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Trust is a must, here are the tools to help you achieve it

Published 11 October 2021 in Audio articles • 5 min read • Audio availableAudio available

As the office environment changes, many leaders are still suspicious of remote workers, but an innovative new approach can bring about real change.

The pandemic has catapulted companies into a new world of remote and hybrid work where trust plays a crucial part in almost all decision managers and employees make. Building trust has become the new imperative for businesses and organizations.

But, according to the most recent research, almost 40% of managers are skeptical of remote workers, and nearly half of all employees still feel micromanaged. Trust remains a critically scarce resource in the organizational world. The consequences of this can be significant at a financial and human level, impacting employee productivity, engagement and ultimately retention.  

How can leaders concretely build a culture of trust at work? To answer this, it’s vital to first understand the real root causes of the lack of trust in traditional organizations. There are two major issues hindering trust: 

Firstly, traditional business processes and systems are intrinsically compliance-driven, bureaucratic and prescriptive. Trust is excluded by design. Secondly, leaders still exhibit a bias towards command-and-control behaviors — despite the avalanche of literature suggesting this approach should be consigned to managerial history. Typically, these two components mutually reinforce one another. To unleash the full power of trust, companies need to tackle both issues.  


Designing trust into your systems 

A shift is needed from prescriptive to human-centered processes that allow employees to reach their own judgment within certain boundaries and principles set by supportive leaders. Working with pioneers in different industries, we have developed and tested a concrete approach to instill “Trust-by-Design” into business processes, leveraging seven ways to set employees free 

In response to the new hybrid working mode, a large utility company that we work with revised its recruiting and onboarding policy. Rather than simply rewriting the rules and procedures, replacing the old policy with a new one, it decided on a complete change of approach. It provided simple rules and guidelines, so there was more room to make autonomous decisions on candidates and selection criteria, as well as on the initiatives to engage the new hires in the first months. These rules were coupled with better communication from managers about current business issues and priorities to make everyone more aware of the context and purpose.  

Trust-based processes entail a different role for leaders who need to create the conditions to help their collaborators perform

At another company, the Working from Home (WFH) policy was reshaped to clarify a few guiding principles about where, when and how to work. This was visualized on a matrix and accompanied by a set of criteria (including type of jobs and tasks, geography, productivity, and personal preferences) which helped managers and their collaborators to decide jointly how to organize work in their department. Having a more fluid, flexible and people-centric process also allows for local adaptations. This recognizes that the situation (for example, the state of the pandemic and current restrictions) may vary between nations to or even from division to division, and that it is wise to trust the local people, while still contained within an overarching consistency of common principles.  

Trust-based processes entail a different role for leaders who need to create the conditions to help their collaborators perform. They need to act as a sounding board, providing coaching and removing obstacles, rather than controlling and monitoring the execution of tasks.  


Leadership behaviors to build and sustain trust 

Building and sustaining trust can be difficult for leaders as often they have to unlearn many of the beliefs and practices associated with traditional management. A simplistic approach, and one that we still see in too many firms, is to create a manifesto of new values and keywords underpinning trust, such as empowerment, empathy, authenticity, caring, transparency, and inclusion. These are all good things, but the problem with this approach is that it is too abstract, vague, and difficult to enact, measure and monitor. In some cases, it can even be counterproductive. Leaders may not walk the talk, believing that the manifesto is sufficient. This can ultimately generate cynicism in the organization, because what is written on the manifesto is not what employees experience in their daily work. 

To avoid this, leaders need to agree on a list of concrete and actionable behaviors that they commit to start or stop doing. Behaviors should be specific not generic: for example, “during the weekly team meeting, practice active listening and ask participants to express candidly their opinions and point of views”. 

One common mistake when addressing cultural change is the lack of a scientific mindset. This applies to the area of trust. Leaders must consider what is the quantitative baseline and what is the target for improvement? We advocate an innovative approach for measuring and monitoring behavioral change, starting from a quantitative baseline, and tracking the progress of adoption over time. To quantify the progress on the selected behaviors we have designed and tested a Trust Behavioral Index. This summarizes for each manager their score on different categories of trust (for example, vulnerability and credibility). This is created through a set of underlying questions that are scored anonymously by peers and direct reports. Each manager can see on the aggregate where they have a low score. Corrective actions are openly and candidly discussed with colleagues in retrospective sessions, called Trust Circles, to sustain the change, especially in the initial period. The practical and scientific nature of this approach is both reassuring and productive. 

It’s time for companies that are serious about placing trust at the heart of their organizations to look at a more profound and long-lasting transformation. The examples above show that building trust requires a structured approach and with the right supporting tools in place. Simply promoting abstract values of empowerment and engagement will only have time-limited impact. Tools such as Trust-by-Design (to rethink policies in a more people-focused way), the Trust Behavior Index (to measure trust-generating behaviors) and Trust Circles (to sustain the behavioral change) can help leaders shape the change with more confidence and lay the foundations for long-lasting change. 


Gabriele Rosani  

Gabriele Rosani is a senior manager at ECSI Consulting, a strategic innovation consultancy part of Capgemini Invent. He is based in Milan and can be reached at [email protected]. 

Paolo Cervini  

Paolo Cervini is an Associate Partner of ECSI Consulting. He is based in and Milan and can be reached at [email protected]. 


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