What is organizational trust (and how to build it)?

6 min read

“The secret to any high-performing team is trust.” This may seem like a no-brainer, but trust is easy to take for granted—especially organizational trust. No matter how great your business strategy, you won’t get far if your employees lack faith in the organization and its future.

Especially now, as you adapt to COVID-19 and remote work, organizational trust is critical to navigating each day. In this blog, we’ll explore the underlying drivers of trust in the workplace, including:

Use the following information to mobilize and motivate your employees. That way, you can tackle today’s challenges at full strength.

What is organizational trust?

It’s easy to envision trust at the team level. You trust your employee to get this task done by this date. You can count on a manager to provide feedback, or a peer to help out with a deliverable. But organizational trust is broader, and arguably harder to define.

At its simplest, organizational trust is the confidence of your workforce in the actions of your company. While this may include confidence in managers or individual team members, it also extends to organizational factors like:

  • The company’s mission
  • Senior leadership’s vision
  • The organization’s culture and values
  • Workplace diversity, inclusion, and equality
  • Ethics and fairness of processes

Not all characteristics of trust manifest with the same frequency. After all, you likely won’t question your trust in senior leadership as often as you evaluate your team’s ability to hit a deadline. But that doesn’t mean the former’s any less important than the latter.

If anything, organizational trust means having confidence in both your short- and long-term future. After all, if an employee isn’t content with their manager or team, they may not last the year. But if they’re not confident in the organization itself, they likely won’t stick around, either. And they almost certainly won’t put in max effort while they’re there.

The more you can do to boost confidence in all aspects of the employee experience, the more tightly knit your organization will be.

Why is organizational trust important?

Picture a low-trust team: Team members lack confidence in one another. They don’t believe in their leaders, or even their company’s mission. It’s easy to imagine how this distrust could impact their own job satisfaction—and performance.

But you needn’t imagine; the importance of trust is backed by research. Studies have shown there’s a positive relationship between organizational trust and organizational performance. Employees who trust their co-workers and believe in senior leadership are more likely to outperform those who don’t.

Organizational trust has also been linked to reduced conflict and greater innovation. After all, when employees confide in others, rather than combat them, they’re more inclined to speak candidly. And this can be a huge boon to companies that reward risk-taking and quick decision-making.

As mentioned, though, COVID-19 has thrown a wrench into this equation. Many companies were forced to adapt their strategy while going entirely remote. Amid such change and uncertainty, most people have less confidence in their company’s strategy now than they did before the pandemic.

Now more than ever, business success hinges on organizational trust. Sure, you may have a strong post-COVID plan, but what good is it if your people don’t buy into it? Only by building trust at all levels of the organization can you truly embrace and adapt to change.

PI employees doing a trust building exercise

How to build organizational trust

When looking to build trust, one of the first steps is to assess your organizational culture. Does your company foster a culture of trust, honesty, and inclusion? If not, look for ways to encourage behaviors and reward actions that help accomplish this goal.

Your company values are a great vehicle for this. By defining the values every employee should strive to uphold, you create clear guidelines for the work to be done. This helps eliminate uncertainty—while creating a strong sense of purpose.

Of course, culture change takes time. As you build trust from the top down, also look to build it from the bottom up. In remote times, that means providing leaders with ample resources to support their teams, including:

Perhaps most importantly, you’ll want to help managers develop their emotional intelligence. When face-to-face interaction is so limited, it’s easy to manage all employees identically. But not all employees enjoy being managed the same way!

In the 2020 Report: The Impact of Behavioral Drives in a Remote Workplace, we surveyed 220 professionals on how they perceive remote work. The results revealed a clear relationship between certain personality types and remote work preferences.

Tailoring one’s leadership style to account for different behavioral needs is key to trust building. By showing up for your employees, your employees will show up for you. Not only will this manifest in increased employee engagement, but also greater confidence.

The Predictive Index 2020 Report: The Impact of Behavioral Drives in a Remote Workplace

How to measure organizational trust

Organizational trust, like team or employee trust, is difficult to measure. For one, trust ebbs and flows from day to day. Secondly, it’s tough to quantify a given level of trust—or calculate the impact of a lack of trust.

However, you can measure the byproduct of trust: employee engagement. Using a tool like the PI Employee Experience Survey™, you’ll gain insight into the four drivers of engagement: job fit, manager fit, team fit, and organizational fit. 

By viewing the survey results, you can diagnose issues that are impacting engagement. For example, you may find certain teams or departments have lower engagement than others. By taking action on employee feedback, you’ll also take steps to build trust. 

It’s essential to collect engagement data regularly. Only by keeping a pulse on your organization and people can you ensure your culture is moving in the right direction.

Improve organizational effectiveness with these tips.

Trust can’t be bought—only earned. And this takes time. But the better you understand the role of trust in your organization, the easier it becomes to make meaningful changes.

Remember that trust isn’t the sole responsibility of HR or People Ops. It takes action at all levels, from senior leaders down to individual contributors, to foster a culture of trust, honesty, and inclusion.

Controller

Will is the talent design manager at PI.

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