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Trust In The Workplace: What Does It Mean To You?

Trust is both a cause and an effect of company culture. The trust we have in each other informs how we operate, and the way we operate encourages trust. A chat with Yammer CTO and co-founder Adam Pisoni a few months ago got me thinking about trust in the context of organizational dynamics.  Adam said something that stuck with me: bureaucracy exists where trust doesn’t; excessive process and overhead exist because people don’t trust each other to do what’s right and what’s needed.  John Hagel, co-chairman of Center for the Edge, echoes that trust is necessary for transfer of tacit knowledge, in an age where the flow of information is the competitive advantage. Fortunately, social tools make us more human, transparent and accessible, helping build trust.

Whether consciously or unconsciously, we make personal and business decisions based on trust daily.  But what determines whom we trust? How can we create the conditions where trust can flourish? In search of the answer, I asked a few Yammer colleagues and customers what trust meant to them. Here’s what they said:

What does trust in the workplace mean to you?

Matt Ontell, Customer Success Manager, Yammer: It allows me to focus on my job, without second-guessing what others are doing. Trust helps avoid or eliminate bureaucracy, unnecessary process, and excessive oversight that can both inhibit innovation and slow progress. It is by building trust that organizations can create high performing teams.

Marco Rogers, Senior Software Engineer, Yammer: To me, trust means working with a team of people who understand the goals of their company and their roles. Everyone works hard to fill those roles effectively because they know that if everyone is aligned, everyone succeeds. This includes not only knowing your role, but also how it connects to the roles of others. Trust in the workplace boils down internalizing the idea that a company is a team of interconnected people that have to move together to be most effective, rather than islands of individuals jockeying for position.

Phoebe Venkat, Director, Digital and Social Media, ADT: To me, trust means trusting your colleagues and yourself — to do the right thing for the business, for ourselves, for our communities, etc. I earn trust by being transparent, direct and honest. I also make it a point to take immediate accountability for anything that’s NOT going right — admitting faults and mistakes endears you to others as we all make mistakes and people naturally feel more comfortable about those that aren’t behind a “perfect” facade.

Miguel Garcia, Customer Success Manager, Yammer: Trust in the workplace is freedom and encouragement to put your imagination, creativity, and passion to work. Before arriving to Yammer I worked in a lot of places that micromanaged and were never confident in letting employees run with new ideas. They wanted to play it safe and scrutinized everyone wanting to take a path less trodden. At Yammer, I was given a wealth of trust from day one. Being trusted actually makes you more aware and responsible. Relationships with your colleagues become much stronger, as does your dedication to the company.

Ferdinand Velasco, CMIO, Texas Health Resources: Trust is critical to ensuring success in an organization. Several useful concepts are presented in Stephen M. R. Covey’s book series. He uses the metaphors of taxes and dividends to describe the result of distrust and trust, respectively. Lack of trust leads to bureaucracy, which is a tax. Organizations with low trust are characterized by “office politics”: withholding information, infighting, hidden agendas, endless meetings, etc. In contrast, the dividends generated by a high trust environment foster effective collaboration and innovation, improve employee engagement and retention, and accelerate the creation of value.

Daniel Brunt, Customer Success Manager, Yammer: When an organization’s leadership trusts its employees to collaborate openly with one another, it provides each employee an entrepreneurial position within the organization. This is not just smart business; it also deepens employees’ connections to their individual contributions. The organization benefits significantly as these contributions drive larger initiatives.

Steve Nguyen, Customer Success Manager, Yammer: For me, trust is formed through actions. Do you do what you say you’re going to do? Are your actions consistent with the values you’ve communicated are important? If people are able to consistently demonstrate actions that align with the values they’ve committed to, then trust is born.

How does trusting your teammates help you do your job?

Marco Rogers: Most important projects take more than one person to accomplish. While the urge is strong to do a lot yourself, trusting your coworkers is about letting go of that urge. Many important tasks require multiple people’s effort, and oftentimes you must rely on other people to accomplish their tasks for you to complete yours. This creates a lot of stress in most workplaces, because you have limited visibility. Sure, hierarchies were created to force compliance, but compliance will only get you so far. Dan Pink highlights autonomy as a key motivator; autonomy is only possible where there is trust.

For the nonbelievers, Stephen Covey makes a business case for trust:

  • Individuals who trust each other don’t expend as much of their time and energy watching their backs. They often redirect that energy towards productivity and innovation for the company.
  • When individuals are given the trust to execute, they are more likely to become engaged with company and align more with its mission. A team with high trust motivates its members t retain that trust through excellence.
  • Managers who don’t trust their reports spend a lot of time on processes, reviews and sanctions. Employees respond to this stifling environment with apathy and reduced productivity. In environments of trust, managers can instead spend their time finding and clearing roadblocks from their team, inspiring employees to share more and work together to identify and solve pain points.

Can you screen for trust in an interview?

Marco Rogers: You can gauge trust by seeing how the candidate reacts to subjective scenarios that play out differently depending on the level of trust involved. One thing we talk about in engineering is how people react when another person changes your code without telling you. While it’s a common occurrence at Yammer — and not cause for alarm – in many other places, people guard their codebases and their own code very closely. The expectation is that if someone changes your code, it’s because you messed up or it’s not good enough. When the team is built on trust, everyone knows that nobody owns the code, and most code changes over time because the product has to evolve. Another important factor is whether the candidate’s motivations align with the company vision. For engineering, we try to determine if the candidate wants to build a great product, or if they are in it for the sake of technology alone.

It’s easy to develop trust with people you work with daily — but what about people you don’t know?

Marco Rogers: This speaks to the idea of company culture. Here at Yammer, I’m still amazed at how we’ve managed to create a culture of trust and transparency. I’m able to take at face value colleagues I’ve never met and deal with them honestly. I expect them to work with me to produce the best outcome. Information flows more freely, and any rising tension is viewed as something to be rooted out and squashed.

What can you do to help engender trust?

Matt Ontell: For me, it always comes down to how people handle failure. When people trust each other, the focus is on minimizing damage and getting back to work. The involved parties take responsibility with little prompting, and they adjust so that everyone can see how the problem will be avoided in the future. When people don’t trust each other, it’s about assigning blame and creating more process overhead to prevent recurrences.

A big reason why people are afraid to fail and show vulnerability is the idea of having to “save face”. Marco notes: “Publicly taking responsibility for my part in any issues helps other people feel more inclined to take their part, until everyone realizes that it doesn’t pay to blame anybody. It’s more important to move forward together.”

Marco Rogers: Personally, I try to be mindful of unintended interactions that breed distrust. Resetting these expectations can surface miscommunications and conflicting goals, taking the pressure off the individuals. When either party is not confident in another’s skill or competence, there’s little room for trust. Teams, where members trust each other to execute, are inherently productivity. It doesn’t mean everybody has to be at the same level, but everyone should be well suited to the roles they’re expected to play. While our hiring process is geared towards people meeting a minimum bar of skill, we also aren’t afraid to move people around to the roles where they are most effective.

Matt Ontell: It’s helpful to consider trust as you would a bank account. When our balance is positive, others trust us, when negative, they don’t. Some ideas for making “trust deposits”:

  • DWYSYWD – Do what you say you will do and don’t overcommit.
  • Be genuinely curious and LISTEN – We don’t trust others who we don’t feel listen or understand us.
  • Be honest – When others know your feedback focuses on attaining the same goal, they’ll trust you to not spin or sugarcoat.
  • Don’t engage in gossip – The fastest way to convince others that you can’t be trusted is to tell them, “I shouldn’t be saying this but…”
  • Work transparently – This enables others to understand your motivations and your thinking, as well as contribute and add their input when appropriate.

David Jarivs, Online Director, Specialist Holidays: Trust is not just about doing the job; it is about how the job is done and the confidence you build in others in trusting you to do the job. If you erode that confidence by trying to do the job in ways that people around you don’t understand, then that tends to create problems. You must recognize that some can cope with ambiguity and/or a drip feed of information, whereas others need the full story from A-Z explained is another learning.

Back to you reader… What does trust mean to you? How has trust helped you do your job, or perhaps how has lack of trust hindered you?

Photo source: Jean-Francois Chenier