Relationships are the foundation of today’s businesses, and behind those relationships is trust. In terms of communication, you tend to get precisely what you give. Meaning, it’s imperative that you make a real effort to connect with employees. It’s never a one-and-done deal—you can’t just have one or two conversations and expect to establish a real bond. If you want sustainable connections, you have to maintain trust all the time.
1. LEARN HOW YOU COME ACROSS
Nobody likes to think they make other people apprehensive or uncomfortable. But sometimes we do put out the wrong vibe. Set your ego aside and ask people to their face, “Hey, what impression do you get from me? Just tell me the truth.” You can do some anonymous feedback forms to figure out what people think about you, too. Once you know the reality, you can intentionally change to eliminate anything that might be keeping people away.
2. CHECK YOUR PROCESSES
If you haven’t set yourself up to be efficient in your processes, it can take so long to get approvals that opportunities are gone by the time you give the green light. That teaches employees that they can’t trust you to listen and take action. Technology can get in the way, too, if you have your systems so secure that your team can’t research or be creative.
Take inventory of your practices and policies. Ask if going in front of multiple committees is necessary. Ensure that everybody has a way to bring ideas and needs to the table under a reasonable timeframe. They should know exactly who to contact. Take suitable precautions, but create infrastructure and policies that give people the freedom to take steps on their own.
3. SET YOUR PROFITS ASIDE
When you have a bottom-line mentality, people think you value the company over who they are or what they need. They end up feeling like they can’t talk about what matters because all you’re going to do is interpret it with dollar signs.
So, make decisions that show you are willing to protect and hear your people, even if that means your finances aren’t as rosy. Spend time getting to know them face to face. Because remember, people are your biggest asset. If you put them first, then the profits will come as a consequence anyway.
4. HIT PAUSE
I’m personally a negative-first person. It’s more natural for me to say no right out of the gate. But I’ve also found that when I take a step back and give myself a little time to think about what people have said, I often end up thinking they’ve got pretty good ideas. Tell people you need a minute to consider what they’ve told you, rather than just shutting them down right away. If your answer still is no in the end, give a clear reason why so they have a better idea of how to get a yes next time.
When you let someone take over, they see that you have faith in what they can do or learn. So when you’ve got the opportunity to hand off a task or project, go ahead and do it. They’ll get great experience and grow their confidence, and you’ll get more time to tackle other important and enjoyable things.
As an example, my company recently needed a technology patch. Rather than working on it myself, I gave it to a member of my team. She worked diligently for two whole years to get it approved and ready. Even though it took a long time to wrap everything up, the team member who’d done the work was so excited and proud. Her commitment to the organization is much more significant now because she invested all that time and effort and saw positive results.
6. SPEND A LITTLE
When you spend money on an employee, it sends a strong message that you really want them to develop and know their current and potential value. That reduces the odds they’ll go looking for someone else who will invest in them. Whether you provide training, great perks, or cover ways for people to spend time together, don’t be afraid to open your wallet.
7. TELL THE TRUTH
Nothing erodes trust faster than hiding information or fudging the facts. Even when things aren’t so great, people want to know you’ll be there with them to figure it out together. Tell it like it is and be consistent in your message, but stay sensitive to how and when you share it.
Trust is the most valuable thing any business leader can have. Don’t assume it will be handed to you. Instead, work hard to build and maintain it. The more people see you striving to earn their respect, the more readily they’ll give it to you.
David Partain is SVP of Northern Trust and CMO of their subsidiary, FlexShares Exchange Traded Funds.