The Great Trust Experiment – Will Organizations Build or Erode Trust In The New World of Work?

July 29, 2021 Randy Conley

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced organizations to have their employees work remotely, it launched what I have come to call The Great Trust Experiment. Literally overnight, organizations extended massive amounts of trust to their employees to do whatever it took to keep their businesses afloat.

By most business metrics, The Great Trust Experiment has been a success. Productivity has risen, people have found new and effective ways to collaborate, and employees have experienced a more harmonious integration of their work and personal lives.

But what about the impact on trust itself? Has The Great Trust Experiment caused employees to have more trust in their leaders and organizations?

Last week I had the opportunity to speak with over 300 HR/L&D professionals in a webinar I conducted about Accelerating Trust During Times of Change. I asked participants to respond to the following question:

To what degree has trust in your organization’s leadership increased or decreased because of the way they’ve handled the COVID-19 pandemic?

Not surprisingly, 64.3% of respondents said trust in their organization’s leadership increased to a large/some degree. Only 20.7% said trust had decreased to a large/some degree, while 14.9% said there had been no impact on their level of trust in leadership.

So, not only has The Great Trust Experiment resulted in organizations achieving their business metrics, but it has also produced higher levels of trust with their employees. Why? Because organizations made the first move of extending trust to employees.

That’s the way trust works. One party must first take the risk of extending trust, thereby allowing the other party to reciprocate by proving themselves trustworthy. As Ernest Hemingway famously said, “The way to make people trustworthy is to trust them.”

As organizations flesh out their post-pandemic, return-to-office strategies, how can they capitalize on the gains in trust they’ve achieved over the last 18 months?

I’m glad you asked. I posed that very question to my webinar participants and here’s what they said:

Which of the following activities would generate the most trust in your organization’s post-COVID, return-to-office strategies?
Increased employee involvement in planning28.60%
Greater transparency in decision-making criteria33.30%
More frequent communications17.90%
Offering employees more choice in work locations20.20%

Much to their consternation, participants could only choose one response. Most people commented in the chat that they wanted to select all the choices. However, as any savvy survey savant knows, allowing just one selection forces people to make tradeoffs in their choices. That’s why I find it interesting that increased employee involvement in planning and greater transparency in decision-making criteria were the top two choices (a combined 61.9%).

Why did I find that interesting? Well, my perception is that many organizations are overly focused on the end, not the means, of their post-pandemic work strategy. The raging debate is where employees should work: in the office, remotely, or some sort of hybrid model. That’s the end. How we decide where it’s best for employees to work is where our focus should be. That’s the means.

Leaders will build more trust with employees by involving them in the planning of their organizations’ post-pandemic work strategy. Openly, honestly, and transparently sharing information about workplace metrics on productivity, collaboration, and innovation are paramount to creating trust in the organization’s decisions. Stubbornly clinging to the tired and worn argument that the office is the best place for collaboration and innovation, without backing up that position with hard data and solid rationale, will only erode trust with employees.

Trust has been thriving during The Great Trust Experiment, but the big question is “will it continue?” I don’t know the answer to that question, but I do know one thing: Organizations that lead with trust and involve employees in crafting their post-pandemic work strategies have a much greater chance for success over the long haul.

Randy Conley, Vice President of Professional Services and Trust Practice Leader at The Ken Blanchard Companies, is the author of the Leading with Trust blog. His LeaderChat posts appear the fourth or last Thursday of every month. You can follow Randy on Twitter @RandyConley or connect with him on Linked-In.

About the Author

Randy Conley

Randy Conley is the Vice President of Client Services and Trust Practice Leader at The Ken Blanchard Companies. Randy authors the Leading with Trust blog, and is a contributing author to the book Trust Inc.: Strategies for Building Your Company’s Most Valuable Asset.

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