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The Alternative Board Blog

Building a Culture of Trust in Your Small Business

May. 8, 2024 | Posted by The Alternative Board
Audio Narration of Building a Culture of Trust in Your Small Business

There are many hard skills to master and apply as a business owner. You have  operations, financial management, industry knowledge, HR, regulations and compliance, and legal requirements, to name just a few. It’s a lot to understand and master, but each of these proficiencies are essential to running and growing a successful company. There is a much softer skill, however, that is also intrinsically important to effective business leadership. It is one that is undervalued, underperformed, and mostly misunderstood. It is a concept that is seemingly so simple and straightforward, yet it remains elusive to many owners, particularly those who either bootstrapped their business or have largely gone it alone. What is this mysterious notion that separates good leaders from great? Trust. 

Trust is a challenging word to define, particularly when it comes to business leadership, mostly because of how often it is misused. A statement like “I trust that you have the tools you need to perform your job” really doesn’t reflect a position of trust, but rather an expectation of a requirement being met. “Trust me that your hard work is being duly noted” is more of a performance carrot than a declaration of assurance or validation. Because we so often use the word "trust" wrongly or with hidden agendas, its true meaning and intent are often lost in the lexicon of business mumbo jumbo.

What Does Trust Actually Mean?

According to Merriam-Webster, trust is defined as an assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something. Read that again and soak in the power, and potential pitfalls, that can be associated with the concept of trust. Who exactly is assuring this reliance? And how on earth do we know if we can believe them?

The short answer is that trust is not a checkbox that we mark off once and then it forever endures the test of time. Instead, trust is a constant, often tenuous, balancing act between vulnerability and accountability. Even the thought of trusting another can evoke very uncomfortable feelings in many business owners, not to mention the people they lead.

Why Trust Is So Easily Broken

Again, trust is not a single data point or action, but rather a continuum of answerability that can either be underscored with consistency or just as easily undercut by unreliability.  

Trust takes time, repetition, and intention. It is an essential component to building a productive team and a vibrant company culture. But like a wrecking ball, trust in a business, its owner, and its key relationships can also be wiped out in an instant with a single missed promise, the littlest of white lies, or an inferred lack of support. And the effects to the organization can be devastating.

How to Infuse Your Business with Trust

The trust your employees have in you and other members of your leadership team is equally as important as the trust you have in them. Building a culture of trust starts at the top, so as the leader of your business, the ball is in your court.

The following are seven important first steps in building a culture of trust throughout your organization:

1. Lead by Example. Model the same behaviors and actions you expect from your team. Setting a standard of trust and reliability not only builds your own credibility as the boss, but also establishes the right tone throughout your organization.

2. Be Transparent. Your forthcomingness related to various business dynamics demonstrates to your employees that you respect them and trust them with information that might affect the company or their jobs. 

3. Set Clear Expectations. Set well-defined objectives that allow your team to best execute their projects and meet their goals. Clarity reflects a position of fairness and transparency, and thus bolsters trust among your team.

4. Promote Accountability. Take ownership of your actions and make it clear you expect the same from your employees. While holding everyone accountable for their actions and responsibilities, also make sure you provide them the resources and support they need to succeed.

5. Maintain an Open-Door Policy. As a business leader, making yourself accessible to your employees demonstrates that you value their opinions, are available for discussion, and are willing to take time to connect with them one-on-one, all of which are huge trust builders.

6. Empower Decision-Making. Allowing employees to make their own decisions on the best way to perform their jobs underscores your faith in them as professionals and also fosters initiative and innovative thinking.

7. Acknowledge Trustworthy Behavior. Validate and even celebrate actions of integrity, reliability, and other positive contributions. This will incentivize your team to maintain high personal standards and act as a catalyst in building a culture infused with trust and respect.

Remember, trust is more easily lost than it is earned. As the leader of your business, set the tone for honesty and reliability, and trust that your employees will follow.



Read our 19 Reasons You Need a Business Owner Advisory Board


Written by The Alternative Board

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