British retailer John Lewis Partnership has recently shown how it increased trust whilst going through a major restructure and redundancies. Layoffs aren’t typically recommended as a trust building tool – but what an achievement to do this and be seen as caring by your people!
It turns out that this stemmed, in part, from maintaining a range of different types of trust relationships or ‘bank accounts’ in credit so they could draw on them in more challenging times.
The Cass Business School / CIPD research (2012) focused on trust maintenance and repair post 2011 financial crisis. It discovered different types of trust relationships with different pros and cons, and that different organisations focused on different relationships. I wonder which one best describes your organisation?
The 5 types of relationship are:-
1. Trust in each other – trust relationships throughout, colleagues, line managers, senior managers, customers, and the organisation itself, building a virtuous circle of trust. An environment of mutual purpose, such as in John Lewis Partnership where leadership is held accountable to colleagues who co-own the business, and also found for example in a legal firm, Norton Rose, where colleagues opted to have their terms and conditions temporarily changed to avoid redundancies after the global financial crisis. Its strength is consultation of mutual interests at all levels, and explicit concern for everyone affected by decisions. Risks include arrogance in good times, and a greater breach of trust if difficult decisions do need to be made in bad times.
2. Trust in senior leaders – in this relationship the primary trust relationship is with the leaders of the organisation. The research found that people’s trust with their organisation is highly correlated with their trust in the senior team. And it’s reciprocal: where people had high trust in their leaders, they also felt trusted by them in return. Provided leaders can demonstrate ability, benevolence, integrity and predictability, they can lead their organisation through tough times. The risk is trust will crash if any of these qualities are found to be lacking.
3. Trust in the organisation – here employees place their trust in the organisation and its purpose and value in the community/world, typically public sector or global corporations. Relationships tend to be impersonal, more focus is placed on delivery, defined roles, and on management rather than leadership. Potential strengths are an immunity to the cult of the individual leader – trust is expressed in the processes and systems rather than individuals. However, if the wider society starts to criticise the organisation’s purpose, trust can decline.
4. Trust in external relations – here the focus is on high trust relationships with customers. Trust relationships inside the organisation are ‘nice to have’ rather than essential. Typical of the banking sector after the financial crisis, focusing on the customer intently when survival is at stake. However, the neglect of internal trust relationships may result in employees questioning the integrity of senior managers. It may damage the customer experience, and even stifle innovation and potentially growth.
5. Trust in the line manager – the most resilient relationship of all, the research shows that high trust in the organisation usually goes along with perceiving line managers as being supportive, enabling and trustworthy. It’s a personal, immediate and regular relationship. However it won’t elicit all the benefits of trust unless the line manager’s behaviours are in line with the organisation’s interests. It’s therefore the critical link in the ‘trust chain’ and can make or break the trust relationship with the organisation or senior management.
Reading this may give you a sense of the trust relationships your organisation pays most attention to. How does this help your organisation, and what are the risks? Where will you draw on when times get tough – do you have all your eggs in one basket? What could you do to gain more balance, and build trust credits in all relationships – are you all in it together?
In my next Blog I’ll share findings from the research on how to repair trust.
Juliet Day coaches and consults in UK organisations. “I’m passionate about working with individuals and organisations to discover their true purpose, live, learn and lead with a positive impact in the world. I’m a business psychologist and have been specialising in talent, assessment and leadership development for 12 years.” email@example.com.
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