These are dark days for trust. According to the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer, people distrust government, the media, NGOs and business--in fact, 48% of Americans surveyed say they don't trust for-profit companies. And 69% think that building trust should be a top priority of businesses today.

That's why every leader should consider the unconventional approach to earning employees' trust described by Aron Ain in his book, WorkInspired: How to Build an Organization Where Everyone Loves to Work. 

Ain, the CEO of Kronos, the global provider of workforce management cloud solutions, has been widely recognized for his leadership abilities-;and Kronos has made several lists of top places to work.

Ain thinks a lot about trust. "Trust isn't something you can expect or claim for yourself," he writes. "Rather, employees must choose to bestow it on you--or not. It's theirs to give."

What, then, is Ain's secret to creating trust? Demonstrate that you trust employees. Ain explains:

"The best way to persuade people to trust you is not to lecture them about trust, but simply to trust them. That way, you establish an underlying expectation of trusting behavior, modeling what you wish to cultivate in your team, department or entire organization."

How? "We've worked incredibly hard to instill trust throughout the organization," Ain writes. "First we give employees atypical degrees of latitude and freedom. Until proven otherwise, we assume their competence, judgment and good intentions."

Because Kronos puts so much faith in employees, "they return the favor, placing a remarkable degree of trust in us. Their trust in turn leads to far better performance-;more innovation, quicker recovery from mistakes, more energy and enthusiasm at work."

I can sense your skepticism. "Wait," you're thinking, "How can it be that easy? Just trust your people and they'll trust you?"

The principle is simple, writes Ain, but "trust is hard, especially if you haven't lived or worked in an open supportive environment, or if you have an anxious or controlling personality."

That's why Kronos works hard to instill trust, building a number of systems and processes to create a culture of trust.

Here are three key methods:

1. Understand that trust starts with you. "In managing my own team, I don't just refrain from micromanaging-;I trust enough to require independence," Ain writes. He takes a hands-off approach to his senior team, "in some cases asking them to shoulder large amounts of responsibility." 

For example, when Kronos decided to relocate its headquarters, Ain charged key executives with selecting and designing the new offices, "only making decisions on matters I especially cared about, such as doing away with window offices for executives."

2. Set expectations around trust. Instilling trust begins with clarifying the behavior you expect of all employees. Several years ago, Kronos introduced a framework of three core competencies (character, competence and collaboration) with a larger set of desired behaviors that apply to employees at all levels. Then the company began basing 40% of employees' annual performance ratings on how well employees adopted these behaviors.

Writes Ain: "One behavior we emphasized was 'establishing trust,' which we defined as gaining 'the confidence and trust of others through principled leadership, sounds business ethics, authenticity, and follow-through on commitments.' Articulating organizational expectations around behavior is important. By defining trust, we establish it as a key element of our culture."

3. Teach managers to nourish trust in their teams. An important way that Kronos nurtures trust is to prepare managers and hold them accountable. "We ask managers to be both bold and humble--to build trust by trusting people in their functional areas and assuming that people are competent when tackling difficult issues.

"We also instruct manages to share information openly and honestly and make the tough decisions required to solve problems," writes Ain. By empowering team members to innovate and take risks, managers further demonstrate the trust they place in their people."

Can any company--and any leader--adopt the Kronos approach? Ain says yes. "Think of how much more inspired your team members would become if you put your faith in them, if you didn't constantly look over their shoulders, if you assumed they were competent and would do the right thing. Think of how much better your team and organization would function if trust prevailed, with more fluid communication and quicker identification of problems as they arise. Bottom line: For a more engaged, higher-performing workforce, start by assuming competence, and then demonstrate to people over and over again that you trust them."

Published on: Dec 5, 2018
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