Creating a culture where trust thrives

29 March 2018

Scott Way , Director, Industrial & Organisational Psychology |

Trust in businesses, politicians and institutions is at an all-time low and has been steadily decreasing for some time.

From the current national banking royal commission to the Oakden care home scandal in South Australia, you don't need to look far for examples of serious breaches of trust.

The impact of these breaches on victims can be catastrophic, and should be of foremost concern. There are also financial impacts to consider and once lost, trust is hard to rebuild.

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. 

While the term ‘agility’ is  a little abused at the moment, it’s an important one in business and we are only able to make decisions and respond quickly when we trust the colleagues we work with.

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 also mostly by what they do.

We know that trust in business and institutions is low, but people generally trust other people. Research consistently shows that leaders 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.

While leaders can sometimes make the mistake of wanting big programs or initiatives to change culture and build reputation, these 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.  Chief Executives, Senior Managers and team members change, new technology changes the way we do our jobs, markets change, and restructures change the shape of teams.

Change isn't going anywhere, and the way it is managed has a significant impact on whether it delivers real benefit to the organisation. Never underestimate how change can affect or concern your team, and make sure you consider what it may imply for 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 trust credits in the bank or a deficit.

The way we communicate with colleagues on a day-to-day basis is really the trust ‘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 an erosion of trust.
Good communication, respectful interactions and being present in conversations are essential for building trust.

Performance reviews

Good people management and HR practices are fundamental to any organisation. Coming 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 only 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.

Building and maintaining trust isn't always easy, but is ALWAYS worth it. Trust me.