is very important.

Levels of trust impact on productivity and staff retention, so it is vital Australian business leaders recognise how to build trust with their staff, Asia-Pacific Forum managing director Cynthia Stuckey said.

“When we asked employees about mistakes their leaders make, we found the same themes coming up again and again, from inconsistency to talking behind employees’ backs and even lying.”

Forum’s top seven tips for leaders looking to build trust with employees:

1.        Act with integrity
Being open and transparent is one of the most important traits a good leader could have. One of the major complaints heard from employees was a lack of transparency or lying. For example, one leader told two employees they were being developed for the same position. This shows disregard for the individuals concerned, and naivety in thinking employees don’t speak to each other. If employees feel they are being deceived, they are likely to lose faith in the company and ultimately become less productive.

2.        Listen and demonstrate care
Poor communication and interpersonal skills was another common complaint. Not listening to employees makes them feel unvalued. Leaders should never underestimate the insight that can be offered by employees.

3.        Walk the Talk
Leaders should exhibit the behaviour and attitude they expect from their employees. Sixth on the list of employee annoyances was of leaders asking employees to do things they themselves won’t do. Leaders shouldn’t expect employees to work late or do unpleasant tasks if they regularly leave on time and consistently delegate all the less-desirable tasks to other people.

4.        Demonstrate trust and empowerment
Empowering staff doesn’t necessarily mean giving them more authority, but rather making them feel positively about the organisation by not undermining them. When leaders complain about other team members, while the leader may think that they are confiding in an employee and building a rapport with them, in reality the employee is just wondering whether the leader talks about them in the same way.

5.        Encourage and recognise hard work
Recognition is a vital part of building trust and respect. Employees told Forum that leaders consistently took praise for employees’ work and let their staff take the blame for their mistakes. The survey showed that only 2.3% of employees felt their leaders always acknowledged their own mistakes. If an employee isn’t recognised for their input, they won’t see their progression path and will have no reason to stay.

6.        Provide clear and consistent messages/vision
Any lack of consistency between what was said and what was done will quickly lead to employee disengagement. For example, when leaders talk about team and participation but lead in a directive, hierarchical style.

7.        Give constructive feedback
Coaching must not be seen as a one-way street. It means not only providing feedback (both good and bad), but also following through on commitments and holding both parties responsible for any necessary improvements or changes.

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