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How To Build A High Trust Organization

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Trust is only as strong as its weakest link, and in a multi-billion dollar organization, that lack of trust could run deep.

An untrusting environment may manifest itself in small ways not immediately relevant to the bottom line, but in the long run it can be costly in terms of productivity and employee turnover.

What’s more, internal trust is not the same as the trust your organization shares with your customers and stakeholders, but take FordhamUniversity Prof. of Management Dr. Robert F. Hurley’s word for it, “If you have trust within your company but it doesn’t extend to external stakeholder trust, that’s not very trusting.”

In our show “Building a High Trust Organization,” Dr. Hurley and Dr. Frank Sirianni, the VP and CIO also of Fordham University, boil down some ways to build trust from the top down and bottom up. Follow these 10 easy steps to make your organization as trusting as can be.

Build trust between different parties

Dr. Hurley talks about building a “chain of trust” that runs through different parties. “I define trust as a judgment of ‘confident reliance’ between a person, group or organization,” he said. Breaking that chain undermines the ability of employees in different parties to positively assess the future behavior of their peers in other parties or groups, Hurley added.

Gauge trust through open communication

People perceive IT in terms of a specific set of services, Sirianni says. But in order for IT to maintain their ability to deliver, people need to be trusting of them. The best way to gauge a lack of trust is to evaluate the communication going on in your organization. Are employees sending long chains of emails that slow a project down? Do employees not value or trust their peers and look for outside help from management constantly? Is there no pool of common knowledge or a shared agenda? Sirianni says all of these things harm communication and trust on the whole.

Watch out for “Marginality”

Employees that protect their own interest but not that of the enterprise display a sense of “marginality,” Hurley says. There’s no bond that connects employees and enables them to communicate across parties and groups. As a precaution, Hurley says to look for employee disengagement when trying to assess trust.

Maintain a core set of values

Marginality goes away when employees have a sense of pride in a core set of values that is embedded throughout the organization, Hurley says. Keeping everyone set on a common goal not only builds communication and teamwork but also shows leadership.

Practice Emotional Intelligence

We’re all human, and trust varies between people, groups and cultures. Hurley says that levels of trust can be determined by three factors: neuroticism, risk tolerance and power. Everyone will have different levels and triggers that will cause mistrust, but recognizing those emotional differences in yourself and of others goes a long way in allowing you to build trust long term.

Subject yourself to the same process as others

“There’s a complimentary nature between leadership and management,” Sirianni says. Leaders have to reach each individual at their levels while being transparent about their own role. Helping others understand what your responsibilities are demonstrates that you care and are relatable. “I don’t want people to think I’m a God,” Sirianni says. “I’m just as subject to those processes as anyone else.”

Explain the rationality behind change

Everyone may be working toward a common goal, but Hurley points out that organizations often end up taking a different approach to reach that end goal than what is communicated. Those on the bottom of the totem pole who don’t know the reasoning behind this change can develop mistrust as a result. So always explain the rationale for change and how that will drive agility.

Don’t allow bad culture to fester

In theory, there may be stragglers who carry bad blood after a poorly communicated change, even after steps are taken to explain the problem. Hurley says this may mean you have the wrong people in the wrong places and with trust issues. “You can’t have too many people interpreting too many things as unreasonable trust violations,” Hurley said. “If folks are going to be forever disgruntled, that’s a problem.”

Always continue improving

Trust is a moving target. There are always needs for change, and it’s important to review frequently, Sirianni says. Consistently have something people strive for such as money, awards or unique assignments that will keep people trusting and engaged.

Be benevolent

“IT operates in some very risky situations with big budgets and big impacts; they are in the trust business,” Hurley said. When IT is understanding, well-meaning and kindly in doing all they can to help other parts of the organization when they need critical operations, trust is spread all around. That feeling is mutual when external groups know that IT is working hard to keep things running smoothly.

Listen to our show “Building a High Trust Organization,” and let us know your thoughts on challenges you’ve had when it relates to building trust across your organization. What have you done to remedy it?

Tagged in: IT Leadership
CIO Talk Radio blog includes entries created as a collaborative effort between Sanjog Aul, the talk show host and the staff.

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