If you want to develop your organization's culture around purpose, it's hard to imagine anything more critical to your success than trust. Yet, unfortunately, trust is sorely lacking in American workplaces, reflecting society's growing distrust of business, government and other vital institutions.

How big is the trust gap? The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer recently found that just 37% of respondents find CEOs to be credible spokespeople, down 12% compared to 2016. Trust in employees is also falling. Edelman found that 48% of respondents found employees trustworthy, down from 52% in 2016. In fact, for the first time, a majority of global respondents say that they no longer trust "the system" - government, media, business and institutions - to work for them.

It's clear there's a crisis of trust brewing. Yet, there's hope for companies that pursue purpose transformation, for it's only by being trustworthy that we can gain the trust of employees, customers and others who are invested in mutual success. In my continuing series of interviews around culture and purpose, I spoke with five experts on workplace relationships who shared their ideas on why trust is integral to purpose transformation.

Trust in Your Values

Engaged cultures are trusting cultures, says Alan King, President of Workplace Options. "Ultimately, engagement is about feeling connected." says King. "Engaged people are passionate about helping the organization achieve its purpose, and trust the organization to help them achieve theirs. In engaged cultures, employees are trusted, valued for their contributions and trust those around them to work toward the same goals."

According to Dr. Annie McKee, author of How to Be Happy at Work (Harvard Business Review Press, 9/5), "Living your values is an essential part of purpose." Says McKee, "Values change how we feel about work. Those feelings impact how we work, what we think and what we do. When we feel good our brains work better. We make smarter decisions and take more effective actions on behalf of our business and its customers."

In organizations, values play another vital role. "Values prevent teams and individuals from giving into that short term, numbers-oriented mentality, which is so prevalent in many publicly traded organizations," says McKee. "We have to give up the notion that it's okay for work to be unsatisfying; that it's simply an obligation versus something we feel fulfilled and passionate about doing. We as individuals have to change our beliefs; that's what really changes the organization."

Alison Davis, Founder and CEO of Davis & Company agrees that values are one of the most important elements of creating a culture where people trust one another and are engaged with purpose. Says Davis, "When a company doesn't have values or doesn't formally state them, it's difficult to move forward with trust."

Says Davis, values should be clearly stated and memorable. "Often companies think they have a purpose or set of values, but they are so complicated and sometimes so abstract that individuals can't see where their role fits; they feel disconnected. Values can't just be aspirational, they need to define how individuals work and the behaviors you want to see. They should help employees understand what the organization stands for and where it is going."

Trust in the Team

The ability to trust your team to embody your values is the foundation for a successful purpose transformation. After all, you can expend a lot of energy defining purpose and values, but if you can't rely on your team to embody them, then it won't impact how teams interact with customers and each other, and it won't impact how business gets done.

The experts I spoke with agreed that values should drive decision-making, especially around hiring and retention. Organizations must hire people who believe in the organization's purpose, and who embody the values you want to see in the organization.

Says Jamie Naughton, Chief of Staff of Zappos, "At Zappos, we're looking for people who want to wow our customers, who embrace change and who want to learn and grow. Those values are what we hire on. If we feel like an applicant is not aligned with those values, we keep searching for someone who is."

Chris Golec, CEO of marketing technology firm Demandbase agrees. "We bring people in based on their values. We're not looking for people who come here to just do their job 9-5. We're looking for people who want to come here because it is their life's work."

When employees are hired on this basis, Golec says, they should be trusted and given a degree of latitude. "Rather than prescribe the actions we want people to take, we focus on hiring people who can find new ways and processes for doing things better, versus following the norm. There really is no set way to do things with us. "

Be Transparent to Inspire Trust

So how do you build a trust-based workplace? Says Workplace Options' King, inspiring trust is about walking the talk. Says King, "As a leader, you build trust by making yourself available, listening to questions. You have to listen to your customers and your people, and recognize the questions people have."

It's also key that there be one set of rules for everyone in the organization, from customer service to the CEO. This is a core tenet of Zappos' stance on internal organization, focusing on self-management. In the last few years, they've implemented a system called "Holacracy," which allows individual team members to make independent, local decisions in support of company values.

Says Naughton, "We expect everyone to understand how we do business. Every employee, regardless of position, goes through the same intensive call center training so everyone understands how we work with customers. We want people to bring their whole self to work and not be tied to just one area or job. That helps the employee and the organization grow."

It might not seem like trust would be such a crucial component of building a purpose-driven organization. But in truth, it's trust - between employees and managers, managers and executive leaders, and customers and those within the organization - that gives purpose and values the power to transform.

Published on: Aug 25, 2017