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Is our ‘trust tank’ empty?

30 September 2021

Story by
Sarah Rice, Editor and Director, The HR World

Is our trust tank empty?

There is an old Dutch saying that “trust arrives on foot but leaves on horseback” and it is as relevant today as it was when it was first recorded in the late 1700s.

But is trust something we ever really think of in the running of a business and the management of the people who work with in it? How does trust, or the lack of it, affect the bottom line? And in the devastating wake of the pandemic, have we used up what trust we had to carry us through the crisis?

These and many other trust-related questions have been at the heart of the work of Veronica Hope Hailey for more than a decade and were the centre point of the inaugural FlourishZone Leadership Group meeting on September 24th , in partnership with The HR World.

Veronica, who is an Emeritus Professor at Bath University and Director of Policy and Research at The Forward Institute, has studied the impact of trust across the leadership and business spectrum and was invited to discuss how this has recently played out.

The research has been carried out with the CIPD and widely covered in national press, including the Financial Times and People and Strategy.

But what is trust? As Veronica puts it: “Trust is the willingness to accept vulnerability in a risky situation, to take action because an individual or organisation is asking you, and you fundamentally believe they have good intentions towards you.”

She went on to outline the four areas in which trust is cultivated and won ‘on foot’.

They are:

  1. Ability: can you do what is being asked of you? Are you good enough at it for me to trust you to do it well?
  2. Benevolence: is your heart in the right place, do you come from a ‘good’ aspect?
  3. Integrity/honesty: do you mean what you say, say what you mean – and then carry out your intentions in line with these values?
  4. Predictability: can I rely on you to do what you say you are going to do on a consistent basis?

Veronica’s research with the CIPD and Forward Institute of more than 3000 UK employees showed that in 2020 there was a heightened level of trust in leadership, as she puts it, “because we are more inclined to trust in a crisis”.

But she warned that this year is a “whole different ball game” and that the Dutch proverb could see “trust leaving on horseback in a cloud of dust” in this next phase of the new world of work.

Veronica said: “Trust can’t be manufactured quickly and going into this crisis, the trust that organisations had with their employees, customers and stakeholders will have made all the difference to the behaviours played out.”

She also raised the point that burnout at the senior levels of business was a significant problem for the future and that there were not enough solutions being put in place to fill up the ‘trust tank’.

As the crisis continues in various forms, the question now to ask is – how are we going to deal with that?

Veronica is actively involved in looking at this very challenge, with new a new report on how trust has evolved and the impact it has being launched at the CIPD Annual Conference in November this year.

In the meantime, her advice to leaders having to make difficult decisions and calling on their own reserves is to “act with humanity”.

As she also has previously noted: “Organisations need to think with creativity and innovation, and a very open form of leadership. If organisations really want to be a force for good, they must adjust to ensure equality of opportunity and work with their employees to shape a better future.”

The FlourishZone Leadership Group is a project headed up by  Adrienne Percival to bring together enlightened leaders from across industry committed to helping the workplace flourish. 

If you are interested in exploring trust in your own organisation, FlourishZone is offering free access to Veronica’s fully personalised diagnostics for a limited time. Please email to [email protected] for more information or drop Adrienne a note on LinkedIn.



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