Episode #58 - Creating a Culture of Authentic Trust
Hey There Rebels!!
You know, I've trained, coached, and advised thousands of women on navigating organizational culture and, ultimately, their careers. Having initially worked within organizations to help them function better and eventually create environments that helped employees do more than survive, I find that I'm uniquely positioned to support and inform both ends of the equation for their mutual benefit.
It's interesting because one of the reasons I stopped practicing law was because it ultimately conflicted with my values and personality, which is more mediative than confrontational. I've always been a master at clearly seeing both sides and finding places of synergy and mutual success. It's a gift that makes me highly effective.
Being able to be authentically me, being able to thrive in my genius, and being able to make an impact using my skills is something I value tremendously within my own business. It's something I've been fortunate enough to experience within several, but not all, of the organizations I worked for as an attorney and senior leader.
It's worked when I've been part of organizations with inclusive leadership and a culture of safety, support, and trust. Authentic trust.
So what is a culture of authentic trust? A culture of authentic trust is one in which trust is built through open communication, transparency, accountability, and mutual respect. It is a culture where employees feel safe to speak their minds, take risks, and share their ideas without fear of retribution or negative consequences. For me, authentic trust is the same as psychological safety, a term first coined by Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson in the late 1990s.
It may feel like a utopia, but where there's authentic trust, leaders are transparent and open in their communication, they set clear expectations, and they hold themselves accountable for their actions as they foster an environment of continuous learning and growth.
A culture of authentic trust values and respects the individual and collective contributions of all employees and recognizes the importance of building and maintaining relationships based on trust and respect.
Why does it matter?
According to research by Google, an organization with a culture of trust outperforms teams with low levels of psychological trust and safety and is most likely to be more innovative, make fewer mistakes, and produce higher-quality work.
They also have lower turnover, according to a study by Harvard Business Review. They found that employees who trust their leaders are 12 times more likely to stay with the organization than those who do not.
Finally, according to a study by PwC, 86% of consumers say that they are more likely to trust a company that demonstrates transparency, and 59% say that they would switch to a competitor that is more transparent.
So from every side, a culture of trust creates a win-win situation all around.
Now, creating and sustaining a culture of authentic trust starts with the leaders. The leaders set the tone by valuing their team members as individuals and for their contributions. Show that you care about everyone's well-being and allow others to have input into how the team carries out its work.
Also, leaders must show vulnerability. Leaders often believe they have to know everything and have all the answers, but a big part of trust is not being afraid to make and own mistakes. One way to support that is by changing the definition of failure and seeing mistakes as a learning opportunities. Start normalizing. "I don't know, but we can figure it out."
Consistently reinforce positive behaviors. You create a culture of celebration and appreciation each time you show gratitude and acknowledgment. When positive behaviors are consistently rewarded and recognized, employees are likelier to continue exhibiting them.
Be the type of leader that addresses issues promptly. Be committed to rectifying ongoing challenges with transparency. Be careful about allowing "glass bowl" employees to be the source of conflict because of their perceived value. When trust is broken, it's hard to get it back.
Uber faced several scandals related to workplace culture and leadership behavior in 2017, which resulted in a significant turnover and public backlash. Former employees reported a culture of harassment and discrimination, and leadership was criticized for failing to address these issues promptly and transparently. If you've seen the movie Super Pumped, you can learn about the who story that got the CEO and founder bounced from the company for promoting such a toxic environment.
And people still use the debacle at Wells Fargo as an example of how to get it wrong. Their 2016 scandal related to the creation of millions of fake customer accounts, and employees reported that they felt pressure to meet unrealistic sales targets, which led to unethical behavior and a lack of trust in leadership.
And, of course, Enron, the energy company that filed for bankruptcy in 2001 after facing a scandal related to fraudulent accounting practices and a toxic corporate culture. Leaders were criticized for prioritizing short-term profits over ethical behavior and sustainability, leading to widespread mistrust among employees and investors. This case has made its way into textbooks on how NOT to create a culture of authentic trust and safety.
Communication is also crucial to maintaining authentic trust and psychological safety. As a leader, you should regularly communicate with your team, including them, on company performance, goals, challenges, and progress so they can see how their work impacts the entirety of the organization's operations and success. This helps to create a sense of shared purpose and direction, which helps foster a culture of trust.
Building continual feedback looks is also essential to maintaining trust. Actively listening is the bedrock of giving and receiving effective feedback.
When organizations get it wrong, as in the examples above, it can not only significantly contribute to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, according to a study by the American Psychological Association, not to mention decreased morale. And the damage to organizational reputation due to negative publicity and damage to the ability to attract and retain customers, clients, and employees.
I mean...How many people think of unethical behavior and fraud when they hear the word Enron?
A place like Zappos is an example of a company prioritizing creating a culture of trust and psychological safety, notably by emphasizing employee well-being and development. By investing in training and development programs and creating a supportive and inclusive workplace culture, they have built a strong sense of trust and loyalty among their employees. This has helped to create a positive work environment and a strong sense of company culture.
As a leader, building a culture of authentic trust and psychological safety is crucial for organizations to achieve long-term success, but it requires a deliberate and sustained effort to make it happen. Strategies such as open communication channels, vulnerability, regular feedback, fostering a learning culture, and celebrating successes are steps in the right direction. Conversely, failing to focus on and address trust-related issues can lead to negative consequences such as low morale, high turnover, and decreased organizational performance.
The pandemic has changed the nature of our work and how we work. A senior leader at Lexis/Nexis said one of the best gifts we've learned over the pandemic is our humanity, which will help prepare us for the future. That human connection is at the heart of building relationships and solving problems. Building a culture of authentic trust is not just a nice to have but a must-have if organizations want to achieve greater success and create a more positive and fulfilling workplace for everyone.
If you want to create a culture of authentic trust in your organization, you can start right in your department and with your team, and that may inspire the rest of your colleagues and fellow leaders to join you.
Here are ten reflective questions to get you started:
How do I model transparency and vulnerability as a leader?
Am I actively seeking and providing feedback to create a culture of continuous improvement?
How can I empower my team to take risks and make mistakes without fear of retribution?
Do I actively seek out diverse perspectives and encourage all team members to share their ideas and opinions?
Am I consistently holding myself and my team accountable for our actions and decisions?
How do I celebrate successes and recognize the contributions of all team members?
What am I doing to foster a culture of learning and growth within my organization?
Am I regularly checking in with team members to ensure their well-being and address any concerns they may have?
How can I improve my leadership skills to support a culture of authentic trust and psychological safety?
What steps can I take to sustain and strengthen a culture of authentic trust within my organization over the long term?
I knew what I wanted to do in my career since I was 23. Since we spend most of our time working, 90,000 hours or 1/3 of our lives, I wanted to ensure we loved what we did. It was only about 15 years that I realized in everything I did, every career I embarked upon, that was the underlying focus and passion.
It's what motivated me to become a plaintiff's attorney; it's what led me to become an HR Director; it's what inspired me to become an organizational consultant and even become a professor and director of graduate leadership development programs. It also drives my coaching, training, advising, and consulting efforts. And I love that, over 30 years later, organizations are committing to that objective as well.
That's it for this episode, Rebels! It's one I'm sure you'll be able to find multiple uses, and feel free to share it with those who you believe need to listen.
Until next time y'all…..have an amazingly rebellious week!