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The Importance of Organizational Trust and Vulnerability

by Chris Young

In 2008, the Institute for Corporate Productivity (I4CP) and HR.com conducted a revealing survey on the lack of trust in the workplace. The results of this survey suggest that organizational trust is sorely lacking in many organizations.

What is possible if your organization improved trust?

Here are a few highlights from the survey:

  • 20% of respondents don't feel that their organizations value trust.
  • 40% feel that trust is only nurtured to a moderate extent.
  • There is a definite correlation between trust and organizational performance.
    • Only 16% of respondents from high-performing organizations report that trust is not being nurtured.
    • On the other hand, 40% of respondents from low-performing companies feel that trust is not being nurtured.
  • 87% (that's 7 out of 8) organizations do not have training programs and systems in place to help build trust internally.

Trust is incredibly important to a management team's credibility. Without trust there cannot be credibility. Without credibility personal accountability and results suffer.

The most important thing to remember about trust is that it built (and destroyed) from the top down. Have you heard the expression "a fish stinks from the head down"?p This fits perfectly here. If there is an absence of trust among members of an organization's top management team, there will invariably be trust issues further down the organizational chart. Ultimately these issues reach frontline workers and the Customers they serve.

The end result? A diminished Customer Experience, missed opportunities, higher employee turnover and disengagement, the loss of Customers and revenue, and dissapointing bottom line results.

Kind of scary isn't it?

One thing I've found in working with a number of management teams in a variety of different organizations and industries is that trust is the foundation to any effective team. Without trust a management team will never reach its full potential and bring out the best in those they lead.

By this point, I think I've made the importance of trust pretty clear. The more important issue is how to build trust within a team and within an organization.

What I've found in my experiences is that an absence of trust is almost always the result of team members and employees who are reluctant to appear vulnerable to one another.

It's really quite natural. We all put on our "game face" at work and do our best to highlight our strengths while downplaying our weaknesses. Inter-organizational competition for promotions and prized assignments can be fierce at times and showing vulnerability is seen by many as a surefire way to fall behind the pack and miss out on career advancement opportunities.p Furthermore...p

Despite our natural reluctance to being vulnerable to others, it is critically important that we do exactly that if we wish to engender trust in our teams and in our organization. The strongest forms of trust are built when one allows themselves to become vulnerable to others who in turn do not exploit this vulnerability, but embrace it and help one another to overcome their weaknesses.

pThink about your family's dog (or a friend's dog if you're a cat person) … Dogs display vulnerability by exposing their underbelly and allowing themselves to be put in the vulnerable position of being placed on their back. What a dog is really demonstrating when it stretches out on its back and allows you to pet its stomach is that it trusts you and doesn't expect you exploit its defenselessness.

So how can we build trust by becoming more vulnerable to others? Here are a few suggestions that we have found work well:

  • Build Interpersonal Awareness - When we become aware of how our team members communicate, we improve our interpersonal awareness and therefore build trust.
  • Share our weaknesses with others – This doesn't need to be a comprehensive list, but acknowledging our weaknesses demonstrates vulnerability and ensures others that we have too our flaws and "are all human."
  • Open up our personal lives to those we work with – This does not mean one has to share every personal detail (please don't), but I've worked with teams whose members do not even know where each other are from, their marital status, how many children they have etc. Sharing basic biographical information can do wonders to open the lines of communication and uncover common ground between team members.
  • Admit when we are wrong – This can be difficult, but is absolutely essential to building trust.
  • Encourage interdependence – When we must rely on others to help achieve desired results, we are forced to become vulnerable. When we lack total control over a situation and rely on others to perform trust can be built.

Without vulnerability there cannot be trust. It sounds too simple to be true, but all trust is built upon a foundation of individuals willing to appear vulnerable to each other.

What is holding your team back?p Is trust an issue in your organization or management team? Could your reluctance to be seen as vulnerable be hurting the level of trust in your organization and subsequently damaging your Customer Experience?

It is not always easy, but opening yourself up and becoming vulnerable to those you work with is a great way to foster trust in your organization.

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