5 Ways Managers Can Build Trust and Increase Engagement and Retention

Photo credit: Lars Plougmann via Foter.com / CC BY-SA
Trust is the foundation for good teamwork—studies show that trust increases employee engagement. It doesn’t matter how talented, driven or successful your employees are if they are not engaged in furthering the mission of your team and the company.  Luckily, it’s not all that complicated to build a trusting relationship with your employees, although consistency and authenticity are absolutely key.  Try starting with these five steps:
  1. Walk the walk.  If you are telling your team to do one thing, and you are doing something else entirely, you can bet that the news will get back to your employees.  Especially when times are tough and everyone has to give a little extra, your team needs to know that you mean what you say and are willing to back it up with your actions.  Hypocrites are not worthy of anyone’s trust, especially the team you are trying to inspire and lead.
  2. Be Willing to Do the Dirty Work When the Time is Right. Remember that time when your team had a huge deadline, and things went down to the wire?  Did you stay late to help direct traffic and get everyone across the finish line together, or did you complain about their lack of planning and stand over them micromanaging every detail? On the other hand, did you stand by doing nothing at all while the project flopped, and fail to give direction to those who needed it?  Your best reports are looking to you to for leadership and direction, and that includes allocating work efficiently among team members, and managing the performance of those who aren’t making the grade.
  3. View Mistakes as Learning Opportunities.  When someone on your team screws up (and we all do), do you take the time to ask him what went wrong, and what he would do differently next time?  Or do you write him off the list of best employees and fail to give him another opportunity?  Two problems arise from the second option: 1) your employees will never take risks, and therefore will not learn anything new or offer innovative solutions; and 2) you will overwhelm your most senior and reliable people, giving them all of the important work, without developing your less experienced team members.  When you treat a mistake as an opportunity to learn something new, not only will your team members get better at their work, but they will also develop trust in you as a leader.
  4. Never, Ever Lose Your Cool.  Losing your temper is a natural and forgivable thing in life.  But doing it at work can really damage relationships and erase trust that has taken a long time to build. Raising your voice, using profanity or chewing out a subordinate only makes you look like you are out of control, and your team will begin to fear your reaction to bad news. If you find yourself ready to blow your stack, try some of these tips. And remember, it’s always worth a moment of awkwardness to just postpone a conversation if you’re not ready to talk calmly.
  5. Tune in to Your Team.  All of us have needs to manage our families and lives, and a little flexibility allows us to do great work AND manage the other things without becoming exhausted.  Do you have a team of knowledge workers that can easily do their work from home, or on a flexible schedule?  Be clear about your expectations, and let team members exercise some judgment about how and where (and even when) they get some of their work done.  Maybe two days per week can be flexible days, or technology can connect teammates for meetings from remote locations. You will earn the loyalty, best work, and respect of your team if you manage their needs individually, and hold them each accountable for their own work.  There’s nothing that torpedoes trust faster than telling your employees, “We don’t allow flexible work, because people abuse it.” What your employees hear from you is this:  “We don’t trust you, and we’re not willing to do our jobs to manage people’s true output and performance. We’d rather just count the butts in seats instead.”  Be willing to give employees a little more control over their work lives, and show them you understand their personal challenges, and studies show they will do more and better work, with less stress.
Use these tips to expand the trust in your organization, and you may find your employees more productive, happier, and more committed to sticking with you and your business!
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