By: Robert F. Hurley, author of The Decision to Trust (Wiley, 2011)
About 10 years ago I was facilitating a strategic planning meeting for a large retailer. The top management team was wrestling with a hiring strategy that would deliver the best customer service on a consistent basis in over 1000 stores across the United States. We explored ideas in training employees and management.
After much discussion, the Vice President of Operations finally put his finger on the recruiting solution when he said: “You know it all comes down to getting the right people. If customer service is what will attract and keep customers, then we need to become the preferred employer in all our markets so that we attract the best employees.”
Since that day many companies have come to the realization that “if we build it they will come.” Create a company that has a compelling hiring strategy for employees and they will create a compelling offer for customers.
Proof of this point comes from companies that have sought recognition in Fortune magazine as one of the 100 Best Companies to Work For, a list that includes Publix, Google, Zappos, Microsoft, Ernst and Young, PriceWaterhouse Coopers and many other in the US and Europe.
Criteria for a Successful Hiring Process
The primary criteria to make the cut in Fortune’s list of 100 companies measures the level of trust that employees have in the company and in senior management.
The Great Place to Work Institute developed this measure; it makes great sense. Trust is a measure of the quality of a relationship. When we trust a person, group or organization we feel confident that they will do what is right, consider our interests in a fair manner; we tend to feel good about such stewards, especially when times are uncertain or risky.
Data clearly shows highly trusted companies attract more employees and have better employee engagement and retention.
For example high trust firms like Publix, Southwest Airlines and QuikTrip have more applications for each open position than all of their competitors. If that wasn’t enough, data from the Great Place to Work Institute shows that voluntary employee turnover rates for high trust firms are half that of other firms.
Fortunately, there is a science to help executives create a high trust firm.
My book, The Decision to Trust, explores the science of why people choose to trust or be suspicious, and how we can build and even repair trust. Here are a few dimensions that leaders can use to help create a high-trust environment:
Create a Strong Sense of Identity Between People and the Firm
Social identity theory tells us that, at heart, we are still quite tribal and that we tend to trust those who we think are similar to us or share some meaningful attributes. High trust companies have strong company cultures and a sense of pride in membership in the company.
Make Sure Everyone is On the Same Page
Before we place our trust in someone else, we weigh the question, “How likely is this person going to serve my interests?” When people have aligned interests, trust is much easier. When there are multiple or conflicting agendas, trust tends to be eroded.
Make Benevolence A Must Have Quality for All Leaders
We tend to trust and feel positive affection for those who are willing to put our interests above their own -- to demonstrate benevolent concern for us. By contrast, a trustee who appears self-centered inspires distrust. High trust firms do not tolerate excessive self interest and opportunism that hurts others.
Ensure Competence All Around
Because trust involves an assessment of how comfortable we are in relying on someone, judgments of simple competence can be paramount. We are only trustworthy to the extent that we can capably fulfill a given responsibility. High trust firms hire A players who are team oriented and put the right person in the right job. When they do make hiring mistakes, they fix it quickly and fairly.
Predictability and Integrity
At some point in the trust decision, the trustor asks, ‘‘How certain am I about my prediction as to how the trustee will act?’’ Leaders can only be predictable if they lead from a set of values and honor their word. In high trust firms, everyone knows that a failure to do so is a serious career-limiting move.
Because trust is largely a relational concept, communication is critical. On the one hand, frequent and open communication can lead to trusting relationships. On the other hand,
poor communication almost always leads to a tendency not to trust.
Spirals of distrust often begin with miscommunication, leading to perceived betrayal that causes further impoverishment of communication
and eventually ending in a state of chronic distrust.
Trustees who excel at communication and are able to create emotional bonds with trustors can set off a virtuous cycle of trust, in which their openness induces others to open up and reciprocate with feelings of confident reliance.
There are many tools that I review in The Decision to Trust to enhance trust. Some of these tools are available online at Drbobhurley.com.
Perhaps it’s time that more companies learned how to build trust to attract top talent and keep the best people.
Robert Hurley, Ph.D., is author of The Decision to Trust (Wiley, 2011). He is Professor at Fordham University and president of Hurley Associates and has published over 20 articles or book chapters in the Harvard Business Review and the California Management Review. Hurley is a consultant with organizations on leadership development, top team development, coaching and other topics. For more information, Dr. Hurley can be reached at Drbohurley@yahoo.com.