5 Steps to Building Trust in the Workplace

R. Scott Simon is a coach to business leaders and leadership teams, and vividly recalls conversations with prospective clients who said they needed to create trust in their organizations. “More discussion revealed that what they really wanted was to ‘fix’ employees to do what they’re told (i.e., ‘Just trust me!’), to stop questioning and to accept blame for mistakes. That’s not trust,” says Simon, who declined those engagements.

Where there’s genuine trust in a workplace, employees at different levels communicate openly, help across organizational lines and believe in each other. Simon offers these five steps for Hawaii leaders to build trust:

1: Be Competent and Committed

To earn trust, leaders must be fully proficient at their jobs and committed to performing well. Not there yet? Faking your way will eventually undermine credibility and foster distrust. Instead ask questions, listen and learn, then apply the added knowledge and skills.

2: Give Trust to Get Trust

When words and actions lead others to feel trusted by higher-ups, they’ll trust and aim to please in return. Assigning meaningful tasks to subordinates, and giving space to execute without micromanaging, supports trust. Help employees succeed, and when their best efforts come up short, coach them to future success. That’s what builds trust, not blame or berating.

3: Value Honesty and Transparency

People trust and align themselves with leaders who are always truthful and share as much as possible about organizational goals, results and often-elusive “whys” – even if the news is bad. Likewise, when employees approach leaders in confidence or with concerns, trust is built by listening, thanking and taking appropriate action, not defensiveness. 

4: Show You Care by Overcommunicating

Regular exchange of feedback with a leader is priceless – especially valued by younger generations, but often underutilized in local organizations. Employees develop fierce loyalty to leaders who listen intently then follow up, acknowledge their errors, express thanks and credit others. When communication is lacking, gossip and negative speculation abound.

5: Model Consistency

Hawaii employees are keen at spotting differences in treatment: better assignments for some, harsher consequences for others, information shared with some but not others. Leaders may believe the disparities are justifiably based on merit and performance, but perceived favoritism undercuts trust.  And behavioral consistency must start with leaders – if sneaking out early when surf’s up is OK for the leader, then others should have similar flexibility. People observe, people know, people talk. 



R. Scott Simon,
Simon is a Hawaii-based executive coach and strategic advisor to leaders and teams.

Categories: 5 Steps, Careers