Jason Lauritsen - Crushing talent dogma to free human potential

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2 Steps to Building Trust as a Manager

One of the most common questions I get from managers and leaders is about building trust.

In most cases, they understand the importance of trust to a healthy and productive relationship with their employees, but they are stumped about how to do it or even where to start.

I think we tend to over-complicate things when we talk about trust. In my experience, there are two simple things that any manager or leader can to do have an immediate positive impact on trust with the people they lead.

First, trust your people (even before you have evidence that they are trustworthy).

This may be challenging if you are naturally skeptical or have been burned in the past, but one of the most powerful ways to earn trust is to first give it away.

  • Tell your employees that you trust them and that you will continue to trust them until they prove they are not deserving of that trust.
  • Demonstrate that you trust them by taking them at their word, allowing them autonomy, and assuming positive intentions when things don’t go as planned.

Extending trust does something very powerful, it creates an expectation of trustworthiness for the employee. Due to what psychologists have described as the Pygmalion Effect, we tend to live up (or down) to the expectations of our leaders. By extending trust, you may actually make that person more trustworthy.

There’s another reason to extend trust. Our brains are hardwired for reciprocity in our relationships with others.  Meaning, when someone extends trust to me, I’m more likely to extend trust in return.  You can probably remember a time in the past when someone entrusted you unexpectedly with something very meaningful. You probably remember feeling a strong sense of commitment and trust immediately to that person as a result, even if you didn’t know them well. That’s reciprocity in action.

The second way to build trust to ensure clarity of expectations.

It’s hard to trust someone when expectations aren’t clear.

Imagine interviewing potential contractors to do remodeling within your home. Both contractors have the same amount of experience and positive references.

  • Contractor 1 assures you that his team is good at what they do and that they’ve been doing it for a long time without a lot of details.
  • Contractor 2 lays out a detailed process for how they work with you to ensure that they understand your needs, check quality throughout, and make sure you are happy with the end result.

Which of these two would you find most trustworthy?

Contractor 2 takes the uncertainty out of the relationship by clarifying and making agreements with you about what you can expect. That makes trust easier.

The same is true for us as managers and leaders with our employees. Trust is frequently lost as a result of unclear expectations that leave people feeling uncertain and guessing about where they stand with their leaders.

To create a foundation for trust, work with the employee to create clarity of expectations.  Expectations can fall into several categories:

  • Performance Expectations: How will my work be measured? What does success look like? Example: Your average customer satisfaction rating should be above 4.2 each quarter.
  • Behavioral Expectations: How should I go about doing my work? Example: Bring a positive attitude to your work.
  • Relationship Expectations: How should I treat those I work with? Example: No surprises. We don’t let good or bad news sneak up on our teammates. When I know, you know.
  • Management Expectations: What should you expect from me as a manager? Example: I will always have your back when things go wrong.

The last item is incredibly important. It’s easy to overlook the importance of sharing with employees what they should expect of you. This becomes your commitment to the employee and helps take some of the uncertainty out of your relationship with them.

When you communicate these expectations in writing and discuss them with your employees, you take big steps towards building a more trusting relationship with them. That clarity makes trust far easier.

So, there it is. Two simple steps to growing trust with your teams.

If you have other steps you’ve found to be successful, please share them in the comments. We’d all love to learn from your experience.

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Jason Lauritsen