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Transcript: Building Trust: The Core of Inspirational Leadership and a Flourishing Workplace // Al Lopus, Jay Bransford

The Flourishing Culture Podcast Series

“Building Trust: The Core of Inspirational Leadership and a Flourishing Workplace“

March 14, 2022

Al Lopus and Jay Bransford

Intro: If there was one thing that you could work on as a leader that would improve your relationships with others and your organization's effectiveness, what would it be? In today's episode, we discuss building trust, the core to inspirational leadership and a flourishing workplace.

Al Lopus: Hi, I'm Al Lopus, and you're listening to the Flourishing Culture Podcast, where we help you create a flourishing workplace. The problem employers are facing today is that more of our employees are quitting than ever before. Some people are calling this the great resignation. And now with millions of open jobs, how can churches, Christian non-profits, and Christian-owned businesses face this tidal wave of resignations while attracting new, outstanding talent? And we know that having a flourishing workplace with fully engaged employees is the solution. I'll be your guide today as we talk with a thought leader about key steps that you can take to create a flourishing workplace culture.

So, now let's meet today's special guest.

As we face the challenges of what's called the great resignation, we believe a flourishing culture is the antidote to unwanted turnover. And in the United States, we've been experiencing high levels of Americans quitting their jobs. Just last November, 4.5 million quit their jobs, and December wasn't much better as 4.3 million quit their jobs. Now, to complement those quitting their jobs, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there were 10.9 million job openings in January of 2022. These are record numbers with no end in sight. And accelerating this employee-focused labor market are two other challenges for employers that we're facing right now, and that is that the labor market is tight, with unemployment at the low level of 4 percent, and inflation is accelerating to now 7.5 percent on an annual basis. Inflation is at a new high since 1982, and this is creating wage pressures for organizations that haven't seen these levels in 40 years.

What tools do employees have to address these challenges? Well, we believe the antidote to the great resignation is a flourishing workplace. And we're excited about our new book coming out April 19 of 2022 called The Road to Flourishing: Eight Keys to Boost Employee Engagement and Well-Being. But at the core of a flourishing workplace is the level of trust that exists between leaders and employees and among employee groups.

And today our podcast is entitled “Building Trust: The Core of Inspirational Leadership and a Flourishing Workplace.” And joining me is BCWI’s president, Jay Bransford. Jay, welcome back to the Flourishing Culture Podcast.

Jay Bransford: Great to be with you again, Al. I'm looking forward to our discussion.

Al: What would you say is a good definition?

Jay: Yeah, Al, the definition of trust that we use at BCWI comes from the International Association of Business Communicators—and warning: this is a mouthful—it says that trust is the “organization's willingness, based upon its culture and communication behaviors in relationships and transactions, to be open and honest, based on a belief that another individual, group, or organization is also competent, open and honest, concerned, reliable, and identified with common goals, norms, and values.” So that was truly a mouthful, right, Al? But what it's really conveying is that trust is complex and that quite a few things really can build or break trust.

So key concepts from that definition about building trust were things like whether we believe that people are open and honest, whether we feel that a person is competent, if we think that people care about us, and if we think they're reliable, if you believe that they share common goals and values with you. At BCWI, we like this definition because it reflects the communal aspect of trust, a culture of competence, honesty, and reliability, along with good communication and common vision.

Now in his book called The Speed of Trust, Stephen Covey describes trust in basic terms, and simply put, Covey says trust means confidence; and the opposite of trust—distrust—is suspicion. And when you trust people, you have confidence in them, in their integrity and their abilities. When you distrust people, you are suspicious of them, of their integrity, their agenda, their capabilities, or their track record. It's that simple. So, trust is a feeling one person has for another person's capability and reliability, which is supported by their past actions.

So Al, why do you believe trust is so critical to having a flourishing culture?

Al: Well, again, I like the book Speed of Trust, and I thought it was really great as it kind of talks about trust. And he talks about—Stephen M. R. Covey has created a compelling image when discussing the importance of trust in organizations. And this is one that struck me. He puts trust in a very simple formula: that increased trust among coworkers produces increased speed of efficiency and a decrease in the cost because they can get more things done. And, of course, the inverse is also true, is that an environment where there is little or no trust amongst coworkers, it leads to a decrease in the speed or efficiency, and an increase because, well, less gets done. That’s an increase in cost because less gets done. So there's a true bottom-line impact on trust in an organization.

And even as you think about those definitions, you can feel, and I know we've all been in organizations where there's low trust and high trust, and what a difference there is. I mean, we found that trust is the glue that holds relationships and culture together, and it creates engagement in the workplace.

As an example, I remember working with an organization that had significant trust issues, and during their leadership-team meetings, progress and change had slowed because, well, one team member accused a colleague of skewing results to make his department look better. Well, that never goes well. And suddenly the leadership team had to focus their attention on proving they had not done something wrong to a hostile department head instead of working to improve their organization and serving their ministry recipients. So their focus had been taken away.

So, this never would have happened in an environment based on trust. So the bottom line: work productivity increases significantly in a high-trust environment because there's really strong engagement in a high-trust environment.

So you know, Jay, back to you. At BCWI, we found three commitments to be highly effective in creating a sustainable, effective level of trust. So let's talk about those for a minute. Tell us about the first one.

Jay: Absolutely, Al. The first commitment one that really needs to make to build and sustain trust is to lead with character. And simply put, people tend to trust others who consistently demonstrate having strong character, especially the character quality of following through and achieving results. So what does that look like? Well, in a nutshell, it means that leaders need to fulfill their obligations and commitments. Promises and good intentions are not enough. Trust requires competent performance that fulfills expectations and that is in alignment with what a leader publicly commits to. So the track record of achieving results and following through is crucial.

A company we work with has had trouble with this. One of their core values involves intentionally cultivating diversity. A hot topic nowadays. However, in this case, they terminated their international recruiter, with no intention to consider replacing him with a person of diversity. In that case, their actions were inconsistent with one of their key core values, and that decision, or behavior, had a negative impact on their culture of trust.

Now, to go back to Stephen Covey's ideas on trust, he actually gives three ideas on how to improve results and develop trust through our actions. Covey says first, shift your focus from doing activities to achieving results. So the language people use should not be something like, “I called the customer,” but rather, something like, “I made the sale.” Focused on results.

And next, Covey says, expect to win, then the self-fulfilling prophecy will work in your favor. Covey notes that the principle is simply this: we tend to get what we expect, both from ourselves and from others. When we expect more, we tend to get more. When we expect less, we tend to get less.

And Covey's third idea is to develop the strength and stamina to finish strong. That will say plenty of things about your character, especially in an age where quitting is a strong tendency. Now, there are certainly good reasons in life to cut our losses sometimes. But in general, even if something looks like it's heading south or in a direction you didn't intend, try to stick with it to the end and see it through. That shows character, which in turn builds trust.

So, Al, what's the second commitment that leaders should make to create and sustain trust?

Al: Well, it's very related to what you just said, but it's a little different, and that is that one needs to cultivate integrity, consistent integrity. And at first blush, achieving results and integrity look the same. So Jay, you were just talking about kind of, actually, achieving results, but it looks very much the same as integrity. But both are lining up actions with words. But integrity encompasses and surpasses just achieving results. The key to integrity is consistent honesty and actions regarding either a person or what an organization does. So integrity is a characteristic, one that inspires trust. Integrity is consistent honesty and actions regarding everything a person or an organization does.

For example, you know one of our colleagues now, Barry Slauenwhite. Barry was the president of Compassion Canada for over 25 years, and he built integrity by casting vision for a company's culture, then enforcing it relentlessly. He demonstrated trustworthiness and demands it of his employees. Part of creating a culture of trust is his attitude towards mistakes, and Barry encouraged employees to take initiative and recognize that sometimes ideas flop. I've never had that experience. But at Compassion Canada, people weren't afraid to make or take responsibility for their mistakes. Mistakes are crucial to growth. We all know that in order to grow and to learn, we need to sometimes fall or make mistakes. And Barry could point to progress in his ministry, in Compassion Canada, because people learned from their mistakes.

And another key to integrity is transparency in communication. We see this over and over again at BCWI. You know, we toot the communication horn repeatedly because it's so essential to the health and vitality of an organization. So here are a few tips for our listeners for trust-building communication.

First of all, let's keep employees informed right away. As soon as there's a whiff of something coming down the pipeline, employees need to know about it. So timeliness of communication is really important. And then, let's remember that communication is two-way communication. It goes both ways. Collecting feedback on monthly meetings and having department heads collect suggestions and ideas from their people is also two-way communication.

I was talking to a church recently, and they said, “Oh, yeah. We've got communicators.” And I said, “Well, that's not the kind of communication that we're talking about.” Communicator’s another word for preaching. But communication is two ways. We need to listen in addition to speak.

Well, all this communication allows employees the freedom to voice their opinions and see their ideas acted upon. Those are keys in two-way communication. This creates a strong sense of trust in the organization, and it allows them to increase their productivity.

Healthy communication reveals the critical need to fostering mutual trust. This widely beneficial outcome comes to light through our BCWI 360 Review process, designed to align a leader’s behaviors and skills to the organization's needs. So that's something to consider, if you haven't done a 360 recently, to do one of those to help align and be sure that a leader's behaviors are aligned with the organization's needs.

Al: I trust you’re enjoying our podcast today. We’ll be right back after an important word for leaders.

Female: As we come through the COVID-19 crisis, leaders everywhere are asking, how do we understand the tensions our employees are experiencing coming back to work? How do we keep our employees engaged, hold on to our best talent, and position ourselves to thrive as an organization going forward? If you're looking for a way forward, the Best Christian Workplaces Institute can guide you onto the road to a flourishing workplace.

The first step to begin the journey is our well-known Employee Engagement Survey. This proven online tool pinpoints where your organization is already strong and where you can improve your employees’ workplace experience, resulting in more productive people. That's right. You'll have more engaged, productive, and fulfilled people. Time-consuming guesswork won't get you there. Instead, let us help you with a fact-based, hope-inspiring action plan that only our Employee Engagement Survey and skillful coaching can provide. Sign up now to begin the journey to build a flourishing workplace culture and a thriving organization. Find out more at bcwinstitute.org.

Al: And now, back to today’s special guest.

Now, there's one more, Jay, one more factor. And it's often overlooked in the marketplace and is especially important, as we found in Christian workplaces. What's that?

Jay: Yeah, Al. Possibly the most overlooked and yet incredibly impactful way to build trust is to demonstrate genuine care and concern for your people. Leadership has a big responsibility to make sure everyone feels genuinely cared for. They need to express care and concern for every individual employee, for the interdependent work group or a department, and for the organization. Employees, as we know, are not mindless automatons. They want to develop genuine, positive relationships with their superiors and with their coworkers. And they need to have some faith that the people that they trust are taking their best interest to heart.

Often, staff don't see their leaders on a regular basis, and as a result, it's easy for staff to feel that their leaders don't care about them individually. So personal touch, in individual and small-group settings, is important for trust to thrive throughout an organization.

Back to Barry Slauenwhite. He is a great example of staff care, as he would meet one on one with every team member of his leadership team regularly over coffee or lunch. They’d talk about their personal lives, intentionally develop a trusting work relationship, and then they moved on to talking about business and providing stronger accountability.

Also at Joni and Friends, president Doug Mazza was the president there for 20 years. He built trust and did so by writing notes of thanks to his staff, congratulations to them on big accomplishments, and writing birthday cards. He wanted every employee to feel like they were treated with the dignity of people who are made in the image of God.

And you know, Al, demonstrating care and concern for people can also relate a lot to the discussion of love languages. We're all probably familiar with the five love languages of words of affirmation, quality time, physical touch, acts of service, and receiving gifts. And these are all powerful and different ways that people recognize the fact that you truly care about them. So it's important to know your staff well enough to be able to demonstrate care and concern for them in a way that they receive and appreciate.

It actually reminds me of the first-ever team-building workshop that my wife and I ran while serving as missionaries in Asia. It was a workshop that we offered many, many times over the years with countless mission organizations and church teams. In our first workshop, in Thailand, we worked with a ministry team made up of mostly Thai people, with a few Westerners in the group. And we had a close friend, dear friend of ours from the U.S.A. named Miss Nancy, we called her. And she was really a spiritual mother to us. She had recently joined that ministry team, and she was really old enough to be everyone else's mother on the team. My wife and I knew her personally and knew what an incredibly warm, caring person she was.

But strangely enough, the feedback she received from her team on our assessment showed that her team members didn't feel a high level of trust with her. Miss Nancy was shocked and so were my wife and I because we literally would have trusted Nancy with our lives.

So when we talked to her about that, we encouraged Nancy to talk directly with her colleagues and find out why they saw her that way, and she quickly discovered that it was related to this topic of showing care. It turned out that Thai culture highly values spending quality time together, especially over meals. So quality time together creates a sense of family, fun, and overall trust in Thai culture. So what a relief it was for our friend to discover that all she needed to do to build trust with her colleagues was to have coffee and meals together. She loved doing that, and she was immediately able to build those relationships and trust levels up. It was just a great example of how understanding how to show care and concern for people is hugely relevant in developing trust.

So Al, as I've heard you say, trust takes a long time to build but can be lost in an instant. Can you say more about that?

Al: Well, you know, decades of working with leaders, this is perhaps the most challenging topic. How do you regain lost trust? If trust is lost, okay, how do you regain it? And it just takes the air out of the room when trust is lost. People become cynical. It's like there's a huge barrier to overcome. Well, so I'm going to go through five strategies to overcome distrust, and these may or may not work in your situation, but let's go through them, and I’ll encourage you to think about it.

The first one is, maybe not surprisingly, changing the leadership. So in extreme situations, the fastest, and in some ways, the only way to move beyond distrust is to change those in senior-leadership positions. Now again, in most cases, not every senior leader needs to be replaced. However, those most closely associated with the past events that broke trust may not be able to shed the negative perceptions that people in the organization have. So for those in authority, to make changes must assess to what degree the existing leadership can move beyond the past. Speed is the key here. And, also, this allows the new people coming into leadership to use the first few months after the change to demonstrate new ways of thinking and acting. So that's the first one, changing leadership, and often the most difficult.

Now, the second one is rallying around a crisis or an opportunity. Low-trust situations call for an external force to pull people together. It can be a crisis, or it can be an opportunity. The key is to get people historically at odds with one another to behave in different ways. So some organizations will create a burning platform, and that may be a strategy. But the key is to identify a force great enough to pull people together and then have them work together to achieve an outcome that they all value. So rallying around a crisis and opportunity, kind of breaking the old patterns that have really caused a lot of trust.

Number three, breaking the structural frame that caused trust to be broken in the first place. And you know, we've seen that silos are created, in many cases, in low-trust environments, particularly where top leaders don't trust one another. So creating new organizational structures, reporting relationships, can overcome a history of isolation or conflict. So maybe creating a new organizational structure.

Number four, eliminating trust-eroding practices. We often recommend that what we call discovery groups or focus groups to identify what behaviors have eroded trust in the first place. In one case, we heard from employees that they heard from leaders a lot of spin. Whenever they would communicate something, it seemed to have had amount of spin to make it sound good. Well, they didn't believe what the leaders were saying. And so spin is a fatal behavior, especially with the younger generation that really believes in authenticity. In another case, we heard about a lack of timeliness in decision making. Well, these are just a couple of examples of practices that erode trust. And so identifying what they are, often by having these discovery groups, and then working to overcome them is really critical. So organizations must scrap practices that provoke trust and replace them with more transparent, collaborative processes.

Number five, I'll just end with this: stressing teamwork to achieve results. And I found that when leaders can facilitate an environment where people can work together and get results, well, trust is built. And a key for leaders is to reinforce the need for collaboration and to provide the support with their words and actions. But this can only happen if the senior-leadership team can align themselves with common goals and behaviors themselves. Yes, the cohesion of the leadership team is crucial.

So those are the five reasons, the last one, stressing teamwork to achieve results.

Jay, I like the work you did as a missionary in Asia, working with ministry organizations to build healthy teams. You suggest having great trust in a highly functioning team is important. In fact, you talk about eight things that high-trust teams do to flourish. Share with us what you've discovered.

Jay: Yeah. Thanks, Al. I love talking about how to build effective teams. And what I normally do is I recommend asking the following eight questions of your teams or your team members once a year in order to build trust and develop focus and teamwork and overall effectiveness. So the eight questions are, the first one is asking, who are we? And this relates to things like, How well do my team members and I know and appreciate our unique personalities and our giftings, our passions, our life testimonies, our strengths and our work preferences? And how well do those things match up with our team's focus and our goals and roles and approach? It's a question that helps the team to grow relationally.

Second question I like to ask is, where are we now? And this is basically a situational analysis. It means thinking about what our current situation is, that we find ourselves in. What do we know about our target audience right now? What are their needs? What challenges are they facing, and what challenges are we facing? So where are we now?

The third question I like to ask is, where are we going? This means reminding ourselves what our organization or our team's vision is, our mission, and our purpose. What are we trying to accomplish? Where are we going?

The fourth question I like to ask is, how will we get there? So we're talking about what are our short- and long-range goals? What are our objectives, and what plans have we made to accomplish them? You're making sure that you're all on the same page with direction.

The fifth question I like is, what's expected of us? So what are the roles and responsibilities of each team member? Are they clear? Are they well suited to each person's skills and interests? What processes do we need to define that makes sure that we're all clear on our responsibilities? That's what we're trying to achieve with what's expected of us.

The six question is, what support do we need? So you want to think about things like, what prayer, resources, finances, training, mentoring or coaching does our staff and team need to be successful?

The second-to-last question, number seven, is, how effective are we? And this means simply reflecting on our effectiveness. What do we think about our effectiveness as individuals and as a team? And what can we learn from that reflection?

And the eighth and final question that I like to ask is, what recognition do we get? We want to talk about how well and how often do we celebrate accomplishments and successes, both as individuals and as a team?

So, as you ask those eight questions of your team annually, you'll find that it allows you to get to know and care about each other more deeply; and it provides encouragement; and it creates clarity of goals, roles, and direction. And all of these things help to strengthen the overall trust and effectiveness of, really, any team.

Al: Wow, those are great questions, Jay. I really like them. And for our listeners, I’d encourage you to get the transcript of this and go back and review those notes and those questions.

Well, Jay, this has been a great conversation about trust as a key to providing inspirational leadership and to create a flourishing workplace culture.

You know, at this point in the podcast, I generally ask, is there a bottom line that you thought about and you'd like to leave with our listeners?

Jay: Yeah. Al. Absolutely. I'd like to do that. So, you know, the good news is that I've seen repeatedly, with hundreds of leaders and teams I've worked with over the years, around the world, that trust is the biggest-leading indicator of whether an organization or team is healthy and effective. And that's good news because it's always nice to clearly know what's most important to focus on, right? The bad news, or the challenging news, is that trust is a complex topic, like we've been talking about, and there's many factors that can build or break trust. So it's trust is not something that usually can be fixed or built overnight. As leaders, we need to know specifically what we're doing well to build trust in our organizations and what we can improve upon.

So as much as this may sound like self-promotion, I really believe it's true that leaders need to annually evaluate what they're doing and how they're doing it and what can be improved. We all need feedback from our staff to know what kind of workplace environment we've created, because that feedback can come in the form of a 360 Leadership Assessment, or it can come in the form of an annual staff Engagement Survey. Both give excellent, actionable feedback about the workplace environment that you've created as a leader and as an organization. Annual feedback and reflection is the best way to begin the process of creating and maintaining a high-trust culture that, in turn, produces kingdom results.

Al: Well, I love that, Jay. Thank you very much.

Ladies and gentlemen, Jay Bransford, president and chief operating officer at the Best Christian Workplaces Institute. Thanks, Jay, for your contributions today. And most of all, I appreciate your devotion and service to our loving God and the ways that you help Christian organizations move toward excellence in their employee practices in helping to build trust. Thanks for taking your time out and speaking in the lives of so many of our listeners.

Jay: Thanks, Al.

Outro: Thank you for joining us on the Flourishing Culture Podcast and for investing this time in your workplace culture. If there's a specific insight, story, or action step you've enjoyed, please share it with others so they can benefit, too. Please share this podcast with friends on social media, and show your support by rating, reviewing, and subscribing wherever you listen.

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Remember, a healthy workplace culture drives greater impact and growth for your organization. We'll see you again soon on the Flourishing Culture Podcast.