From the archive: Build and maintain trust

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Written by André de Waal on 1 September 2020 in Features
Features

One of the benefits of being a TJ subscriber is full access to our decades-long archive of content - here we look back to a piece about trust from exactly eight years ago today.

André de Waal explains the importance of trust in becoming a true high-performing organisation.

Managing comes down to dealing with people. No matter how many tools and techniques managers implement, if they cannot motivate people to use them for improving their performance, they haven't achieved anything.

After all, research I have both studied and conducted on what transforms a company into a high-performance organisation clearly shows that five factors determine whether an organisation can successfully become and remain an HPO. These are:

  • management quality
  • openness and action orientation
  • long-term orientation
  • continuous improvement and renewal
  • employee quality.

Of these five factors, the quality of its management, ie the attitudes and behaviours of its managers, is the most important of all. Excellent managers are the very foundation of a true HPO.

Going one step further, of 12 characteristics that make up the HPO factor of a high quality of management, trust is the most important characteristic of all. In fact, it is not possible to create an HPO without a genuinely trusted management.

Trust can be defined as 'a firm belief in the reliability, truth or strength of a person'. My research into what makes an HPO reveals that there is a strong connection between trust and other characteristics comprising the HPO factor of management quality, and even with many of the characteristics of the four other HPO factors as well. It turns out that, when managers work on improving any of the 35 total HPO characteristics, they are at the same time working on increasing the trust employees have in them. Only if most or all of an organisation's managers focus on building trust can a high-performance organisation be created.

An HPO's managers create trust among their employees by displaying such behaviours as being honest1 and forthright, showing respect, listening, learning, asking for help, showing trust themselves, and in general exhibiting elemental fairness in the way that they treat employees.

HPO managers endeavour to create and maintain individual relationships with their employees, by knowing, talking and staying in touch with them. When HPO managers feel the need to criticise employees, they only do it when they are present and preferably in a bilateral conversation. HPO managers are fair during decision-making and in valuing contributions of employees, and recognise these by giving credit2.

Let's take the example of a catering manager who has worked for a long time in the catering industry and thus fully understands the work his employees are doing. The employees get clear guidelines from the catering manager within which they are free to operate as they like. In addition, the catering manager gives them responsibility to achieve their results and then trusts them to do so. He also listens to new ideas from his employees, who consider him a trustworthy manager because of his vision for the restaurant, his consistency in operating, and the fact that he is often found on the shop floor lending a hand when it is exceptionally busy. During peak hours, the catering manager is always, every day, present to work together with his people to manage these rush hours.

By serving as such an exemplary role model, the catering manager creates trust.

How to create trust during an HPO transition

Trust is a characteristic that is difficult to improve since you cannot gain it merely by asking for it or by demanding it from your employees. In addition, as the saying goes, trust comes on foot and leaves by horse. It takes time to build a truly trusting relationship, as trust has to be earned, but it can also be easily lost. The good news is that you can actively work on creating and strengthening trust during your company's transition to an HPO.

This is what you can do:

  • you first need to find out what your employees know and do not know about what makes an HPO and how one works. How do they feel about them? What are their concerns about the coming transition? Armed with such answers, you can address misguided opinions and fears that your employees might be experiencing
  • formulate together with employees some objectives for the transition to HPO and the role of each person during the transition. This clarifies the objectives of the transition and everybody's part in it
  • evaluate together with employees how becoming an HPO will affect everybody. Talk about how you will guide and support them during the transition so that all concerns will be diminished
  • you must determine together with employees what resources will be needed for the transition. This is because there will always be a lack of resources, so pinpointing needed ones will enable employees to better understand what and how much can be made available
  • make sure that everyone continuously receives information on the progress of the HPO transition and the results achieved so far. Continuous communication ensures that people do not spread rumours about the transition that may cause undue or negative tensions within the organisation
  • ask your employees for feedback on any unclear issues and potential problems during the HPO transition
  • you should regularly evaluate together with employees the progress of the HPO transition. This review gives you the opportunity to communicate with them about what is going on and discuss things that went wrong.

This also entails checking on whether both you and your employees have kept your promises about what everybody was going to contribute during the transition to becoming a true high-performing organisation.

In conclusion, trust is the be-all and end-all of the number one HPO factor: management quality.

As one of my HPO clients put it: "When trust cracks, that is it, it is over. There are no second chances with trust.

"If you lose your trustworthiness, pack your bag and go... because losing trust means that everyone is going to end the relationship anyway."

To view all images, graphics and references from this article, please open the pdf file.

About the author

André de Waal is associate professor strategic management at the Maastricht School of Management and academic director of the HPO Center. This article is based on research published in his latest book What Makes a High Performance Organization: Five Validated Factors of Competitive Advantage that Apply Worldwide (Global Professional Publishing). He can be contacted via www.hpocenter.com

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