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The challenge of trust

The great success of the rapid development and roll out of the Covid 19 vaccination has created a new set of challenges that go beyond the complexity of manufacturing and managing global supply chains. The vaccination programme is the largest simultaneous global public-health initiative ever undertaken and offers a great hope in restoring our lives and economies as we tackle the virus, however getting people to trust that the vaccine is safe and effective has turned out to be a significant challenge for many countries.

The ongoing uncertainty in combination with conflicting information means that many people find it confusing to decide what and who to believe. However, to rebuild the economy, organisations and relationships, we need to learn how to drive commitment to trust. Studies have long shown that when there is trust, people work together more effectively and resolve problems easier. Leaders who build trust with their employees are also able to create loyalty, but to trust and be trusted requires commitment and investment in relationships that create mutual value. Because that’s what trust is – a tangible exchange of value.

Building trust remotely

A recent HBR study confirms that predictability is the foundation of trust. When we have a reason to believe, we are willing to expose ourselves to potential risks, however this only happens when we think that we can anticipate the behaviours of others. According to insights from over 3000 senior knowledge workers, there are two types of trust – competence and interpersonal trust. We need to believe that others will deliver high quality of work and we also need reassurance that the person has good intentions and high integrity. With the heavy reliance on predictability, leaders need to learn to communicate and help employees to understand what they can count on, even in an environment of high uncertainty, as this will help to bring in a sense of stability and decrease anxiety levels.

Trust takes a long time to build, but it’s easy to lose. And once it’s lost, it’s very difficult to regain. Especially in virtual work miscommunications and misunderstandings can occur more frequently as there is less clear information to establish and reinforce trust. It is increasingly common to address trust issues with monitoring, either through technology or processes that require employees to track their tasks or time. But monitoring can have the opposite effect, as it can undermine team morale and even lead to increased levels of burnout. A recent survey has shown that 49 percent of those who were subjected to strict monitoring, reported severe anxiety in comparison to 7 percent of those where low levels of monitoring were implemented. Putting people under surveillance sends a strong signal that employees are not trusted and eliminates the space for vulnerability, which is the complete opposite of building trust and relationships.

A two-way journey

The more we trust someone and act accordingly, the more likely they are to trust us in return. This means that leaders need to learn to trust in order to be trusted. Neuroscience studies show that recognition has significant impact on trust – especially when it occurs immediately after a goal has been met and when it’s tangible, personal and public. Public recognition not only maximises the power of the team to celebrate successes, but also inspires others.

When leaders trust employees to choose which projects they’ll work on, they empower them to focus their energy on what they care about most. Autonomy also promotes innovation, because different people try different approaches and often less experienced employees are the greatest innovators as they are less limited by what usually works. The journey of self-driving cars is the perfect example: Following years of significant investments in big car manufacturers with limited success, the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency changed their approach and offered a financial prize for a development of a self-driving car that could complete the course of the Mojave Desert in under 10 hours. The challenge wasn’t met but any of the long-established manufacturers – instead a group of engineering students Stanford University were the ones to succeed.

Remote work is to remain for the long term and leaders who want to maintain engagement and motivation across their team need to establish trust with their teams. 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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