Monday, 6 June 2011

Trust Me!

Last year the Institute of Leadership and Management in partnership with Management Today magazine commissioned a report to assess the state of trust in organisations...

This really interesting piece of research focused on six dimensions by which the trustworthiness of leaders and managers is measured: ability, understanding, fairness, openness, integrity and consistency.
These dimensions, weighted by the importance respondents applied to them, were then examined against a number of factors, ranging from the size of the organisation and its industry sector to the age and gender of manager and employee, plus the length of their service and relationship with leaders and managers. Confidence in the boss' ability to do their job is the most important factor in breeding trust among the workforce. Almost as important is the ability to demonstrate a strong sense of personal integrity. The other factors were seen as being far less important than ability and integrity. The drivers of trust in line managers are more diverse. Once again, ability is top of the list of characteristics, but integrity is marginally outweighed in importance by line managers’ understanding of the needs and abilities of others, and matched by fairness in the way that they treat them.

The larger the organisation, the less trust employees are likely to show in its leadership. The most trusted bosses are those at the helm of organisations employing up to 10 people. This trust in CEOs falls off consistently as the organisation grows and reaches its lowest in organisations that employ more than 1,000 people. Overall trust in line managers is also highest in the smallest companies but falls to its lowest point in medium-sized enterprises. It then recovers marginally in the bigger organisations, which possibly indicates better manager training in larger concerns.

The longer bosses and line managers have been in post the more trust employees have in them. Conversely, the longer an employee has been with the organisation the less they trust their management team. This apparent contradiction can be explained by the effect of the length of relationship between manager and managed. Trust is at its highest between a new employee and long-serving managers, and at its lowest when a long-serving employee is working under a new leader.

Age and gender have less effect on trust than might be expected. The research reveals a small dip in trust for middle-aged leaders and managers and a general trend for employees to show greater trust in bosses who are of the same sex and similar age as themselves. Women are generally more trusted and trusting than men. But the research found that, although women tend to start employment with more trust in their managers than new male recruits, their trust decreases more sharply, ultimately falling below the levels of men.

Trust in public sector bosses compares poorly to many bosses in the private sector, although this can partly be explained by the fact that many public sector organisations are large. Trust is low in large organisations that feature a high percentage of long-serving employees and a high turnover of bosses and line managers.

Clear patterns and trends emerge from the research. Establishing trust takes time and is improved when the relationship between leader and follower is close. This finding has important implications for new bosses of very large organisations, many of which are in the public sector and feature long-serving employees. The bosses of these organisations have the steepest hill to climb to establish trust, and they will not be able to reach the summit without demonstrating a strong sense of personal integrity. If they can’t show the qualities of principle and honesty, and that they are in it for the long haul, not just as a lucrative or advantageous career move, they will not be trusted.

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