With extreme cases of staff misconduct having hit the headlines lately, how can leaders create an environment of trust and accountability? Managing director of Forum EMEA Graham Scrivener finds out.
Bad behaviour is sweeping the business world. First there was Tesco, that was forced to sack four senior executives after artificially inflating profits by £250 million.
Then Lloyds announced the dismissal of eight dealers after what chief executive Antonio Horta-Osorio described as “completely unacceptable behaviour.” The eight were dismissed for attempting to rig the inter-bank lending rate Libor.
While these are both extreme cases of staff misconduct, it left me thinking about the importance of workplace climate. What impact can this have on staff behaviour and how can we teach our leaders to influence and shape this environment?
Climate is defined as how we feel about our place of work. It is proven to impact motivation, engagement and performance. Statistics suggest that 70% of this climate is shaped by how a leader behaves.
We have found through our own research that trust is the biggest influence on building a productive climate – having a trustworthy leader who also places trust in the team is key to a healthy and enthused workforce that will use their discretionary effort.
Reading these reports about staff breaking the rules, it seems that building a climate of trust is hard for most leaders, especially with many teams now working remotely.
Most either keep a tight rein on their team so they know their every move and instruct them of everything to do, both of which suppresses innovation and development.
Others trust staff too much, giving them heaps of responsibility and very little guidance. They do not know how well staff are performing or progressing, with some not even sure on their team’s whereabouts day-to-day.
Neither approach inspires trust among staff in their leader or encourages trust to form between them. Instead, it stifles motivation and progression and, in fact, a climate that lacks trust can also leave many underperforming staff to slip through the net.
So how can we teach managers to build a climate of trust?
When we asked employees from around the globe what are the four most effective tactics for inspiring trust, “walking the talk” was up at the top.
Leaders that practice what they preach gain trust and respect in their team. Their behaviour also sets a precedent; helping others to understand how they are expected to behave externally or internally.
However, they must set a good example to the team and meet the organisation’s expectations.
Behaviour at the top filters down to the rest of the business. It affects the culture of the organisation and can impact the climate within individual teams. At Tesco, for example, there were questions over whether or not it had a corner-cutting culture that contributed to its inflation of profits.
Finding the right triggers
The other three triggers to establishing trust in a leader are: listening to employees and understanding their concerns; encouraging employees to offers ideas and suggestions; and following through on commitments.
To fulfil these “trust triggers”, leaders require excellent performance management skills. They need to engage regularly with individuals, gather feedback, offer advice, coach and support.
It is not about control, however. Great leaders that earn a person’s trust assign responsibilities according to someone’s ability and then support them regularly so that they succeed and thrive.
They clarify with each member what their individual performance standards are and define individual goals linked to the business objectives. And then, through regular coaching and informal meetings, they assess and improve performance, which is an opportunity to identify employees that are struggling or even straying beyond the realms of appropriate behaviour.
Accountability and expectations
So, what if someone fails to meet expectations?
It comes back to leaders empowering their people to be accountable and responsible for their actions in line with meeting the expectations of the business.
Accountability encourages confidence, motivation and helps with personal development as long as leaders continue to lend the right level of guidance and support to each individual.
If people feel they are responsible for their own success while being clear on what is required of them, then they will be more driven to meet expectations which, in turn, will help them feel better connected with the job.
But, if they aren’t meeting the requirements of the job, then the leader needs to reflect on the balance of accountability and find out who really is accountable here for the poor performance.
Getting staff back on track
They need to consider if they have given too much responsibility to that person and not enough support and guidance. Is that individual demotivated or disengaged in his or her job and what should or could they do to help? Or are their areas where certain people need more coaching and training to get them back on track?
In any workforce there will always be overachievers, underperformers and, unfortunately, a small few who may push the boundaries of what is considered acceptable behaviour, for their own gain.
But if leaders know how to build a climate of trust and accountability where excellent behaviour is driven from the top down, then those “small few” will be even fewer. Plus they will offer you loyalty, commitment and motivation, driving a workforce that is keen to perform to the company’s expectations.