I had the opportunity to speak recently at a Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) conference where I shared my experience from my former career as a flight attendant. There’s a parallel between my previous office, an airplane, and a more traditional office when thinking about the importance of trust in connecting with and motivating people.
Like some workplaces, an airplane can be a high-stress environment where rushed and anxious passengers are often edgy and difficult. As a flight attendant, I tried to think of ways to control the environment to make the experience more pleasant for passengers and crew. One way to personalize and improve interactions with people was to memorize the passenger manifest— the names and respective seat assignments for each passenger.
I found that passengers are much easier to connect with when they know you know their name. Addressing people by name helped create an environment of familiarity and a bit of trust, and this small quantity of trust often made a big improvement to the mood and overall experience of the flight. I found passengers were far more friendly, considerate and relaxed. The positive behavior would often then spread throughout the airplane.
Positive connections can have a positive chain reaction in any group setting. Once you extend kindness and trust to others, those people usually want to extend that same kindness — they pay it forward. This shows what a valuable commodity trust is when just a hint of it can significantly improve a group’s behavior and, in a work setting, increase group productivity.
In the book “The Speed of Trust,” author Stephen M.R. Covey discusses the time after 9/11 when trust decreased between passengers and the airline industry. The speed of travel decreased and travel costs increased exponentially due to increased security costs.
Trust or lack of trust impacts businesses and even relationships in a similar way. More specifically, when trust exists between a business and its customers, the speed in which we do business increases. This concept can also be broken down into peer relationships in the workplace. The more we trust the people we work with, the faster and more easily we are able to work together. You reach your goals more quickly, costs go down and revenue increases.
In his whitepaper “How do you measure trust?” Covey states: “The economics of trust simply state that trust always affects two measurable outcomes: Speed and cost. When trust goes down, speed will also go down while cost will go up. This is a tax. When trust goes up, speed will also go up while cost will come down. This is a dividend.”
Employer and employee surveys support this concept:
A related article in the CIO magazine, “How to build trust as a new IT executive,” advises executives to “Meet as many people as you can…. The organizational chart is a great way to understand how different departments and personnel will interact and influence what your deliverables are.”
To illustrate how trust can affect productivity I walk participants through a thought experiment during presentations and trainings. Imagine receiving two emails, one from someone you trust and one from someone you don’t trust very much. The email from the person you don’t trust has a red exclamation point and is flagged as very important.
Which one do you open first?
Most attendees say they open the email from the person they trust first — even though the one from the person they don’t trust is marked urgent and may be related to a client or business matter. Compound this receptiveness (or lack of) by hundreds of emails and other interactions, and you can see how people are far more productive working with others who they trust.
My presentations and trainings with employers usually focus on the same core behaviors, but they are often expressed in different terms to fit my participants.
Although I read and utilize several well-respected leadership principles and authors, I am a huge fan of Covey’s recent work and findings on the economics of trust and how organizations may benefit by working on reinforcing high-trust behaviors, which Covey references.
The 13 behaviors of a high-trust leader, according to Covey, are:
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A recent survey by the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) reported 94% of leaders feel employee engagement is an important or very important workforce challenge. An engaged workforce increases operational income by over 19%, while a disengaged workforce can drain over 34% of an organizations’ operational income. Additional risks of low engagement can be seen in increased turnover, low customer satisfaction ratings and even increased employment litigation.
During the White House’s Summit on Working Families on June 24, 2014, President Obama indicated he was signing a presidential memorandum requiring every federal agency to address flexible work schedules and give employees the right to request such schedules. Absent what could be a dramatic increase in workplace flexibility for federal employees, it is undeniable that the demand for flexibility and work-life balance is on the rise.
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