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Replacing control with trust

The loss of control in a remote workplace has been difficult to overcome for many organisations. Some responded to trust issues with monitoring, either through technology or processes that require time or task tracking. However, micromanagement and surveillance can have quite the opposite effect – they both send a strong signal that people are not trusted.

Predictability is the foundation of trust. There are two types of trust – competence and interpersonal, and when we believe that others will deliver high quality of work and we have reassurance that they will do so with high integrity, we learn to replace control with trust. However, interacting online makes trust building challenging, as we can’t get a true feel for the person on the other side of the screen, their character and values.

The reciprocal nature of trust

The more we trust someone and act accordingly, the more likely they are to trust us in return and therefore to increase trust within the organisation, leaders need to shift their focus to show their own trustworthiness. Harvard Business Review research suggests that managers sometimes struggle to trust that their employees are indeed working in a remote workplace, which leads to managers developing unreasonable expectations that team members should be available at all times, disrupting their work-life balance and ultimately leading to more work-related stress. Micromanagement and constant control are not an effective way to get the best out of people and it often leads to a decrease in employee motivation which negatively impacts productivity.

To demonstrate the two-way nature of trust, the research also looked at how employees feel about trusting their leaders and confirmed that many workers are also experiencing a strong sense that their manager doesn’t trust their ability to do the work. Third of employees felt that their manager expressed lack of confidence in their skills or deliverables and even more employees reported feeling that they needed to be always available to respond to requests instantly, even after working hours. Employees need trust to feel psychologically safe to bring their full self to work, to speak up openly and present new ideas; and particularly in a hybrid setting, leaders need to be mindful of reinforcing trust throughout the organisation without embedding strict control of the virtual workplace that send employees the message that they are constantly being watched.

Trust as a performance driver

Trustworthy leaders create positive relationships with their team, demonstrate expertise and judgment, and most importantly – they are consistent. They do what they say they will do, follow through on their commitments and keep any promises they make.

A leader's capacity to inspire trust in others is essential in motivating and inspiring members of his team. Research led by neuroscientist Paul Zak indicates that trust and commitment “synergistically improve operational performance” as both trigger regions of the human brain to “motivate cooperation with others.” Just as trust connects regions of an individual brain to drive cooperation, it also connects stakeholders across the organisation. When trust is embedded in the organisational culture, it leads to increased commitment to driving success on an individual employee level.

Successful organisations and leaders encourage radical transparency and don’t hide behind closed doors or avoid open communication leaders. At Acumen, we pride ourselves in offering development that gives managers practical tools to help solve real-life challenges. We offer an extensive menu of courses, workshops and coaching programmes, ranging from communication skills through to executive leadership development. In most cases, we design the interventions specifically for each client, but we also offer a wide range of off-the-shelf programmes for those who prefer this approach. For more information about our programmes please contact Simon at


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