Jackie and Gary sitting on bench

The importance of trust within an organization cannot be overlooked. It’s a pillar for success and directly impacts the bottom line. Our CEO and President, Gary Baker, sat down with communications and engagement strategist, Jackie Bartoletti, to dig into simple ways companies can create trust, and pitfalls to avoid.

Gary: Let’s dive right in. When did you first realize that trust impacted the bottom line?

Jackie: This really came to light for me as my own leadership and management responsibilities grew. I started understanding the impact my actions and decisions would have in the organization, and that required getting others to take action in alignment with me. And that requires trust. I had to be credible, show respect, create understanding and demonstrate how our work would make a difference, ultimately impacting our business, the goals of the organization, and the bottom line. Also, we are all employees, and employees are very credible voices that impact a company’s brand and reputation — key contributors to a company’s bottom line. Employees are more willing to be good brand ambassadors if they trust their employer, their manager and their leaders.

Gary: I have a client who said to me, “We try to do two things, we try to build trust and confidence in our clients.” Some leaders and organizations just get it. Tell me about the various ways you’ve seen an organization compromise trust.

Jackie: Well it’s going to sound cliché, but trust has to start at the top. The head of the organization needs to demonstrate the behaviors they will reward. So if building, earning and giving trust are valued and demonstrated at the top, and then at the next level of leadership, and so on, then things are going to work. But when they are not, that’s where the compromise begins. Compromising behaviors I have seen first hand include leaders who dictate and don’t coach, leaders who do not give credit (rather they take ownership of others’ work), leaders who do not share in decision making or do not give authority to others in the organization. Also, leaders who do not know their audience and cannot relate to their employees. They speak a different language (figuratively) and cannot, or do not try to, understand their employees’ point of view. Those are trust killers. Other behaviors include inconsistency, unpredictability and lack of transparency. So if we see the trust killers we realize we have an issue with leadership, and likely an issue with the success of the organization, because clearly trust is not a priority.

Gary: I remember a program your team at Disney led called “Coffee with…” and you had different leaders host small group conversations. Did that factor into trust building?

Jackie: Yes, that was a huge trust building opportunity and it’s very easy to deliver. It’s a time for the leader to have an “intimate” conversation with 25 diverse employees, at all levels and from all areas of the business. Anything goes, any questions are allowed, and the leader answers as best as they can. Sometimes they have to follow up with an answer if they don’t know it off-hand but they try to find out. It’s also an opportunity for leaders to ask questions of those in the room and get perspectives from the front line. No prep, no transcripts, no recordings, just a conversation. This goes so far in building trust, and I have data to prove it! Engagement and trust scores go up and that sentiment trickles into the rest of the day, the week and beyond.

Gary: My next question plays into this — what is your experience with companies that have a high-level of trust? And how have they earned it?

Jackie: When I am trying to get inspiration or figure out what to do in a certain situation, I often reflect on the actions of one particular CEO who I felt was the best of the best. A few things he did that were particularly impactful:

  • he had a clear vision for the company that he would repeat over and over, hence building our trust in what we were working on
  • he met with employees face-to-face often and shared insights on the business and spoke candidly, which increased our engagement
  • he would host an open Q&A, demonstrating he was not afraid of any questions and was not hiding anything from us (yes, this was a public company)

All of that earns trust.

Gary: You know what else it comes down to? How the leader makes people feel.

Jackie: Yes! I think that CEO treated us better than he would anybody. We were his customers and we were number one, and he knew we could then take care of our customers, the organization’s customers.

Gary: I see it as a simple equation. If you take care of your people, your people take care of the business. People want to feel cared for. People want to feel valued. People want to feel that they have some autonomy in doing what they need to do to make that thing work. So when this leader you are talking about goes around and interacts with people, he creates that feeling.

This brings me to our last question, if leadership recognizes they have a problem with trust, and they want to change, what would you advise?

Jackie: I advise them to listen to the feedback, be willing to hear the input, be willing to look at things through a new lens. Then engage others in determining next steps. Including others empowers them and makes them feel like owners, which increases their effort and performance, and hence, increases trust. Do not leave it to HR to fix a trust issue. This is not an HR issue, it’s a leadership issue. I’ve seen “leaders” driven by narcissism and fear — these leaders may not be able to build trust. Leaders with integrity, confidence, passion and empathy are better suited to build trust, and hence, can better impact the bottom line.

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