Trust - If You Build it Employee Engagement will Come

Employee Engagement has been a hot topic for a while now. Successful companies achieve great results – and provide tremendous customer service – through their engaged employees. Results are certainly well documented. I always enjoy the topic, and different ideas presented to build engagement.

In my readings on engagement, two distinct thoughts stand out regarding employee engagement:

  1. An alternate definition of Employee Engagement could be Discretionary Effort. Or, more simply, “going above and beyond”.
  2. Dis-engaged employees stay for what they get while engaged employees stay for what they can give.

Now, a good deal of discussion and thought can be put into each of those two statements. I encourage leaders – not just “people managers” but leaders of all positions and levels – to consider them carefully.

So now the magic question: if employee engagement is so great, how can I get it? How can I get discretionary effort, and how can I get others to focus on what they can give more than what they get?

If I could sum it up in one word, it would be TRUST.

Trust is the most important factor in successful leadership and building employee engagement. The presence of trust in working relationships leads to many positive outcomes. For a more in-depth analysis and description of these outcomes I encourage you to read one of my favorite books, “Speed of Trust” by Stephen M.R. Covey. In his book Covey trust is described as a sort of currency that can be given, attained, saved and spent when necessary.

So, how does one build up a bankroll of trust? No magic formula, but I would start with three basics:

1.   Give Trust

  • Trust is tricky thing. What else can be accumulated by actually giving it away? Trusting others allows them to trust you and leaders should take the first step in this exchange.
  • This trust is usually displayed by granting more autonomy – giving permission to pursue ideas and innovation, granting authority to make decisions, encouraging reasonable risk taking and allowing for learning-opportunity-mistakes.
  • In my opinion, the far-too-common philosophy of “they need to earn my trust” will not get you far.

2.   Build Transparency

  • Much distrust in the workplace arises because people simply make erroneous assumptions or conclusions based on inaccurate or incomplete information. The more information that can be shared regarding your own ideas and initiatives, the team’s objectives, and the company’s mission and/or strategy, the better.
  • This allows team members to feel a greater sense of purpose and belonging, instead of feeling isolated and siloed.

3.   Commit Time

  • Giving time to those you lead may be the single most important action you can take to build trust and increase engagement. Do something. Anything. Just spend time.
  • Leaders are frequently “too busy” for many things, but this absolutely cannot be one of the things you skip. If you desire to increase and maintain engagement, keep your team working and happy, you must make yourself available.

Think back to some of the best places you have ever worked, or the best bosses you have had. I’m guessing that trust was a key component in your happiness, your high achievement, and ultimately your engagement in that particular workplace.

Trust is a common thread in great workplaces, and great leadership. Build it!