Trust and transition
The secret ingredient
Trust is the secret ingredient in the leader’s capacity to release their team’s potential and effectiveness, investment of commitment and discretionary effort, and the boosting of retention and motivation.
So secret, in fact, that a surprising number of leaders and managers seem not to realise the impact of their behaviour on trust, and the consequences of either reinforced or damaged trust.
Trust and the contract
The employee, the client or the supplier who finds that their trust is justified in their employer, in the business they’re buying from, or in their client, is far more likely to stay loyal, and to invest emotion and energy, than those whose trust is betrayed, or for whom the psychological contract (the unwritten and often unarticulated set of expectations that people have about their employment or purchasing relationship) is broken. This often has greater impact than the formal, written contract.
When we enter into a contract, whether that’s a formal employment contract, the purchase of a product or service, or the agreement to provide goods or services, we unconsciously or consciously hold expectations: we expect that the contract will be adhered to, at the very least. We expect integrity, consistency, reliability, competence, commitment and honesty.
Trust is damaged when the contract is not respected
Trust is a fragile commodity. It’s damaged when the contract is not respected and/or there is abuse of goodwill, when people feel exploited, disrespected or manipulated, when they have a sense that there’s a hidden agenda, or when they start to question what they had taken for granted about integrity.
This is not a momentary event: when trust is dented, the impact is likely to continue – and it’s difficult to change. People begin to feel uncertain, unsafe, overly cautious or insecure. Their energy is diffuse instead of being focused. Motivation shrinks, and because of that, performance may be restrained, constrained or diminished, and commitment may be short-lived or superficial.
One of my clients developed a critical lack of trust in his line manager and his organisation because of a lack of consistency, unclear and changing expectations, and mixed messages about his level of authority. Three years on from joining the organisation this senior leader felt crushed, unacknowledged and uncertain about his place.
Trust in oneself is an equally important facet. Another of my clients – stellar in terms of intelligence and capability – lacked trust in herself and was struggling to be taken seriously in her male-dominated environment. She came to the realisation that she wasn’t taken seriously because she didn’t take herself seriously: only when she began to find her own authority, and trust it, did things start to change.
When the contract is respected
Conversely, when both types of contract are respected, the employee’s performance often takes a step up, the client invests in purchases more than they may have done, and the supplier goes above and beyond.
Remember, too, that trust – and the lack of it – are viral: whether trust is present or not, the feeling spreads throughout the team, the department and the organisation.
Trust and transition
Trust is especially important at a time of transition, when the foundations of new relationships are being established, or the foundations of existing relationships are adapting to a new situation.
A leader arriving in a new role needs to establish trust with their new team and with their new line manager. At a time when they feel uncertain or vulnerable in their new environment, establishing – and maintaining – trust both upwards and downwards is a vital focus to adopt from the beginning so that engagement grows and sustains.
A coach or consultant starting work with a new organisation or a new coaching client needs to establish their credibility, their reliability, their competence and their integrity. They need to be clear with themselves and their client about what they have contracted, and its implications, and about their expectations.
A client organisation contracting for goods or services also needs to be clear what they have contracted for, and they need to nurture the symbiotic relationship between themselves and the supplier in a careful dance of reciprocity, investment in the relationship, honesty and openness. The most successful relationships of this kind rest on high trust, flexibility and generosity.
Spend a moment looking at your leadership and your followership through the lens of trust. What do you see? A trusting team or a team that lacks trust? What small step could you take to improve things by just a little?
As a leader, you ignore the repercussions of trust at your peril.