Bridging the Trust Gap: 4 Ways to Build Transparency as a Leader

Trust and transparency are fundamental to business success. A recent survey by Ernst & Young found that less than half of global professionals trust their employer, boss, team or colleagues. A host of factors improve trust in the workplace, from diversity and inclusion to individual leaders being more open and transparent with their teams.

To discuss trust in the workplace, I spoke with best-selling author Marcus Buckingham, who recently finished his latest book Nine Lies About Work: A Freethinking Leader’s Guide to the Real World (co-authored with Ashley Goodall).

Our conversation, coupled with my own experience, solidified four keys to help leaders build trust and transparency with their team, while also reinforcing why it matters in the workplace.

1. Build Connection Through Swift and Focused Frequency

One of the biggest takeaways from my conversation with Marcus is the importance of holding quick and frequent check-ins or 1:1s with your team. Trust starts with honest, open dialogue, and the frequency of that dialogue matters just as much as the content itself.

“Building trust isn’t just about intent, but also frequency and detail,” shares Buckingham. “Employees need to know that you have their back and that only happens through regular check-ins or light-touch, individualised communications. If you meet with employees once a week for 10-15 minutes and simply ask, ‘what are you working on and how can I help?’, it goes a long way toward building trust.”

Create a foundation of trust through regular communication and engagement. “People want to know where they stand with you as a manager, and every employee knows that’s a moveable feast,” notes Buckingham. “When you take time to hear from each team member on their near-term priorities, while also letting them know ‘we don’t need to solve everything this week’, you move the relationship forward, and see stronger engagement and performance as a result.”

[Related: Do People Drive Profit? Glassdoor Ratings Linked to Company Performance in the United Kingdom]

2.  Build Transparency Into Culture

Employees want to work for leaders who are authentic and transparent — who openly seek new solutions and ideas. However, many leaders struggle with consistency in this area. Trust takes commitment. Embracing transparency requires leaders to openly share both good and bad news. Effective communication, listening and clear and quality feedback go a long way in creating a positive and open dialogue.

Many leaders hesitate to be transparent because they worry they’ll be viewed as less authoritative or directional as a leader. This is completely false. People want to connect with their leaders.

Leaders have to exhibit behaviour they want their team to imitate, and openly share problems they’re facing and lessons they’ve learned. They should take stock of how the team is performing and what issues need to be addressed and what areas will require change. When leaders do this in an open and constructive way with their team, it builds trust.

When leaders aren’t open to discussing challenges facing their business, or the picture they paint doesn’t match the team’s day-to-day experience, the gap can create a loss of trust. Once trust is lost, it is extremely difficult to rebuild.

3.  Activate Experimentation

Building a foundation of trust with employees requires leaders to create a positive environment, where everyone on the team feels empowered to openly speak and problem-solve. Great leaders give team members the space, autonomy and feedback they need to be successful with specific projects they are owning.

Fear of failure prompts behaviours that can diminish the effectiveness of a team. In absence of trust, employees are guarded, less engaged and less likely to stretch themselves beyond their comfort zones. Empower employees to experiment. This flexibility demonstrates your trust in your team and in turn their trust in their leader.

Focus on creating an environment that empowers employees to succeed. This means providing a safe place for exploration, experimentation and risk-taking, which translates into success for the organisation, increased profitability and talent attraction.

[Related: Employee Engagement Checklist]

4. Encourage and Empower

Enthusiasm is contagious and it’s a force multiplier. Negativity impacts energy and optimism with decreased motivation and productivity by creating stress and pressure.

Maximise every opportunity you can find to provide positive encouragement. Doing so requires some effort, but the results are impactful. In my experience, employees will find ways to deliver results beyond expectation when leaders express encouragement and sincere appreciation for their accomplishments.

By recognising employees for their performance, you give them the opportunity to shine through projects, which increases motivation and confidence.

Empower your team and amplify their strengths. Organisations that put people first and allow team members to leverage their individual strengths will see stronger results, better employee engagement and lower turnover.

Why This Matters

With transparency and trust comes higher levels of performance. When leaders and teams focus on transparent and frequent communications, authentic relationships develop naturally. With a foundation of trust, people work better together and develop faster as a team — making it much easier to build momentum, retain high performing employees and attract new talent.

Ultimately, leaders who focus on each of these areas position themselves to succeed in motivating their teams to do their best work, while building relationships that are vital to the success of their business in the future.

Tammy Perkins is the Chief People Officer of Pacific Market International, where she leads Human Resources for PMI’s family of brands including Stanley, Aladdin and Migo. Prior to joining PMI, Tammy worked with major brands and startups including Amazon, Microsoft, and Appen – leading HR and talent acquisition during periods of high growth and transformation. Find her on Twitter @TammyPerkinsHR and LinkedIn.