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Trust me

You need to earn it, keep it for healthy organization

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I recently experienced that frequent traveller's struggle of sorting through all my expenses and ensuring I abide by our established travel and accommodation policies. At the same time, I just happened upon a Canadian survey of 1,076 travellers that suggested I wasn't alone with my dilemma. For instance, the survey suggested that almost 15 per cent of travellers have trouble remembering to obtain their travel and accommodation receipts while five per cent struggle to abide by their employer's policies.

For a moment, I had a little bit of sympathy for Sen. Mike Duffy whose travel-gate and accommodation scandal is continuing to hog public attention. Yes, expense rules can be confusing and the paperwork is a nuisance but the whole purpose of rules and/or policies in any organization is to establish and maintain accountability and trust. In case we have forgotten, the magic word is transparency.

Trust is a very powerful concept; it's how we make business and personal decisions every day. It's all about how we operate our lives and our organizations yet at the same time, how we operate creates trust in the first place. Also, because trust is a personal perception, it literally resides in the heads of individuals who in turn must be influenced to accept a positive perspective. In other words, trust must be earned and can take a long time to develop.

Trust is also fleeting in that one single blow from perceived wrongdoing can wipe a positive slate clean and create unwanted chaos. Then, once trust has been destroyed, it's difficult to regain, if ever. That's why we see corporations and governments alike responding instantaneously to any crisis that might arise. They simply cannot afford to lose the public trust.

Steven Covey in his work states that when trust is low, it places a "hidden tax" on every communication, every interaction, every strategy and every decision. High trust on the other hand, in his view, acts as a "dividend" and a performance multiplier. In other words, organizational trust is a "live or die" concept.

However, if trust plays such a key role in building and sustaining healthy organizations, then what does a leader need to do to establish and maintain a corporate culture of trusting relationships? What do leaders need to do to make certain that trust flourishes at every level?

The following seven tips will go a long way to ensuring that an unexpected "Duff ball" won't be thrown into your court:

Engage employees -- if employees are to be driven by an organization's culture and values, then it's imperative they are more than bystanders who learn about values after the fact. Conduct departmental work sessions; invite employees to provide input into describing what they perceive is a healthy culture. Design a top down facilitation process so that everyone is involved in creating the description of values and culture. Without employee buy-in, accountability and trust will fall by the wayside.

Make accountability a priority -- define what accountability looks like in your organization and make sure it goes far beyond the annual performance appraisal process. Teach your managers to followup and follow-through by establishing work plans that outline activities, responsibilities and completion dates. Provide supports as needed and then hold timely and regular meetings with employees to discuss results.

Admit to mistakes -- let's face it, no one is perfect; we all make mistakes. Then why is it so common for people to deny their mistake and/or create an elaborate excuse? Deny, deny, deny might have been an old-time favourite public relations strategy but it doesn't work anymore. Trust is where it's at and trust is being demanded by our employees, our stakeholders, our customers and our public. Accept your mistake, apologize and set a process in place that will redirect you to the right course of action.

Train for self-management -- in today's age of teamwork, independence and autonomy, every employee must take more individual responsibility for their personal contribution to success. Help employees see how their work fits into the big picture. Provide extensive training on topics such as understanding self and others, effective conflict management as well as problem solving and decision making so that employees have the confidence to fully carry out their responsibilities.

Ongoing communication -- open and honest communication between leaders, employees and other stakeholders is critical to developing a culture of trust and integrity. Frequent communication builds credibility, creates a sense of the future and facilitates leader followership. Then, should trouble arise, the voices of leadership will be better heard, understood and believed.

Giving and getting -- one of the sure means of creating distrust occurs when a leader exhibits and an over-the-top sense of personal entitlement. They are takers rather than givers, individuals who fail to understand the connection their own behaviour and their influence has on others. Their motto appears to be "do as I say, not do as I do." Trust is built by leaders who focus on business goals and developing others before concentrating on themselves.

Recruit and hire for personal character -- ethics, trust, and credibility are all intricately integrated with the character side of individuals. This puts a great deal more pressure on the importance of recruiting and selecting leaders with strong character elements. Be sure to apply psychometric assessment tools such as the MERIT profile to assess elements of character important to leadership success in your organization.

Duffy's recent travel-gate and accommodation misadventure unfortunately adds another name to the long list of individuals whose trust has been severely eroded. However, it also demonstrates how sensitive our stakeholders are and how closely employees, key stakeholders and the general public are watching and scrutinizing our organizational leaders.

Trust is a powerful "live or die" concept where first and foremost, leaders need to instill a culture of trust by first living it themselves, 24/7, 365 days of the year.

Source: Tracking Expenses a Turbulent Endeavour, HR Reporter, January 16, 2011; How the Best Leaders Build Trust, Steven Covey, Leadership Now, 2009.

Barbara J. Bowes is president of Legacy Bowes Group. She can be reached at

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 25, 2013 H1

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