As talent acquisition and human resources leaders, we know how important it is to create a culture of trust in the workplace. Transparency, flexibility, follow through, and relationship building can go a long way towards building employee trust in an organization, but developing trust with your executive leadership team is where that begins — and it can be a bigger challenge than it would have been before our entire country shut down due to COVID-19.
After more than 18 months of turmoil due to a global pandemic, a vaccine rollout and resurgence of new cases from the COVID-19 Delta variant, the housing market, chaos in global markets and an uncertain economy, the talent marketplace has shifted dramatically. Hiring across all industries is challenging, company leadership has raised expectations of human resources and recruiting, and — in some cases — executive teams are putting HR and recruiting front and center to bring in and keep the talent needed to meet strategic goals.
How Trust Impacts Company Culture and Retention
The biggest stumbling block? Company culture, and specifically, trust in employers. According to the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer (PDF), public trust in government has significantly eroded in the U.S. and business is now trusted more than the government in 18 of the countries surveyed. It also found that business was the only institution to be considered both competent and ethical, which Edelman credits to rapid vaccine distribution and the pivot to new ways of working.
However, fewer people said they trust CEOs in this survey than in the last. While 59% of people said they trust business to do the right thing, that number is three points lower than it was in May. In addition, only 46% of people said that business is meeting their overall expectations in how it is responding to COVID-19.
Employees who have trust in their employer are far more likely to engage in beneficial actions on their behalf — they will advocate for the organization (a 39-point trust advantage), are more engaged (33 points), and remain far more loyal (38 points) and committed (31 points) than their counterparts. In addition, 71 percent of employees believe it’s critically important for “my CEO” to respond to challenging times. More than three-quarters (76 percent) of the general population concur — they say they want CEOs to take the lead on change instead of waiting for the government to impose it.
A Culture of Trust Begins at the Top of the Org Chart
In any organization, regardless of its size, a culture of trust has to start at the top and trickle down throughout the company. This means that, in order to build trust into your workplace culture, you and your team must have reciprocal trust with your company leadership. Once your leadership team has put the time and effort into building trust at the top of the organization, they will be able to instill that trust throughout the rest of the business.
Think of your executive suite as a team built by your CEO. How the team functions is a result of how the CEO manages and develops the team. While this starts with having the right people on the team, who is on the team matters less than how they interact with each other, structure their work, and perceive their team members. How they work and think together is critical.
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High-performing teams thrive in an environment where team members know they can be themselves, take risks and make mistakes and they won’t get penalized by the other members of the team.
In 2015, Google conducted a two-year study and concluded that high-performing teams have five specific traits:
- Psychological safety: The willingness to take risks without feeling insecure or embarrassed.
- Dependability: Delivering high-quality work on time.
- Structure and clarity: Clarity of goals, roles, and execution plans.
- Meaning of work: The purpose of their work is important to team members.
- Impact of work: Making a positive difference on the lives of others.
Of the five traits, psychological safety was ranked as the most important. In general, individuals on teams that score highly in psychological safety are less likely to disengage and feel demotivated and more likely to embrace diverse ideas and bring in more revenue.
Organizational behavioral scientist Amy Edmondson of Harvard first introduced the construct of “team psychological safety” and defined it as “a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking.” Taking a risk around your team members may sound simple. But asking a basic question like “what’s the goal of this project?” may make you sound like you’re out of the loop. It might feel easier to continue without getting clarification in order to avoid being perceived as ignorant.
To measure a team’s level of psychological safety, Edmondson asked team members how strongly they agreed or disagreed with these statements:
- If you make a mistake on this team, it is often held against you.
- Members of this team are able to bring up problems and tough issues.
- People on this team sometimes reject others for being different.
- It is safe to take a risk on this team.
- It is difficult to ask other members of this team for help.
- No one on this team would deliberately act in a way that undermines my efforts.
- Working with members of this team, my unique skills and talents are valued and utilized.
How to Foster Psychological Safety in a Team
In her TEDx talk, Edmondson offers three simple things individuals can do to foster team psychological safety:
- Frame the work as a learning problem, not an execution problem.
- Acknowledge your own fallibility.
- Model curiosity and ask lots of questions.
Using these tools to build trust between HR and TA leaders and the executive leadership team is like having a mini ecosystem within your organization – one that can be applied to your entire workforce as HR and company leadership model the behaviors in which trust becomes part of your organizational structure and culture.
Continue with part 2 of our guide.