Building Trust In Your Organization

I had the opportunity to attend a monthly session of the Northern Virginia SHRM chapter this week and it was great, I met several great ladies doing wonderful things in HR and the highlight of the night was an opportunity to hear a seminar by Roger C. Mayer on “Building Trust in Your Organization.”

Because the context of trust can mean many things to many people (as evidenced when several audience members were asked what trust meant to them – everyone gave a different response), Dr. Mayer provided a definition that everyone generally agreed upon:

Trust, according to Dr. Mayer; is a willingness to be vulnerable to a trustee when the trustee cannot be monitored or controlled.

That definition in and of itself is a little hard to swallow, so it may be easier to understand certain factors that make up trustworthiness.

–       Ability: having skills & competencies in the domain

–       Benevolence: wanting to “do good” for trustor

–       Integrity: follows values that the trustor finds acceptable.

These three factors of trustworthiness (1) affect a trustees willingness to be vulnerable, (2) they are not simply additive; “ABI affects trust in a complex and idiosyncratic way: more of one does not make up for a lack of another, (3) and lastly; as ABI evolves, so does trust.”

The Development of Trust

ABI —> TRUST —> Risk Taking in Relationships —> Outcomes


Trust is interrelated with ABI and will be affected by the trustees perception of those characteristics consistently.

So how does trust affect productivity? It allows your employees to “engage in more risk-taking behaviors such as:”

–       Delegation of “risky tasks.” Managers will use less resources toward monitoring employees.

–       Effective teamwork

–       Allows for the sharing of sensitive information (honest reactions).

–       Admit mistakes openly (organizational learning)

–       Allows for the increased focus on work related tasks and reduces time spent on C.Y.A (covering your a*s)

–       Less time and energy spent of worrying

–       Organizational citizenship behaviors begin to occur

–       Trust facilitates accepting and embracing change efforts

–       Reduced turnover (less quitting/searching behaviors)

What Can Your Organization Do To Improve Trust Levels?

Dr. Mayer pointed out that trust is an ongoing and evolving process, here are some of the points he presented to improve trust:

–       Focus on improving trustworthiness (ABI)

–       Remember: one’s actions lead others to reevaluate perceptions of ABI

–       Set clear expectations for ethical behaviors

–       Have communication and engage in activities to refine understanding of what is ethical and help employees understand the organization’s shared values.

–       Implement a “no-nonsense” policy for breaches

Because, trust is an ongoing process, building trust too is a continuous event:

–       Perspective Taking: “View ABI through the eyes of others” (empathy) – Michelle Williams (Cornell)

–       Reflect on how your actions affect others perceptions of your ABI

–       Collect necessary data through more formal means (i.e employee satisfactions surveys)

–       Focus on fixing problems as they are identified.

Dr. Mayer, concluded his presentation by wrapping up on how to repair broken trust. One of the questions asked was “How long does it take you to rebuild trust once you’ve broken it?” That question elicited many different responses as well, the one general consensus was: avoid breaking trust in the first place. With that in mind, Dr. Mayer reminded the audience that trust development was asymmetric: (1) it is slow to build (and requires many positive interactions) (2) trust can be quick to damage or even destroy and (3) trust is easier to build than to rebuild.

How Do You Repair Broken Trust?

–       Dependent on how was broken: Unfortunately this is no silver bullet or quick fix for this particular issue

–       Identify the source of the breach in terms of ABI and respond appropriately to that factor

–       Integrity breaches are most stable, yet hardest to repair

  • Integrity is defined by “low-water” mark of prior behavior
  • Always act with the highest integrity possible.

Since trust means so many things to so many people, and not every one person is alike, implementing trust building efforts may need to take a creative approach when you are looking to build trust in your organization, the varying social styles in your organization will dictate your course of action, however; the trustworthiness factors listed by Dr. Mayer are a great starting point to building your road map.

A special thanks goes out to the Roger C. Mayer, who is a professor of Management at the North Carolina State University. Also, a special thanks to the Northern Virginia SHRM chapter for hosting the event.

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  • Enough With The Corporate Double-Talk Already… | Ernie's HR Project
    3 January 2014 at 4:59 am - Reply

    […] one. Dr. Roger C. Mayer, of the North Carolina State University detailed three factors in Building Trust in Your Organization: Ability, Benevolence, and Integrity. For the purposes of this post, I’m going to focus on […]