How The Pandemic Accelerated Trust, A Must-Have For Competitive Organizations
Christine Wzorek | Forbes Councils Member
Article Originally See on Forbes Human Resources Council
For nearly a decade, we had the technological capabilities for robust remote workforces. But due to a lack of trust between executive teams, leadership, management and employees alike, there was little corporate appetite for remote work.
Without trust, organizations are susceptible to severe and pervasive cycles of cultural polarization and hierarchical populism that prevent belonging, inclusion and psychological safety. Lacking insights to demonstrate the real impact of diminishing returns to productivity and financials, organizations without trust relinquish operational excellence. The long-term impacts of a lack of trust in organizations threaten their attractiveness to stakeholders, key talent and longevity as a competitive player in the market.
Pre-pandemic, the business community and organizations at large habitually denied work-from-home accommodations based on often false, preconceived notions rather than certainties. So when compelled to embrace a remote workforce by the pandemic, the business community's general reaction was disbelief and shock as productivity outputs remained steady — or even better, increased, in some cases.
This turn of events exposed the falsehoods in two prevailing corporate beliefs:
1. We can’t trust our employees to effectively manage their work without being in the office.
2. Institutional cultures and hierarchies have little to no positive impact on (and are not preventing) diversity and inclusion initiatives.
Deloitte’s 2020 Global Human Capital Trends report highlighted a 2019 study by BetterUp, which “found that workplace belonging can lead to an estimated 56 percent increase in job performance, a 50 percent reduction in turnover risk, and a 75 percent decrease in employee sick days. The study found that a single incidence of ‘micro-exclusion’ can lead to an immediate 25 percent decline in an individual’s performance on a team project.” What I find interesting about this is that we can articulate that an organization with high trust among all members will significantly reduce labor costs and return higher output and quality metrics over a low-trust organization. Also, organizations that imbed practices of acceptance, inclusion and intellectual humility into their culture will realize stronger individual job performances, which positively impacts monthly, quarterly and annual goals.
“We trust each other” can only be a true statement when words and actions match. A culture of trust requires time to demonstrate that actions and words truly align. Simple statements of trust from the top must be proven in how the organization delivers on the commitments it made in the sales process of people, commonly known as talent acquisition or recruiting. For example, if career growth and personal development is a promise you make in the recruiting process, what development programs, performance management, progression tracks and compensation strategies are designed and implemented to support such claims? It is crucial for organizations to understand the promises they make to employees, and leadership must be designed and implemented to have full trust.
The realized organizational benefits of a full-trust relationship are staggering. Really — try to imagine anything else providing a 56% increase in job performance. Preclusively, we can expect calculations on productivity output, revenues and earnings statements to be adjusted up.
There are four prominent relationship points in an organization where trust must exist to allow for full optimization potential:
• Executive Leadership
Without trust at the relationship intersections among each point in this model, it is very difficult for the organization to optimize its processes, systems and value. These relationships are multifaceted with strong dependencies on each other individually and collectively. Within the living organizational chart, the model compounds because singular individuals are added to the mix, illustrating how moving from theory to application is intensive and complex.
Let’s look, for example, at the relationship between the HR department and managers as a group. It must be planned by identifying answers to these questions:
• Do we want the HR function centralized or decentralized?
• Do our managers have the capacity to support a decentralized model?
• Does our HR department have the business acumen necessary to support a decentralized model?
• Does running a decentralized model support overall business goals and financial strategy?
• Does running a decentralized model provide the best experience and demonstrate a high level of care and concern for our employees?
Answering these questions as an exercise demonstrates to each party the importance of the relationship and can expose how descriptive and intentional HR's relationship to the organization is and should be. This exercise is most effective when completed for each of the relationships above to optimize processes, systems and value.
Once the relationship is defined, planning an effective rollout and designing in maintenance and feedback loops are necessary. These phases, properly planned and executed, establish trust between the two modular relationships used in the example — HR and managers. The outcome is that they have effectively analyzed and communicated how to work together optimally.
When the initial impact from the pandemic hit, organizations found themselves in fight-or-flight mode. When the dust settled, they emerged with the knowledge that these four points of prominency required analysis and defining and/or re-configuring. The initial impact was a strong enough force to accelerate trust, which led to further introspection and understanding.
The benefits can be seen in both the broad and the granular. Consider the rise in environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) during the pandemic. Consider the productivity gains some organizations have achieved, with reductions to overhead and ancillary costs, improving margin efficiencies in some cases. Consider the impact to employees' personal lives now that their organizations trust them more fully to accomplish a task or lead a project. If it were to be measured, I maintain that most organizations would clearly see performance, productivity and quality increases as a result of trust. What accelerated trust from the pandemic has afforded us is a greater realization that human and social impact strongly influences the bottom line.
However, the greatest benefit realized is that employees now have the trust of their organizations. We all want to do our very best, and being trusted to do it can change everything.