High-Trust Culture and Respect

Personal integrity is the foundation of trust in any organization. It’s the pervasive sense that people will do what they say they’re going to do, and that their actions consistently reflect their principles and character.

Integrity, then, is an internal cornerstone of trust. But leaders should also be looking to spur the outward growth of trust across an organization. The way to do that is by practicing the art of respect.

Respect is, in some sense, the currency of trust – the way it’s exchanged and circulated among people. It’s any easy concept to pay lip service to, but like any facet of behavior and attitude, respect requires focus, awareness, and practice. Leaders show and encourage respect when they empower team members, celebrate their contributions, and help them learn from missteps.

You’ll know you’ve got a high-trust organization when you find leaders showing respect to people at every level, especially those from whom they stand to gain the least. Does a CEO view a receptionist as “help,” or as a team member who may rise through the ranks with the memory of being treated well by the chief? Do vice presidents seek out feedback from people well outside their inner circle – and act on it? Do executives remember colleagues’ names, and the names of their partners and children – not because they’ve memorized them to score points, but because they actually care?

With these ideas in mind, here are a few guidelines for creating an atmosphere of respect, where trust can grow and thrive.

1) Positive always beats negative. Steer clear of attacks, sniping, and even trash-talking the competition. Going negative reveals a general lack of respect and self-control. Your culture will be better served by celebrating what your own team is doing than by tearing down the competition. If you talk behind someone’s back, your team will start to wonder what you’re saying about them when they’re not around. Honoring those not present is a good way to show respect for those who are. As described below, it’s not that you have to be all smiles all the time, but that when things get tough, you don’t give in to the devil on your shoulder. Even firing, handled properly, can be done in a way that demonstrates respectful treatment of those who will do better elsewhere.

2) Respect is an investment. Nothing yields greater dividends in team coherence, employee satisfaction, and organizational momentum than advancing the best interests of the people you work with. Leaders know that as an organization’s reputation for respecting everyone expands, so will general trust levels. More trust means fewer politics and personal agendas – and without those, people are more productive, more satisfied, and more likely to come up with and execute new ideas.

3) Root out disrespect. Just as respect can be contagious, disrespect can be a contagion: once it breaks out in a few places, it can begin to spread. You can lose key team members and organizational stability, leaving the business limping for years to come. Vigilant leaders are always looking to nip disrespectful practices in the bud. That means no tolerance for talking behind people’s backs, letting problems fester, or failing to give people the feedback they need to improve.

4) Respect isn’t the same as being nice. Showing respect means far more than being polite or deferential. Indeed, disagreement is key to great decision-making, and people in high-trust organizations feel secure in their ability to disagree — in part because they know how to disagree with respect. There’s an art to expressing a contrary viewpoint without making it personal or petty.

One of the most effective leaders I’ve worked with used this principle by starting any disagreement with a “capture” of the other person’s point of view. He would begin by saying, “If I understand what you’re saying…” and then describe the opposing viewpoint to that person’s satisfaction (he could often say it better than they had). Then he’d continue, graciously, “But another way to look at this is…” He knew it was respectful to listen carefully to his interlocutor so he could summarize the person’s position — but he also knew it was an effective way to disagree.

A vibrant atmosphere of trust is one in which colleagues are constantly showing respect to, and earning it from, one another. Respect starts with the example of an organization’s leaders – but it isn’t a ‘trickle down’ system; in a trust-driven culture, respect is prized at every level. If it sounds difficult, that’s because it is – building a culture of respect is a long-term commitment. But it’s one that will pay off big — on the bottom line, the top line, and every line in between.Image

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