Fostering trust and practicing inclusive leadership have never been more important than in today’s world. Due to recent events in our community and around the globe, most of us find ourselves navigating complex and challenging situations in both our personal and professional lives. In times of such uncertainty, it is essential that leaders promote a culture of mutual trust and empowerment to truly unlock the potential of our workforce and support their needs.
CNN described the covid-19 pandemic as ‘an all-hands-on-deck moment’. Many technology companies, including Cerner, answered that call, harnessing resources to quickly deliver new capabilities, at scale, to support the public health infrastructure and help save lives.
As our associates rose to meet the challenge, we, as employers, had a massive responsibility to ensure their safety. With access to robust telework and communication technologies, we were able to quickly transition our associates out of the office and into a fully remote work environment over a four-day period, with minimal disruption. A majority of our associates responded to an internal survey reporting an equal or higher level of productivity in their remote work environment. Many of them also expressed an interest in maintaining the arrangement, at least part of the time, over the long term.
The desire for flexible work arrangements is just one of several trends becoming more important to employees in high performing, inclusive organizations. To effectively support their workforce, it’s critical for employers to ensure they have the right cultural conditions and management practices in place to foster inclusivity and help associates perform at their best. Based on organizational research findings, these factors include trust in employees, trust in leadership and an inclusive organizational culture.
As our associates rose to meet the challenge, we, as employers, had a massive responsibility to ensure their safety. With access to robust telework and communication technologies, we were able to quickly transition our associates out of the office and into a fully remote work environment over a four-day period, with minimal disruption.
Employees Need to Feel Trusted
For workers to be fully engaged, whether on site or remotely, they not only need flexibility, they also need to feel that they are trusted. In a research article produced by Sabrina Deutsch-Salamon and Sandra L. Robinson, called “Trust that Binds”, they note that employees who feel trusted by their organization become more willing to accept responsibility for their organization’s performance. Trust among employees led to the development of high responsibility norms – and employees’ willingness to be accountable for the performance of their organization led directly to better sales and customer service.
Likewise, the Harvard Business Review reports that employees who feel trusted are higher performers and exert extra effort, going above and beyond role expectations. When they feel their supervisors trust them to get key tasks done, they have greater confidence in the workplace and perform at a higher level.
So, how do you show your employees you trust them? In another HBR study called The Neuroscience of Trust, researchers report that there are 8 key management behaviors that demonstrate to employees that their manager trusts them. Three of the behaviors resonated with me and are instrumental for a successful leader.
1. The importance of enabling and supporting your workforce to choose how they do their work can increase motivation within an organization.
2. Encouraging vulnerability and fostering partnerships to collectively accomplish goals is a sign of a secure leader – one who engages rather than demands.
3. Additionally, high-trust workplaces facilitate whole person growth, multiple studies illustrate that acquiring new work skills isn’t enough; if you’re not growing as a human being, your performance will suffer.
Employees Also Need to Trust their Leaders
While employees need to feel trusted by their leaders, the most important factor in a high functioning workforce is that employees actually trust their leaders. According to Gallup, employees who trust their leadership are twice as likely to say they will be with their company in a year. High-trust organizations also have an enormous advantage in the speed with which they can launch new initiatives. And even when there are occasional mistakes in decisions or communication, employees will give leaders the benefit of the doubt.
Not surprisingly, trust comprises two-thirds of the criteria used by Fortune to compile the “100 Best Companies to Work For”. Their research shows that “trust between leaders and employees is the primary defining characteristic of the very best workplaces.” These companies beat “the average annualized returns of the S&P 500 by a factor of three.”
Contrary to popular belief, cultivating a high-trust culture is not a “soft” skill — it’s a hard necessity. In their article ‘The Connection Between Employee Trust and Financial Performance’, published in the Harvard Business Review, Stephen Covey and Douglas R. Conant assert that trust is THE foundational element of high-performing organizations. It’s not a nice-to-have; it’s a must-have. With trust, all things are possible, including continuous improvement and sustainable, measurable, tangible results in the marketplace.
So how do you gain the trust of your employees? You focus on the Leaders. Leaders are responsible for guiding their teams to achieve mutually defined objectives at the local level. In a Gallup poll, results indicated that leaders are directly accountable for at least 70% of the variance in employee engagement. When employees don’t trust organizational leadership, their chances of being engaged are one in 12. But when that trust is established, the chances of engagement skyrocket to better than one in two. This means a manager’s interactions with employees (whether in person or remotely) determines their engagement level, which directly influences their performance.
Harvard Business Review, in their article “How Leaders Build Trust’, identified the following three essential behaviors that leaders must demonstrate to gain the trust of their employees:
1. Create positive relationships on your team: There are a number of ways to do this, including helping employees cooperate, resolving conflicts between others, giving honest feedback, and checking in with people about their concerns.
2. Demonstrate expertise and judgment: People are more likely to trust you if they believe you have technical know-how and the experience to make good decisions about the team’s work.
3. Be consistent: You must do what you say you will do. Follow through on your commitments and keep any promises you make.
Additionally, Inc. has an excellent article, called ‘Ways to Know if Someone is Trustworthy’ that reminds us of some basic principles for gaining people’s trust that can apply equally to both professional and personal relationships.
With trust, all things are possible, including continuous improvement and sustainable, measurable, tangible results in the marketplace.
Employees Need to Know their Voice Matters
Inclusion is essential in any workforce, but the ability to speak up and confidently share ideas and opinions is particularly critical. Today’s organizations collaborate through a variety of forums and each team member brings their unique experiences and perspective to the table. Innovation occurs when you listen to all voices and consider multiple perspectives, but diverse ideas don’t emerge unless everyone feels included and comfortable speaking up.
The New York Times shared a study conducted by Google involving extensive research and analysis regarding how to build the perfect team. Interestingly, yet not entirely surprising to those who value diverse perspectives, this assessment led to the conclusion that the best teams listen to one another and show sensitivity to feelings and needs. Associates want to be able to be fully present at work, to feel ‘‘psychologically safe,’’ and to know they are free to share their thoughts and feeling without fear of recrimination.
In conclusion, it is essential to acknowledge that the modern workforce is evolving. To foster a high- performance workforce, we must further our actions around building a culture of mutual trust and inclusion. To be most effective, employees must feel included, they must feel trusted by their leaders and, even more importantly, they must have trust in their leaders. I encourage all of us, as leaders, to develop a culture of collective trust, celebrate diversity and foster inclusion within our organizations. Embracing these workforce trends and our differences only makes organizations and societies stronger. Changes must be made, and progress must occur in the workplace. The time for action is now.