Creating a culture where trust thrives

This article was originally posted 29 March 2018, and was amended 8 June 2021.

Trust in businesses, politicians and institutions, public and private, has been challenged in recent years, brought to light by various royal commissions.

The impact of these breaches can be catastrophic for individuals and organisations alike, undermining the many years that it took to build trust.

While most businesses won't suffer such dramatic incidents all successful and sustainable businesses need trust to prosper. Having your customers' and stakeholders’ trust is important. However, just as good customer service starts with a valued and focused team, ensuring your business is trusted also starts from the inside.

Trust isn't a ‘nice to have’. When it is damaged, morale and productivity decline, profitability is impacted and reputation suffers. Conversely, when trust and relationships are strong, businesses see a direct impact on both the bottom line and employee wellbeing and productivity. 

So what can businesses do to create a culture where trust thrives?


Leaders set the tone in an organisation. Not only by what they say, but mostly by what they do.

People generally trust other people. Research consistently shows that those in a leadership position have a disproportionate impact on how staff feel about their organisation as a whole.

The key is for leaders to be credible and reliable, but also able to connect with the people they lead…to understand the uniqueness of each and where possible building a ‘realtionship’ where each trusts the other.

While leaders can sometimes make the mistake of wanting big programs or initiatives to change culture and build reputations, these ‘transformations’ can miss the more subtle, but equally important, human interactions that are essential to building trust: Listening to what your team are telling you, responding to their concerns, and being open and transparent about decisions - especially the difficult ones.

Managing change

We all know that things change and increasingly change is happening more rapidly. Changes to chief Executives, Senior Managers and team members, new technology changes the way we do our jobs, markets change, and restructures change the shape of teams.

Change isn't going away, so the way it is managed has a significant impact on whether it delivers real benefit to the organisation. Never underestimate how change can affect your team, and make sure you consider what it may do to the ‘psychological contact’ between each person, you, and the organisation as a whole

Everyday communication

Reflect on the conversations and interactions you had today because they will tell you a lot about whether you have contributed to the culture of trust, or depleted it.

The way we communicate with colleagues on a day-to-day basis is really the ‘moment of truth’. Did you check for understanding when delegating a task to a member of your team? Were you too busy writing an email in a meeting to listen to someone’s idea? Did you cut short a conversation or send a curt one-line email? We’ve probably all done at least one of these things, but the impact is a small yet significant erosion of trust.

Good communication, respectful interactions and being present in conversations are all essential for building trust.

Performance reviews

Good people management and HR practices are fundamental to any organisation. As you head into performance review season, it’s a good time to reflect on how you might conduct your reviews, the outcomes you want to achieve and the quality of the conversations you are having with your team.

If your performance reviews are perfunctory, simply skimming the surface or not discussing important interpersonal skills such as relationships and trust, perhaps it’s time to look for a new model.

The trust 'ledger'

Just as you need an accountant more than once a year for accounts, you also need to focus on building trust and relationships on an ongoing basis.

Unconsciously, human beings are keeping tally of the number of commitments made and kept in their dealings with others. Being more conscious of this is the first step towards keeping the balance 'in the black'.

Remember: Consistency of behaviour, open communication and treating people with respect are the building blocks of trust.

If you’d like to discuss how you can effectively build a culture of trust in your organisation, get in touch today.