Trust metrics that matter: the power of measuring trust

John Blakey
John Blakey
21 May, 2024
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Trust is a vital part of every single business. It’s the feeling that helps social relationships in the workplace be established, maintained, strengthened, and (where necessary) repaired. From chief executives to regular employees, and from experienced hires to new recruits, interacting with people and building trusted relationships in the process is part and parcel of successful work and business.

The changes in the world of work that resulted from the pandemic have made this more challenging. As remote work has become more commonplace, the face-to-face interactions upon which trust is established has become much rarer. This has led many employees to make negative assumptions about the behaviour of their colleagues, which can lead to mistrust and paranoia. Furthermore, supervisors often either can’t monitor these situations properly, or start over-compensating by monitoring too closely, which can easily make a bad situation worse.

The trust deficit

These challenges regularly lead to organisations suffering from a ‘trust deficit’: where employees don’t have faith in the behaviour or performance of co-workers, leaders, or the business as a whole. This can hamper motivation and therefore productivity, and make employees more likely to look for more satisfying jobs elsewhere.

In the era of hybrid working, many employers turn to work and workplace monitoring solutions, as a means of ensuring that everyone and everything is working as intended. However, this can often do more harm than good and lead to greater trust deficits. That’s because it can make employees feel that their employers don’t trust them to do their jobs independently when not being overseen in person.

So instead of monitoring employee performance and productivity, the best way to foster greater trust in the workplace is to focus on trust itself.



The five most important indicators of trust

Trust can be quite a nebulous and intangible concept at times, which is why it’s important to pin down exactly how it manifests itself in a working environment. We believe that the five key indicators of trust from a business standpoint are:

  • Communication and transparency: employees should feel free and empowered to share any ideas, opinions or concerns that they have, without any risk of negative consequences for doing so. To enable this culture, leaders and managers have to make sure that they’re approachable, are willing to listen to employees, and share insights around corporate decision-making, performance and strategies. That way, employees can understand how their efforts fit into the bigger picture.

  • Reliability: employees should be able to count on each other to deliver on what they promise, meet deadlines, and complete work as required to an acceptable standard. This reliability also extends to the basics, such as turning up for work on time and responding to communications in a timely manner. That way, employees can have confidence that when they need someone else to do something for them, it will get done without any difficulty, delay or disruption.

  • Accountability: employees should feel that they can take responsibility for their actions, whether positive or negative, without a culture of blame or recriminations. They should be able to work together constructively to find solutions to any problems that arise, however they’re caused and whoever they’re caused by.

  • Constructive feedback and recognition: feedback – whether positive or negative – should always be given constructively and with respect to the person receiving it. As well as giving the person involved helpful tips to improve in areas where they may be falling short, it’s also important to be proactive in recognising positive developments such as achievements, awards, promotions, and informal appreciation.

  • Development opportunities: employees should feel that their hard work and performance can be rewarded in the long term through career progression. This should start with investment in training, mentorship and other advancement opportunities. It should be dovetailed with less formal opportunities to expand skills and knowledge, such as coaching, team-building, community activities and workshops.


Measure, not monitor

There’s a subtle distinction between measuring and monitoring, but it’s a very important one to make in the context of workplace trust. Monitoring can put people under undue pressure, because they feel like their individual performance is under scrutiny. Measuring, on the other hand, generally takes a more holistic approach that assesses the workforce as a whole.

The need to embrace measurement over monitoring is one of the inspirations behind our Leadership Trust Index, stemming from our research at Aston Business School. It’s allowed all types of organisations to benchmark the trust levels within their organisations, and pinpoint specific areas where it can be improved.

Rather than singling out particular employees, managers or departments for blame, the LTI can be used as a starting point for constructive, practical improvement measures such as coaching and workshops. That way, everyone feels that they have a stake in driving a true culture of trust for the long-term.

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