The title of my article comes from the management guru, Stephen Covey. To quote him fully:
‘Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships’ Stephen Convey
Trust is the Foundation of Relationships
Whether those relationships are cultivated at home or in the workplace, whether they are nurtured between friends, neighbours, family members or between job share partners, trust lies at the very heart of what makes those relationships so full of promise, hope and opportunity.
Without trust, in a healthy and balanced environment, why would you want to be in any relationship?
It is well documented that high performing organizations which foster a corporate culture built on high levels of trust, integrity and respect, enable individuals to get their jobs done in a most effective and efficient way. In fact, research tells us that the UK’s best workplaces have higher than average trust scores – and that these high achieving organizations are more likely to offer flexible working [ Great Place to Work, ‘Trust: the most important factor for successful flexible working’, 2016].
In this article we’ll explore the relationships between working flexibly and organizational trust, respect and integrity. By no means mutually exclusive, we’ll examine the ethical attributes of what it takes to be trustworthy, to act with respect and to apply high levels of integrity, and through this gain a unique insight into why and how flexible working can deliver exceptional business results.
‘I believe in trusting. Trust begets trust’ Mahatma Gandhi
When Gandhi said, ‘trust begets trust’, he is really shining a light on the reciprocal nature of trust. The giving and receiving of trust is a two way, non-binary contract and has to be earned by each party. Trust is not simple – it is not an asset that we can easily exchange without thought or emotional connection. When Rachel Botsman, author of Who Can You Trust, talks about ‘money as the currency of transactions and trust as the currency of interactions’, she highlights the transformational and complex nature of trust. Without trust, our relationship with a business (or indeed our manager or with each other) becomes purely transactional with no vested interest, emotional ownership, or consequence. Profits may remain strong and user numbers may remain steady during a breakdown in organizational trust, but confidence is gradually eroded which is a much more valuable asset long-term, and the belief in the organization and our relationship with it, is lost.
Let’s put this into context of our day-to-day workplace. When we operate in a climate where leaders and our colleagues are trustworthy through what they say (words), do (actions) and feel (the emotional effect they have on us), we create a place of work which is empowering, highly engaged and psychologically safe. As human beings we are attracted to working in ‘tribes’ where a shared sense of purpose and vision is palpable. We don’t need to keep on saying it, we just do it; collectively and powerfully. It feels right.
The latest ‘Edelman Global Trust Barometer’, released at the World Economic Forum at Davos, January 2020, really brings this home. ‘Trust is built on [both] competence (getting things done) and ethics (doing the right thing and working to improve society)’. The research then goes on to report: ‘Ethics is three times more important to company trust than competence. Ethical drivers such as integrity, dependability and purpose drive 76 percent of the trust capital of a company, while competence accounts for only 24 percent’.
What’s this telling us about trust and flexible working?
It’s not just about getting things done, it’s how you do it that matters. By embracing a level of flexibility that allows each of us to get the job done when, where and how that is right for each of us, and by reinforcing a new fluidity and agility in the workforce, organizations create a level of trustworthiness that is hugely powerful, purposeful and compelling.
What do we see and feel differently?
We experience higher levels of engagement and empowerment which result in greater productivity and increased innovation. By cultivating a collective workforce that is invested in the high performance of the organization based on trusted, reciprocal working relationships, we are able to achieve so much more than the sum of the parts.
In essence, we create a place of work where trust begets trust – the drive to thrive and flourish, based on competency and ethics, becomes infectious as a force for good.
‘Integrity has no need of rules’ Albert Camus
Albert Camus, French philosopher, author and journalist, nailed the definition of integrity above with this simple aphorism. When we act with integrity, we hold ourselves accountable and we don’t let either ourselves or anyone down, if we can help it. We don’t need to turn to rule books. We self-regulate our own behaviour and we set our own standards of behaviour based on shared values and a moral compass that we are all able to tap into, equally and conscientiously.
What’s this telling us about integrity and flexible working?
Integrity as the lodestar of a flexible workforce unlocks talent and energy. As a job sharer, for example, my job share partner can rely on me to get the job done to the highest possible standard. I will be proud of what I do, owning and taking responsibility for the task in hand, and my level of commitment to my job share partner and my role is exceptional. What do we see differently? With integrity as an intrinsic motivator, a flexible workforce will constantly self-validate and assess levels of performance to ensure not only are end goals achieved but delivered in such a way that elicits pride and loyalty.
‘Respect is how to treat everyone, not just those you want to impress’ Richard Branson
Covey, Gandhi, Camus…….and now a quote from Richard Branson to bring to life what we mean by respect. Respect is an inclusive behaviour based on parity and fairness. When we are respectful, we show regard or consideration for others around us and we make the effort to work out how other people would like to be treated. We value difference, as a force for good, and we are curious about others. When I am treated with respect, I am treated fairly and justly, and I respond with equal amounts of respect and due care.
What’s this telling us about respect and flexible working?
The ability to transform flexible working roles and teams through our ability to connect and engage with others means that that the workforce pushes boundaries and challenges assumptions. The status quo is not a given. By acting with respect, we are able to unlock the power of innovation and imagination through diverse thinking and proactive inclusion of others. We welcome and bring an outside-in mindset into our working role that drives higher levels of self-awareness and of empathy.
A truly respectful workforce is not shy to hold debate and dialogue – in fact, constructive and robust challenge becomes a healthy component of what it takes to deliver workplace roles where adaptability and agility are the norm.
Through exploring the relationships between flexible working and organizational trust, respect and integrity, we have seen how and why flexible working not only delivers outstanding business performance but also enables people to be the best that they can be, through creating and operating in a belief system founded on shared ethical values, desired behaviours and a clear sense of purpose.
It is this belief system, robust and resilient through the powerful combination of trusted and respected flexible working relationships built on high levels of integrity, that will withstand the inevitable challenges and predictable surprises that organisations are facing today and in the future. The ability to mitigate the impact of disruption and optimise sustainable growth through shared working relationships that are dynamic, agile, stimulating and, arguably above all, human, has to be a business must-have, not nice-to-have, if it is to thrive and flourish.
This is what Stephen Covey means when he talks about trust as the glue of life and the foundational principle of all relationships. I wonder – which organisation wouldn’t want to have a dab of that magic stuff through embracing flexibility?