The View from HR

Lack of trust is at the root of many workplace problems

May 18, 2013 

There is much talk today about trust and how it makes a workplace function better. The reverse is also true: a lack of trust is at the root of so many team and workplace problems.

If you agree that cooperation, clarity, focus, execution and results are necessary in business, then you already know why trust is key. Without trust between co-workers, managers and leadership, and even in the product or service delivered, costs and confusion rise while results lag.

In his book “The Speed of Trust,” Stephen Covey outlines four core components of trust. The absence of any one of them creates a place for doubt, indecision, assumptions, stagnation and failure.

• Integrity: People who act with integrity (and sometimes courage) tend to be trustworthy. Do you behave in ways that demonstrate positive values and beliefs, especially in tough times? Or do your actions send another signal?

• Intent: What motivates your actions or behaviors? Covey said the highest form of intent is a desire to find solutions and strategies that benefit everyone. I wish the mega banks would understand that sneaky and excessive fees are not a good way to demonstrate positive intent!

• Capability: Your strengths, abilities and attitude are central to the confidence you create in others. Both passion (desire) and continuous learning are important components.

• Results: Yes, at the end of the day, results matter a great deal. Past results are the best predictor we have of future results. And so it goes with a record of lots of activity and poor results.

People who want to be trusted and grow in their roles are often unaware of their failure in one of Covey’s four cores of credibility. Meaningful trust, the kind that establishes you as someone who will get the right job done in the right way, is hard to build. It takes time, repetition, humility and walking the talk. As your grandmother told you, it is much easier to destroy trust with just a few violations of that trust.

Likewise, the highest integrity or best intent will not compensate for the lack of ability to deliver results. As Covey said, I might trust you to house sit for me but have no confidence in your abilities at work.

Think what trust does for you as a leader or a team member. Your questions are taken seriously. Your comments are viewed as well-intended. Your mistakes are forgiven. You receive projects and roles with greater responsibility. You get to do new things. People want to see you succeed (and vice versa). Employees who trust their managers and employers want to engage and use good judgment. Trust is a beautiful thing.

The absence of trust is a potent headwind: Wagons are circled. Turf is projected. Change is resisted. Inward thinking prevails. And good strategies never get off the ground.

See if the lack of trust is the underlying cause of stubborn dysfunction in your workplace.

Bruce Clarke, J.D., is president and CEO of CAI Inc., a human resource management firm with locations in Raleigh and Greensboro. CAI helps organizations maximize employee engagement while minimizing employer liability. For more information, visit

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