Trust matters. The recent-concluded US presidential election is perhaps one fine example.
As some political commentators and observers have commented that, among others, a lack of trust in American institutions perhaps contributed to the election of “quintessential outsider”, technocrat and Republican Donald Trump as the country’s 44th president.
Similarly, not too long ago, the UK voted to leave the European Union.
The move perhaps reflected the breakdown of trust between many of the nation’s citizens and its politicians, business and other institutions, suggests Chartered Management Institute (CMI) chief executive Ann Francke.
The UK is now navigating choppy and unknown waters.
“There are many uncertainties — political, economic and social — which will stress-test the bonds of trust still further. At this juncture, the imperative for every organisation to build and maintain trust and confidence in the organisation and its leaders has never been greater,” she wrote in her forward for a recent survey report entitled “Middle Manager Lifeline”.
This, however, she pointed out is not just a requirement of the country’s political leadership. It is a profound management challenge for the nation.
“This will be a period of exceptional dynamism and change in the UK economy. Every organisation must be equipped to harness this change, rather than reject or hide from it. That requires its people to trust each other,” she said.
She pointed out that there is an alarming trust gap between leaders and middle managers in many organisations.
“Building and maintaining a culture of trust is one of our biggest challenges,” she said recently at the Malaysian Institute of Management’s C-Suite Breakfast Talk in Petaling Jaya recently.
The event featured Francke’s session entitled “Why Managers Don’t Trust Their Leaders, and What Can Be Done About It” and another by CMI director of higher education partnerships and product management Ian Myson, who spoke on “Developing Leaders in a Digital Age”.
Francke said the survey report, released in September 2016, highlights just how far many organisations still have to go to achieve high levels of internal trust.
“Yes, the process can take time. It’s not always easy…the stakes are high,” Francke said, adding that modern organisations are always changing.
Being successful demands that middle management is more agile, effective and connected than ever before.
Francke said mutual trust between leaders and line managers is nothing short of essential. About 85% of 14,000 managers interviewed in a survey believe trust is vital to an organisation’s success.
However, the survey report noted that in rapidly growing organisations, 65% of managers have high trust in their leaders, while only 15% of the managers fully trust their leaders.
The survey suggested that only 36% of middle managers fully trust their organisation’s leadership, and only 37% of middle managers think their leadership team is transparent.
About 80% of middle managers believe that they are important in building a trusting workplace culture.
Many feel undervalued. Only 31% of the survey respondents feel that they are being made to feel very important within the organisation and only 48% of middle managers say their senior leaders make their line manager communication a priority.
Middle managers don’t feel confident to communicate, with only 31% feeling fully confident of communicating company information. And middle managers also lack feedback opportunities — only 9% is asked for input.
Trust Can Be Cultivated
The good news, Francke adds, is that trust can be cultivated, earned and built through good management and leadership at all levels.
“It means open and honest communication. It means giving managers the training and development to act with confidence. And above all, it means recognising and supporting middle managers in their pivotal role at the heart of the organisation,” she said.
Francke also said there is a need among leaders to recognise their middle managers as key connectors and create civic engagement across the workforce. Civic denotes the following five factors that need to be taken into account in engaging middle managers:
• Communications — committing to an open and honest relationship with middle managers.
• Integrity — challenging everyone, regardless of seniority, to act according to stated values.
• Visibility — ensuring those at the top are seen to be accountable for their actions and open to challenge.
• Interaction — creating meaningful opportunities for colleagues to meet and feedback to senior management.
• Connections — investing in training and development at all levels to equip them with professional skills to communicate and manage their teams.