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TRUST: The Key Ingredient to Keeping and Building Your Best Staff

If your best employees don’t believe trust is a key ingredient for your staff, you can be sure they will develop a roving eye for other employment opportunities. For public benefit organizations with small administrative budges and tight staffing, losing a good employee can be a substantial loss of your trained and competent workforce.

Trust is the belief and confidence in the integrity, reliability and fairness of a person or organization. It applies to all relationships including partnerships, work teams, and not-for-profit staff and volunteers.

Trust is an essential human value and is the oil that keeps teams functional when conflict arises. It is difficult to acquire, and if spoiled, harder to salvage.

People become nervous and defensive with one another if any of the following occur:
  • Decisions are perceived to be unfair.
  • Behavior is unpredictable.
  • People fail to follow through on commitments.
  • People make excuses or lie to cover up mistakes.
  • Work processes and procedures are erratic.
  • Deliverables are unpredictable.
  • Customer service is undependable
Trust is so important to group relationships that people become edgy if trust is diminished. Or, they become numb and with the numbness come complacency and apathy. Work slows down and some people tender their resignations.

Likewise, threats of being fired no longer hold employees in a headlock. For one reason, baby boomers are retiring leaving massive gaps in the workforce. For another, talented employees have options. Leaving an organization to find another because of irreconcilable values is the mark of a good leader - a badge of honor.

According to a survey released by ORC Worldwide, a New York-based provider of management research is that finding, developing and keeping talent are among the top concerns for 62% of the HR Executive survey respondents in 2007. This means that employers will be searching hard for new employees.

In their article, "The Surprising Economics of a 'People Business'", consultants Felix Barber and Rainer Streck argue that trust is necessary in people-intensive businesses because employee performance drives overall organizational performance. This is especially true of service oriented organizations and any enterprise that comes into frequent contact with the public.

Trust also has a dynamic impact on group problem solving. For example, group problem solving tends to break down in low trust environments and becomes creative and productive in high trust environments.

Some examples of high trust work environments are:
  • Leaders and team members trust one another and freely exchange information.
  • Leaders and team members respectfully express differences of opinion and discuss disappointments without fear of repercussions.
  • Leaders and team members freely explore ideas and share information.
  • Leaders and team members experience high levels of give-and-take, mutual support, respect, and confidence in one another’s ability.
  • Training, mentoring and providing opportunities to grow professionally are anchored in the organizational culture.
Some examples of low trust work environments are:
  • Leaders cultivate unhealthy competition among team members.
  • Leaders fail to share timely information with staff.
  • Board Leaders allow staff to lobby for favored position
  • Board members micro manage Staff
  • Leaders and members falsify documents or lie to cover up mistakes.
  • What leaders and employees tell co-workers and the service group does not line up with what they do.
  • All parties to conflict believe the end justifies the means.
In a nutshell, trust is very expensive if not impossible to buy in today’s workforce and very difficult to salvage if spoiled. People know trust though actions, not words. What people say must line up with what they do for trust to be believed. When words fail to match actions over time, organizations loose employees, cripple morale and lose volunteers.
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