8 Ways to Build Trust in Uncertain Times

Updated on March 27, 2023
Patrick Sweeney

Is trust on its way to becoming an endangered species? With an ever-changing healthcare industry—and uncertainty being the name of the game—it’s no wonder that less than half of employees have trust and confidence in their senior leaders, according to a Watson Wyatt survey of 12,000 workers.

But while this distrust may be understandable, it can be very detrimental to success. Without trust, employees are less productive, less dedicated and less willing to take the initiative. Here are some ways to build employee confidence and become more successful in difficult times.

1. We’re in this together

Always speak in terms of “us” and “we.” Talk about shared responsibility as well as shared hardships. If you’ve gone through layoffs or pay freezes, be honest about how difficult this is for everyone and address the fears most people will have about what happens next. Express belief, as long as it’s sincere, in everyone’s ability to pull together and meet the challenges that lie ahead. Give people permission to whine briefly about some of the struggles and the crises, but after you have communicated openly, ask them to move on so you can all focus on bringing in revenue and servicing customers. The manager/leader – employee relationship is one that matters now, more than ever.

2. Share the plan

Outline the challenges that exist and share the strategy for the how the company will address them. Employees are looking to leadership for a plan and guidance. They want to know things have been thought through and real steps are being taken to remain competitive and move forward. Leaders must not become overly focused on what they don’t have. They should focus on their teams and what strengths their teams bring. Real leadership wisdom comes from knowing your team—and using that information to create a clear plan.

3. Tell the whole truth, and nothing but the truth

Communicate often. Don’t withhold information or try to sugar coat the issues. Share the things you know for sure and be honest when you’re uncertain. People may not like what they’re hearing, but when they know they have full disclosure, they don’t need to spend energy wondering where things stand, imagining worst-case scenarios or feeding the rumor mill until an “us against them” mentality evolves.

4. Balance hardware with human

Don’t leave everything to email or other electronic communication. Conduct more face-to-face talks and be sure the leadership team is visible. Walk around more; get a handle on the pulse of the organization. The more aware you are of potential trust issues, the quicker you can step in and address them with candor, concern and credibility.

5. Hold employees accountable

High trust companies reward top performers while also holding poor performers accountable through discipline, and even termination. If stellar employees see unproductive co-workers getting away with poor performance with no real consequences, resentment and distrust in leadership can build quickly.

6. Let people talk about their concerns and ideas—and listen.

To get honest feedback, try conducting attitude surveys. These can help you determine if, and why, trust is low. Use survey results to sit down with employees and delve deeper into why trust is lacking and what could be done to improve it. Get specific employee input for improving the work climate and make constructive changes with the suggestions you receive.

7. Remind people of goals—and the part they each play in achieving them.

Companies with high levels of trust are very effective at communicating the company’s business goals and the part each employee plays in achieving them. When people understand why certain decisions are made and feel that their roles are vital in helping the company achieve success, they take more ownership and pride in what they’re doing.

8. Leadership needs to show they trust employees

Be sure to talk about the strengths of your organization and how it is the combined effort of the employees that have brought everyone this far. Let them know you believe in their abilities and appreciate their loyalty. And avoid creating an environment where employees feel that “big brother is watching.” Nothing breeds distrust like distrust.

Patrick Sweeney is the president of Caliper, an international management consulting firm that consults with executives on hiring, employee development, team building, executive coaching, succession planning and organizational performance. He can be reached at [email protected] or at 609-524-1200. For more information on Caliper visit www.calipercorp.com.

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