Every problem companies experience with their employees springs from the same root cause: There is too little trust in the environment. There is too much fear.
Too little trust and too much fear in a workplace has a name: It’s called a toxic work environment.
Poor performance, high turnover, problem employees, tension between teams, burnout, political infighting and lack of commitment — they are all symptoms of a broken culture.
Managers often don’t realize that they create their own leadership problems.
People show up to work ready to get something done and engage their brains. Nobody comes to work to goof off. The reason people get bored and discouraged at work and don’t get much done is because there is something broken in the environment.
Managers and business owners don’t usually get defensive when somebody points out that their facility’s roof is leaking or that there’s mold in the pipes.
These are physical problems that affect the work environment in a big way. When your roof is leaking or there’s mold in the pipes, you call somebody to come out and fix the problem.
However, many leaders get defensive when somebody points out that their culture is broken. They say “No, our culture is fine — we just have bad employees!” and ignore the problem.
That’s their choice, but it’s the most expensive choice they can make. How can employees who are afraid of getting in trouble for making a mistake or arriving to work three minutes late perform at their peak?
How can they perform at all?
Here are ten ways to build trust into your company’s or department’s culture.
You and your fellow managers may have to step out of your comfort zone to make these changes. You may have to step out of your comfort zone merely to suggest making these changes!
If you are filled with dread at the idea of suggesting to your higher-up managers that it might help your company if there were more trust on the team — and that it is possible to move in that direction, if your managers are willing to try it — then don’t do it.
Keep your mouth shut in that case, and look for a better job.
Ten Ways To Build Trust On Your Team
1. The first way to build trust in your organization is to talk about fear and trust as business topics. For many leaders, this is the hardest step to take. We have been trained not to talk about our fears. If there is a high level of fear in your organization already, employees may bite their lips rather than tell the truth about your toxic culture even when the topic appears on a meeting agenda.
If people know that speaking up will get them in trouble, they’ll be quiet or say “Our culture is perfect!” Actions speak louder than words. Your actions will build trust on your team far more than your words will. It may take time to get your employees to trust you, but that time is well spent.
If you want to gauge the fear-versus-trust level on your team, talk about culture at your next meeting. Invite your employees to share their thoughts. If it’s not a safe environment for people to contribute, then they won’t. Don’t blame them. See the sludge in your culture, and take steps to clean it out!
2. The second way to build trust in your organization is to step away from the philosophy of blaming and shaming employees for mistakes. Every mistake is a learning opportunity. If you track your employees’ mistakes but say nothing about their triumphs, you are begging for the best people to leave and only the most fearful ones to stay.
3. The third way to build trust in your culture is to review your employee handbook and policies. Most organizations have way too many picky rules and punishments embedded in their cultures by way of the employee handbook. Your employees are not wayward children. They are qualified, creative adults and value creators. Honor them, and don’t pester them with grade school rules. The typical employee handbook could shrink by 75% — and should.
4. The fourth way to build trust in your culture is to get your executives in front of employees as often as possible and in the most informal settings you can arrange. Tell your CEO and VPs to show up at department meetings so they can meet and mingle with your employees in every function. Get them out among the people who report to them.
If you are a CEO or VP and you’re not spending half your time with non-leadership employees, you are missing out. You are not connected to your team. Let people see you making decisions and leading your staff. Let them get a sense of you beyond your title and your bio. Why be a leader if you only lead through a closed office door?
5. The fifth way to build trust in your culture is to value your employees as people more than you value them as production units. You get to show how much you value your employees every day, in a thousand ways. When you make human decisions instead of mechanical ones based only on dollars and cents or “operational efficiency,” people notice.
6. The sixth way to build trust in your culture is to role model appropriate leadership and get your fellow leaders to do the same thing. Too many managers look at “the employees” as a bloc and seldom think about the individual people they supervise, or their needs or challenges. Real leaders are intently focused on the people who report to them and the energy on the team. Every leader can develop that same focus. You can support one another in the journey!
7. The seventh way to build trust in your culture is to admit when the company makes mistakes, or when you personally make a mistake.
8. The eighth way to build a trusting culture is to use a human voice in your communications with employees. Get rid of the terse, governmental jargon used too often in business communications, and address your employees as the brilliant human beings they are.
9. The ninth way to build trust in your culture is to ask your employees how they’re doing, what they think and what they’d like to see at work — all the time. Don’t do it through an anonymous survey. When you have to promise anonymity to get honest answers from your employees, you’ve already lost the war between fear and trust.
Ask your employees every day how they’re doing — face to face or on the phone. Every supervisor and every HR person can ask “How are you holding up? How are things going?” Of course, once you ask you have to take the feedback seriously. You have to listen, and if appropriate you have to act. That’s the biggest part of a manager’s or HR person’s job!
10. The tenth way to build trust in your company is to be honest with employees. The more visibility your employees can get into the future (and their own futures with your firm) the better. The more they know about the organization’s plans, priorities, challenges and opportunities the more in sync they will be with the leadership team.
The more that managers uphold their promises and commitments, the more trust your employees will have in you — of course.
There is no higher priority for any leadership team or individual leader than to build trust on his or her team. You can start right now!