In the last in her series on Trust, Juliet Daye summarises insights from research conducted by Cass Business School  with CIPD in March 2012.  The report was called ‘Where has all the Trust Gone?’, and is available via the CIPD website here.



The research team was directed by Professor Veronica Hope-Hailey who is now the Dean and Head of School of Management, University of Bath.

Losing trust can happen overnight, and its repair can take both time and energy.  Whilst it is always best to avoid losing trust in the first place, what can we learn from organisations who are successful at maintaining, enhancing and repairing trust?

The Cass Business School / CIPD research emphasises 6 HR ‘hot spots’ which can help to maintain or repair trust:-

1. Leaders and followers

The organisations in the study were moving towards a new model of leadership, characterised by authenticity, values, integrity, relationships, visibility, open dialogue, and crucially benevolence.  Gone are the days of present, pronounce and then leave the building!  However people recognised that everyone is responsible for creating trust.  For example, benevolence can go both ways when employees don’t blame new leaders for the mistakes of their predecessors.  In this new model, HR plays a key role in selecting and developing leaders and followers. 

2.  Restructuring and redundancy

The research revealed how in both public and private sectors, restructures and redundancies can be carried out in such a way as to maintain trust levels.  Organisations that succeeded in this adopted a number of strategies, such as :- 

  • being transparent and open about the process
  • consulting with the whole workforce when selecting options such as salary cuts, flexible working to save jobs
  • applying the same principles and measures to all employees, regardless of status/position in hierarchy.  E.g. at GKN all staff including the MD took a short term 25% reduction in salary, to avoid job cuts.
  • listening to employees and providing counselling when formal announcements are made
  • overtly demonstrating that everyone shares the pain and uncertainty, regardless of seniority in the organisation 

3. Communicating change

The research revealed a strong association between high quality organisational communication processes and trust levels.  There was evidence of a move towards a more authentic and discursive style, with an emphasis on face to face, local communications.   For example, managers being as open as possible about the risk of job losses and avoiding ‘spin’ at all costs, and where managers don’t know the answers or admit they are unsure, people actually trust them more.

4.  Engaging the middle and the local

The CIPD survey results showed that line manager behaviour is one of the biggest contributors to employees’ perceptions of trust repair.  Organisations undermine or ignore the middle/local managers at their peril, because of their trusted and intimate relationship with local staff.  Middle managers are the critical link in the trust chain of the ‘organisation-senior manager-local manager-employee’.  The bigger the organisation, the more they need tap into local knowledge and ideas, and respect what they hear.

5.  Renegotiating the employment relationship

Faced with increasing global competition and the global financial crisis, many organisations in the research had embarked on a long term plan to carefully reposition and renegotiate the employee-employer contract – working to form a 21st century psychological and formal contract.  Key to this is promising less in branding and recruitment: better to under promise and over deliver.  For example, the old deal at HMRC emphasised a job for life, the new ‘One HMRC One Deal’ sets out six principles, e.g. work life balance and people development.

6.  Repositioning the HR function

The research suggests HR is seen as more remote and absent from the workforce than before, following adoption of a business partnering model aligning the function with management, and devolution of the responsibility of people management to the line.  Some of the organisations responded by giving the responsibility for trust repair to newly created departments concerned with change or communications.  In some organisations, trade unions fulfil this role: in others there’s a vacuum.

The researchers urge HR to revive its previous role as ‘the conscience of the organisation’ to become the guardian of ethical and integrity issues, to support the creation of ‘open, transparent and straight-talking and dialogue centred cultures’.

It concludes that if HR doesn’t do this, other departments will.

Juliet Day

Juliet Day

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.” .