Trust and Engagement

In many ways, saying that trust is important is stating the bleeding obvious – but is it?

Employee engagement is one of the top priorities for many businesses today yet the activity that will rapidly and sustainably cause dis-engagement – violating trust – happens all too often.

Violation of trust is also at the heart of why a lot of people are cynical about governments and big business too, and now we can add cycling champions to the list. So what is going on?

My theory is that people are asleep and not at all related to their word. Years ago the term ‘man of his word’ meant something. If you said you would do something, you honored what you said and you delivered. It seems that somewhere along the line we lost our way.

Somewhere it became about appearing sincere and trustworthy rather than actually being sincere and trustworthy. Watching the recent debates in the US between Romney and Obama was like watching a competition to see who could make statements with more authority and sincerity. Politicians obviously worked out a long time ago that it doesn’t matter what you say, it’s how you say it that will get you the gig.

Those businesses that are concerned about engaged employees should put their attention on where the violations of trust happen. You can have all the staff parties and engagement surveys and plans in the world but if you’re going to continue to violate trust its all wasted effort.

A violation of trust can happen at any time and in a nano-second – when you discipline an employee for doing something wrong that you haven’t trained them to do right; when you say the meeting starts at 10 but you don’t turn up until 5 past; when you say you’ll get back to someone in 2 minutes and they don’t hear from you for 2 days!

Being your word takes being awake. You need to be awake to be vigilant about what you say and where you keep what you say alive for yourself so that it doesn’t disappear. You need to be awake to see the impact your words and actions are having on others. You need to be awake to be able to intervene with your own behavior when you are stressed, pressured or threatened and more likely to respond in ways that leave others mistrusting you.

Companies that have stated their corporate values are especially at risk because they set very high expectations with their employees. Every time a leader does something that is contrary to the company values it drives a wedge in the employee-company relationship.

When trust is there, challenges and difficulties can be dealt with rapidly and successfully. When its not there, life and work gets very complicated.

The answer to employee engagement is simple – TRUST.

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