Article: How CEOs build a culture of Trust ?


How CEOs build a culture of Trust ?

Trust forms an essential component of any good performing company. But can it be built into the culture of the company?
How CEOs build a culture of Trust ?

Inspite of a compelling vision, rock solid strategy, excellent communication skills, innovative practices, deep consumer insights and talented teams many corporates and leaders just are not able to take the organization to the next level. Simply because leaders don’t trust each other!

Did you ever manage a team where more than 50% of the leaders did not trust each other ? When was the last time you did not trust the boss you were reporting in to? When was the last time there was a change in leadership and you started feeling very uncomfortable as within a few weeks you realized you could not trust your boss?. Well, I am sure each one of you have gone through such situations.

Over my corporate career of more than 2 decades transitioning across five different industries, I have realized that one of the most critical tasks of a CEO is to build a culture of trust, an environment where leaders trust each other. A culture of trust is the most critical building block of any great team. Why? Simply because it gives you a sense a safety. When your team members feel safe with each other, they feel comfortable to open up, take appropriate risks, and expose vulnerabilities. And building trust takes time. I have often observed in my corporate journey so far that in spite of a compelling vision, rock solid strategy, excellent communication skills, innovative practices, deep consumer insights and talented teams many corporates and leaders just are not able to take the organization to the next level. And what is the reason? Well, you will observe team members not sharing information openly, battling over rights and responsibilities, not cooperating seamlessly, not sharing bad news in time, not sounding alarm bells over “ticking” little bombs and working in silos.

I am sharing below some of the practices I have practiced and found success in build this culture of trust in my teams:

Trust is not a benefit that comes packaged with the nameplate on your door. It must be earned, and as I said earlier, it takes time.

Share your Vision

Every employee looks up to you to know what is your vision, in which direction you are going to steer the ship and how you plan to take the ship in that direction. What is even more important is how you communicate this. Keep is simple and clear. One or two overarching vision and how this vision will translate into “what is in it for me” for every employee and how they can contribute to the success. 

When you share your strategy for success, you acknowledge your trust in employees who determine that success. I’ve learned that when you show someone that you trust them, they work hard to show that your trust is well placed.

Leading through E-Mail?

Trust is all about relationships, and relationships are best built by establishing genuine connections. The more your hide behind your email, the more difficult it is. Go out to connect and listen – have more and more “Facetime”.  I find walking around the office premises and meeting employees 1-1 or in small groups during these walks very effective. When I visit a remote geography, spending few minutes doing 1-1 with skip level of that geography head and a town hall with all employees there helps me tune in to what is happening there. Talking to frontline call centre executives, the distributor salesmen or going with them as a pillion on their 2 wheeler which I have done till a few years back very regularly gives a feel of what is happening on the ground. I practice what is call “Coffee with Rupak” where I spend 20 min with an employee picked up at random to have a cup of coffee and chat. When managing large virtual teams speak as much on phone or connect over a skype of facetime call. 

Ask questions, listen, and above all, show gratitude. Simple questions like “what are your biggest pain points?” and “How I can help you?” gives them so much of freedom to speak and you hit a goldmine. As children, many of you were taught to say “Please” and “Thank You” whether you wanted it or not but because in your families it was considered polite. How difficult it is to say “ I Appreciate you for…” Try it. Don’t limit yourself to appreciating only the big things that took place today – try appreciating the little things that you observed today.

Promise Made, Promise Kept 

As you connect and listen, it is very important to listen intently with a genuine desire to intervene and help. Do you have a personal discipline and system to make a list of all little things that you need to follow through? When a team member tells you something which needs some action from your end, it is to them a promise you are making. They will never follow up with you. 

Family Circles

You spend a lion’s share of your time interacting with your team. Put your hand on your heart and honestly ask yourself “ How well do I know my first line?” I practice what I call “Family Circles”. In your family, you know exactly what is happening today. Whether your child or spouse is happy or not, what their concerns are and what challenges they are facing. In my concept of “Family Circles” every leader needs to know his first line like his family member. That’s how emotional bonds get built beyond the immediate work area and builds trust.

Asking simple questions like “How is everything at home?” , “How is your <child name> doing?” before a work chat helps strengthen trust. Once or twice in a year, a thank you note to family members for supporting your employee deliver at work are some aspects I have found really works. And yes, engaging with your team outside of the work environment at informal environment does work in breaking the invisible wall between you and your team.

Lead Communications and Engagement

Building trust in an organization’s leadership requires a personal effort on the part of the leaders themselves. Yet it’s a team effort too. People want the CEO to communicate the strategic issues the ‘big picture’ questions. For things happening at the corporate level, they want to hear it from the top. Make sure constant communication is happening, and use both informal and formal methods. And more so, when things are not too good. You need to be honest and transparent in your communication and ally fears 

When returning from headquarters after a review or after attending some conference, do you take time out to brief the highlights to your team?. 

Remember, when your team sees you repeat the same message at least 3-4 times in different methods /forums, it sinks into them that it matters to you the most and they jump into it. Communications can’t make a person trust someone who is basically untrustworthy. But it definitely creates a culture in which trust can thrive.

Encourage Bad News to flow in 

Dieter Zetsche, Chairman of Daimler AG and head of Mercedes Benz once said “The higher you climb up the ladder, the more people will tell you what a great guy you are. The worst trap you can fall into is believing them” If nobody tells you that they have a different opinion – that they actually don’t agree with what you are doing – then you may sleepwalk your way into disaster. Encouraging bad news to flow into you seamlessly is a key leadership skill to build trust. 

The CEO’s greatest battle today is to win the trust of stakeholders. Building this culture of trust within an organization is insanely important and starts from the top. To my mind, trust is like a forest – takes lots of time to grow but can burn down with a torch of carelessness.  I have been practicing the above practices with success to create a culture of trust in organizations I have been leading. I look forward to hearing your experiences and views.

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Topics: Culture

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