How to Accelerate the Trust Curve at Work
With Millennials changing jobs so often, building trust — faster — is more important than ever.
Right now, the battle for talent is heating up in Silicon Valley as tech darlings Tesla and Apple take turns poaching each other’s leaders. But it doesn’t stop at the top. With unemployment rates dropping to pre-recession levels and Millennials now job hopping every couple years on average, businesses in all sectors are finding their employees jumping to greener pastures. No matter how many free donuts and flex days companies offer, employee wanderlust won’t be tamed.
I’ve faced that challenge firsthand growing my company from a few dozen to a few hundred employees in the past decade. Great people come and great people go: It’s a reality we’ve had to adapt to and embrace. The key has been finding ways to build deep relationships of lasting value in short amounts of time, by accelerating the foundation of trust.
Trust is more than a catchphrase — it adds to the bottom line. Studies show teams that have a high degree of trust perform better and are more productive. Trust makes growing companies more nimble; they’re able to act faster with fewer formal rules and bureaucracies. Less time is wasted micro-managing. But with workers changing jobs every two or three years instead of ten, there’s less time to build close bonds. Here’s how we’ve adapted.
Be first to be vulnerable
To me, showing vulnerability is the first step in creating and accelerating a trusting relationship. There’s neuroscience behind this fact. When you open up to people, they behave in a more trustworthy fashion and put more faith in you in return. Relationships grow deeper, quicker. But somebody has to be first to be vulnerable, or those relationships have nowhere to begin.
Case in point: When Starbucks founder Howard Schultz returned from an eight-year hiatus to revive his struggling company in 2008, he knew he needed the trust of his employees before the painful move of slashing 12,000 jobs. He stood in front of an all-company meeting and confessed — Starbucks leadership had failed its employees and their families — then listened as people lined up at an open mic to assail him. But this moment of vulnerability was a turning point: quarterly profits soared from $108 million to $575 million today.
With leadership and all employees, I’m not shy about the struggles we’ve facedand missteps I’ve made. I had to mortgage my home early on to keep the lights on at BuildDirect. As an online provider of home improvement products, we were affected by the housing crunch and recession. And I’m frank now about how my own ego — and reluctance to delegate — held us back at key moments. Showing that vulnerability, far from undermining trust and authority, has helped me build stronger relationships, faster.
Trust first, ask questions later
Trust is conventionally seen as something that must be earned: we measure each interaction with someone until we feel they’re worthy of our trust. But in my business and in my personal life, I’ve always taken a different approach. I trust almost everybody until it’s proven I shouldn’t. This approach may seem counterintuitive and risky but actually leads to many more deep relationships — valuable connections that may never have happened if I hadn’t trusted first.
At BuildDirect, we trust our team members from the day they step through the door. One example is the unlimited paid vacation policy. We’re confident our people are dedicated to our shared performance goals, and we give them latitude to get the time off they need. In fact, we’ve got such committed talent working for us, we have to stipulate a minimum amount of vacation days to take.
In the end, this philosophy of trusting people from the get-go is an enormous time-saver. The good relationships begin faster because you’re not building walls that have to be climbed first. Yes, there are inevitably people who will disappoint you. But the irony is that trusting everyone first actually lets you discover those people more quickly.
Make trust part of your DNA
Trust between leadership and team is critical. But trust between team members is arguably just as important. To really accelerate the trust curve at work, it’s critical to find ways for individual employees to learn to rely on one another.
No, I’m not talking about trust falls. And I realize that to some people, a trust-building exercise may as well be an eye-rolling exercise. But creating trust doesn’t have to be a game. For example, we’ve asked our team members to share their bucket lists, so we can help each other cross a few items off. It’s a simple idea, but by sharing personal dreams — from motorcycling through Africa to writing a cookbook — and inviting others to help, we’re putting faith in each other’s hands.
I’m not saying these approaches are without risks. I’ve been burned once or twice by people whom I shared too much with and trusted prematurely. I put stock in a board member once who, in the midst of a grueling company crisis, decided to hold a surprise no-confidence vote to unseat me. But the benefits of extending and accelerating trust far outweigh these occasional risks. In fact, in that instance, moments after that individual sat down, another board member proposed a motion to oust him, which passed unanimously.
I say that not to be boastful or vengeful. My point is that trust breaks down barriers to communication and offers a powerful window into all aspects of the business. (Truth be told, I knew what that particular board member was up to well in advance, precisely because of the trust I’d extended to those around me.) In an age when job flipping and entrepreneurial hustle is par for the course, great employees don’t stick around forever. But by finding ways to accelerate the trust curve, I do think it’s possible to build real relationships and achieve great things in a condensed time frame. You quickly learn whom you can count on most.
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