How to create a culture of trust within an organization
This company (anonymous) is a provider of business process outsourcing services to the federal government.
This organization had the same sickness as most firms - employees were afraid to speak up. In some cases, there was no reason to be afraid, other than human nature. In other cases, employees knew they'd be punished for speaking up. This organization needed a way to fix it.
I served as a senior executive in this firm. One day when we had a company happy hour, Joe, one of my direct reports had too many drinks. He decided to speak up and challenged something I did. The next day he called me in the morning to apologize. I responded, however, that there was nothing to apologize for and thanked him for giving me feedback that would make me a better leader.
Later in the day I had a meeting with my senior staff. I told them that Joe gave me some great feedback on how I can improve myself and I was going to take Joe to lunch to thank him for that. I then announced that I'll take anyone to lunch who will give me any such feedback in the future, starting today. Everyone laughed. One person decided to carefully test the waters and somewhat jokingly said: "Here's one for you. You are forgetful sometimes. Just kidding."
I took advantage of that comment. I thanked him for giving it to me and offered to take him to lunch that day. He then changed the subject.
When it was time for lunch, I called him and offered to take him. He thought I was joking but agreed to join me. I took him to lunch and paid for it. When I put my card down, he finally realized I wasn't joking when he said: "Oh, I thought it was a joke..."
I confirmed to him that I was serious.
Later in the day, I received a phone call from another one of my reports who gave me some great feedback. I immediately scheduled lunch with him as well.
I followed up on my promise in several ways. First, I took everyone to lunch if they gave me feedback. Then, I came up with a plan on how I was going to deal with the problem (or the perception thereof). I presented it to the person that gave me feedback. I then executed the plan and made sure everyone was aware of it. I then thanked the person again for providing me with this feedback.
After a while, people saw that I was serious, I didn't punish people for any sort of feedback, I always thanked them and I did something about it.
Once people trusted me, I asked my staff to do the same with their people. This created a culture of trust in the organization. People became open with each other. No one was afraid to speak their mind. In fact, the opposite was true. The more you speak your mind, the more free lunches you will get.
People couldn't talk candidly even to their peers. Managers didn't know what their employees thought or wanted, or how they should be motivated. There was no culture of performance. Leader's awareness was close to zero. Leadership skills were mediocre.
A culture of 100% free communication. Employees could openly discuss issues with managers. Managers became leaders, and leaders became superleaders. Communications and performance improved. Leadership awareness became high. Politics and gossip disappeared. The level of trust in leadership became high. The level of personal accountability increased as well.
If you want to create a culture of trust (that also brings all the other benefits with it), do the following:
1. Show that you care
2. Reward free communications
3. Show that you are serious
4. Execute. Follow up. Do as you promise.
5. Constantly communicate.
me (Matt Shlosberg)