Your trust in your employees can only be nurtured through performance and results. In other words, your employees need to earn your trust. Here are the 7 things you can do to help your employees earn your trust. You have to take the first step, and let their performance do the rest.
Don't go overboard
More often than not, after making the case for why autonomy is important for creativity, managers and executives buy into the concept and, understanding it goes against their modus operandi, give almost unrestricted autonomy. It doesn't feel right to them, but they do it because they understand it is the right thing to do. Science proved it. However, you should not go to the extreme. Give the autonomy employees really need, and not more than that. Don't sign blank checks. Give autonomy to how the task should be done. Not to which task needs to be done. Let employees experiment, and let them fail, but don't celebrate failure. Accept failure, don't show them the stick, but demand that they learn from their failures. Put boundaries in place, and once your team adheres to them, it will be easier for you to trust them. When you don't put boundaries in place, misalignment of what's reasonable can prevent them from earning your trust. Even if they want to.
Not all employees want autonomy
The Liverpool Hope University School of Business 2014 survey showed that 78% of employees perceived work autonomy as important to them, which means that 22% thought it was not. One of my employees did not appreciate the autonomy I gave him, while another did, for the same task. Before you give autonomy, make sure you give it to someone who will thrive as a result--not to someone who will feel terrified or abandoned by you.
Autonomy to see the big picture
Part of autonomy is a view of the big picture. Show your employees what it means to walk in your shoes. Explain what restrictions you are subject to. Don't try to "protect" them from your reality. Their ability to see things from your perspective will eliminate friction in the future. And you will feel that they are your partners, rather than people who only care about their own success and job. You are more likely to trust your partners than people who don't understand what you are going through and keep asking for more and more.
Hire a coach
Change is hard. Changing your habits and organizational culture is the hardest kind of change. You may not be able to do it by yourself. There may be times when you will revert to your "old ways." Hire an executive coach to work with you. I had one working with me at Texas Instruments. He helped me focus on my interactions with my team. He helped me set the expectations and improve communications. Sometimes you need an outsider for that.
Put the right managers in place
A management layer between you and the employees can break everything you are trying to achieve. You may insist on providing autonomy to employees, yet a middle manager might take it away. On the other hand, the middle manager might be better at providing autonomy than you are. Once you have the right managers in place--give them the autonomy they need, and let them run their team. If you stay out of their way, and they manage the team to superior performance--you will naturally begin trusting them.
Moderate your reactions
No doubt, this is not going to feel comfortable for you. One of your employees comes to you and tells you about something she tried, something you have not authorized, and failed. This is your test. Take a deep breath, and follow the advice I gave you above. Don't celebrate failure, but don't chastise her over it either. You reactions and interactions have to be moderate.
The most important thing--be consistent. Your reactions and interactions need to be consistent 100% of the time. Not 99% of the time. If there is 1% of the time in which you revert to the "old ways," you lose your credibility for the other 99%. It's like a diet. It doesn't matter that you were very conscious about your calorie intake in the morning and over lunch, if you completely let yourself go at dinner.
If you follow those 7 rules--you would have given your employees a little more trust than they earned (or that you feel comfortable giving them) initially, your employees will perform, and you will start trusting them based on that performance, rather than your willingness to take a chance on them. You need to be the person to break out of that cycle.
This article is an adapted excerpt from my upcoming book: un-kill creativity, How Corporate America can out-innovate startups