Training For Trust

Training to foster trust may be a good place to invest to create profitable advances that affect the entire enterprise.

By Linda Stewart, President and CEO, Interaction Associates

Can you train for trust and drive strong business results in the process?

Yes, you can, according to Building Trust 2013,the annual survey on workplace trust and business results by Interaction Associates and the Human Capital Institute (HCI) ( Another important insight this year: How leaders lead matters more than ever.

Building Trust 2013 examines the overlapping areas of trust, leadership, and collaboration. Now in its fifth year and grounded in Interaction Associates’ 45 years of methods for workplace trust and collaboration, Building Trust 2013 surveyed nearly 400 leaders at more than 290 organizations globally.

The survey looks at key measures clustered in three areas—trust, leadership, and collaboration—at both high-performing and low-performing organizations. The 2013 results show a dramatic turnaround in two of the focus areas, trust and leadership, and a lesser uptick in collaboration. Interaction Associates shared some of the results and analysis exclusively with Training.

Trust Rebounds in 2013

In fact, the turnaround in trust and leadership this year is nothing short of a rebound. Much of the mainstream media coverage of the 2012 results focused on how trust had fallen off a cliff last year—with key measures of trust, leadership, and collaboration at an all-time low. But trust and leadership bounced back dramatically in 2013, with both experiencing a seven-point jump to some of the highest levels for both in the five years that Building Trust has been monitoring the workplace.

While every measure of trust in the workplace rose from 2012 levels, the standout trait of trustworthy leaders was: being consistent, predictable, and transparent in their decisions and actions, with a 7 percent jump.

The news is even better at high-performing organizations. In fact, nearly every leadership trait that Building Trust surveyed jumped significantly this year. The research tracks 16 key leadership areas, and all but three of these enjoyed
dramatic increases, including:

  • “Leaders reflect realistic optimism and confidence in the future.”
  • “Leaders model and reflect organizational values.”
  • “Leaders encourage, listen to, and act on employee feedback.”

In addition, high-performing organizations have higher ratings in effective leadership across the board compared to their lower-performing counterparts, and are 15 percent more effective at consistently executing strategy than lower-performing companies.

Leaders Walk the Talk

Building Trust 2013makes a definitive case that how leaders lead is vitally important for building trust in today’s business environment. Predictability and transparency are critical here: By a wide margin, leaders at high-performing organizations outpoll all others in behaviors around predictability, transparency, clarity, and openness. Employees at strong-performing organizations see their leaders as consistently walking the talk by modeling and reflecting the organization’s values.

Trust Is a Decision

The idea that leaders walk the talk is grounded in a definition of trust as a decision leaders make to empower others. This is the opposite of how most leaders view trust—as an inherent trait. But the reality that trust is a decision and a leadership attribute that can be developed is good news—especially since the connection between high levels of trust and successful financial performance has been shown repeatedly over a half-decade of research.

Why We Trust Others on the Job

The Building Trustresearch findings in 2012 specifically identified three reasons we trust our colleagues on the job:

Shared Purpose: If you and I are trying to achieve a common goal, I’ll trust you to do your part. Soldiers trust each other with their lives, because they are pursuing a shared goal.

Past Behavior/Experience: If you’ve behaved as expected in the past, I trust you to behave that way in the future. In this case, “past performance” may very well predict “future returns.”

Expertise/Capability: We trust people based on our perception of their capability, so I trust my doctor to treat my illness because of her training.

Recommendations: Building Trust Through Training

Our five years of Building Trustresearch show that financial success and trust are inextricably linked. But how can leaders act to improve the organization’s levels of trust, and build a more trust-promoting culture?


Leaders must learn and be prepared to appropriately share their rationales for decision-making. They must be coached to use stakeholder analysis tools, identifying appropriate stakeholders and involving them in decisions that affect their work lives. Leaders who have a “command-and-control” style should learn to develop and deploy a more open, power-sharing model of leadership.

The new model is a leader who is open about what is happening within the organization, shares information, and encourages information sharing widely. Leaders who give employees a clear vision of an inspiring, shared purpose to work toward will build a strong foundation of trust. What’s more, doing so will affect company performance and
bottom-line results.


This aspect speaks to the leader consistently acting in alignment with the company’s values. Company values should serve as a basis for acting, and a compass for setting direction, inside the organization. When values are expressed but not acted on, trust suffers. Predictability is a function of consistency. Leaders who follow through and keep their promises build trust. They hold themselves as accountable as they hold others. Training in self-awareness will help leaders understand their impact on those around them, and help them course-correct.


Behind the idea of “feasibility” is a leader who is acutely aware of how much stretch is involved in developmental assignments. Setting someone up to fail by making impossible demands or withholding resources or support destroys trust. Ensuring people have the skills and capabilities to succeed demonstrates that leaders have the interests of both their people and the organization in mind. Leaders also need to focus on their own learning. Trust is built when a basically competent leader owns up to his or her mistakes and rectifies them.

So what’s the bottom line from Building Trust 2013?There are several, but chief among them is that your bottom line can be improved by attending to trust. Trust has been shown to align with higher levels of productivity, involvement, and employee satisfaction. Training to foster trust may be a good place to invest to create profitable advances that affect the entire enterprise.

Linda Stewart is president and CEO of Interaction Associates(, a global leadership development firm based in Boston and San Francisco.


Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training Top 100 and Emerging Training Leaders.