Want More Engaged Employees? Build More Trust

Noelle Ihli

Takeaways from Stephen Covey’s Bestseller The Speed of Trust

Trust is the foundation of any productive relationship, whether personal or professional. In the workplace, trust is particularly critical because it directly impacts employee engagement, productivity, and overall team performance. For example, according to Great Place to Work Institute research, employees who trust their leaders are 14 times more engaged than those who don't. 

In his book The Speed of Trust, Stephen Covey argues that trust is not just a "soft" skill but a "hard" necessity that all organizations should prioritize. 

Keep reading to learn the building blocks of trust, explore why it is essential for creating engaged employees, and discover how to build trust with your team.

Credibility: The First Building-Block of Trust

Covey calls credibility “the first building block of trust” and defines it as a combination of character and competence. 

Character encompasses integrity, intent, and honesty, while competence refers to capabilities, skills, and results. To be credible as a leader, you must cultivate both character and competence. Covey says, "You will never have more trust than credibility."

When credibility is high, employees feel safer and more willing to buy into the leader’s vision. On the other hand, leaders who lose credibility can expect skepticism, disconnection from employees, and reluctance to invest in their goals.  

Behavior: The Second Building-Block of Trust

As the second building block of trust, behavior encompasses how a person interacts with others. It’s credibility in action! For example, the behavior might be demonstrating respect, being transparent about hurdles and setbacks, offering constructive criticism and praise when warranted, and keeping commitments. 

The more consistently you demonstrate positive behavior, the more readily your employees will show their own. Ultimately, the two building blocks of trust work together to cultivate strong relationships. The bonds of trust you build are an outgrowth of who you are (credibility) and what you do (behavior). 

How Trust Fuels Employee Engagement

High-trust organizations are high-engagement—and high-profit—organizations. According to research by The Great Place to Work Institute, high-trust companies are measurably more productive, profitable, and innovative. That’s because engaged employees who trust their leaders are 17% more productive, sell 20% more, and create 21% more profit than their less-engaged counterparts.

Why the correlation between trust and engagement? When employees trust their leaders and colleagues, they feel more comfortable sharing ideas and opinions, asking for help, and taking risks. In addition, this behavior fosters a more collaborative, creative work environment where people feel empowered to contribute to the organization's success.

Trust also reduces stress and anxiety in the workplace. When employees trust that their leaders act with integrity and have their best interests in mind, they are less likely to worry about their jobs or the organization's future. This confidence helps build a more positive, productive work environment.

The Cost of Low Trust: Uber

The ride-sharing company Uber had a culture of low trust that led to the resignation of its CEO, Travis Kalanick. According to an investigation by former US Attorney General Eric Holder, Uber's culture was marked by "fear and retaliation," where employees felt unsupported and undervalued. As a result, morale was low, turnover high, and the company’s reputation and bottom line suffered.

The Rewards of High Trust: Patagonia

Patagonia, an outdoor apparel company known for its commitment to sustainability, starkly contrasts Uber's approach to trust. Patagonia has consistently ranked as one of the best places to work in the United States, creating a culture of transparency, accountability, and social responsibility. 

The company's leadership has built trust by encouraging employees to openly voice their opinions and concerns, resulting in higher morale, less turnover, and a stronger sense of community and collaboration among employees. In addition, Patagonia's focus on credibility and ethical practices has also resonated with customers, leading to strong brand loyalty. Overall, Patagonia's high-trust culture has been a critical factor in its success as a business and a desirable workplace that retains high-quality employees.

How to Build More Trust with Your Employees

Building trust with your team members is an ongoing, active process. Like all habits, it will take time to establish new patterns. Remember, you’re building a relationship—not pressing buttons on a vending machine. 

The following are some of the most effective ways of building trust with your employees, one step at a time:

  1. Be transparent: Communicate openly and honestly with your team. Share your goals and challenges, and be willing to listen to their feedback.
  2. Keep your promises: Make good on your commitments and be accountable for your actions. If you make a mistake, own up to it and take responsibility.
  3. Show empathy: Show that you care about your team members as individuals, not just as workers. Be understanding of their personal and professional challenges and offer support when needed.
  4. Encourage connection and collaboration: Trust grows when employees feel a sense of safety and belonging with each other on a personal and professional level. Look for opportunities to connect with your team members.

Reflect and Act

Take a moment to think about a manager or leader in your organization who exemplifies credibility and behavior that builds trust. Then, shout them out on Twitter using #SpeedofTrust and tell us one way that person helps foster trust in your workplace!

About the author

Noelle is a content creator, author, and editor. She lives in Idaho with her husband, two sons, and two cats. When she's not writing, she's either reading a good book or scaring herself with true-crime documentaries.

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