Managing Trust and Transparency for Engagement

It is not an unusual scenario: a new supervisor inherits a bad and undeserving reputation based on staff members’ previous experiences. Every move of a new incumbent is evaluated against the poor communication and bad decisions of a predecessor and the scene is set for “stay-but-go” or even worse, active disengagement. How do you rebuild trust? Trust is built with transparency in our actions (process), in our emotional reaction (response), and in our thinking (content).

Transparency with actions requires a clear and open management process. This may include a predictable and regular routine for employee feedback and performance reviews for example, and extends to the methods used to manage meetings, and to make complex decisions (such as setting annual budgets). A transparent process for decision making will contribute to a climate in which staff are clear on the past, present and future implications of decisions.

The supervisor who is transparent in their actions is aware of not only what they are doing or deciding, but why. When they speak to staff, they communicate clearly their decisions, and the route they used to get to there. Transparency in actions requires taking a deliberate step with each important decision to decide how to decide and then communicating that rationale.

Emotionally mature managers will have the tools to build trust through their response to any given situation. A workplace devoid of emotion is a workplace devoid of passion, and where there are people there is emotion. So trust in the response is also based on trust of the people, and an open and transparent communication about the relationships and the underlying needs and interests between the people in the work environment. A supervisor who experiences a strong reaction can choose how to relate to that emotion. Stepping back and detaching from the situation to look at the business problem will help to determine the right steps to take. Acknowledging others’ emotions without taking responsibility for them will help staff know they are heard.

Transparency with content requires a thorough awareness and sensitivity to context and subject. As with decision making, deliberately deciding what information can be shared and then sharing it in an environment that provides a safe space for discussion will build trust.

Content is also about context. For example, shared confidence in technical or knowledge expertise will provide a strong structure for building trust in actions. A common goal, such as servicing clients exceptionally, building quality widgets, or a united search for innovation for example, will provide a positive force for trust based on content.

Rebuilding trust will take time, patience and open communication. It will be necessary to be open about the management process, the emotional response, and the content. Like a three-legged stool, the process, the response and the content are all critical, and one will not be strong without the other two.

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