Trust starts at the top and trickles down through the organization, not the other way around.
Carl Livesay

People are a manufacturing business’s greatest asset. They are also the only asset that appreciates in value in direct proportion to investment. We can purchase most anything our businesses need, provided we have the financial resources. Anything except trust.

A positive corporate culture requires trust at its core, and trust must be earned. In a corporate environment, leaders must demonstrate they trust the workforce before the workforce will consider trusting the leadership.

To establish trust, leadership should

1. Communicate physically, verbally, and most of all, constantly. Be accessible and take advantage of every opportunity to engage with the workforce face-to-face. This will help to eliminate “us versus them” barriers. Keep your office doors open and demystify administration. Closed doors create doubt.

2. Be kind to everyone all the time. Treat people like people. Treat everyone like the president and the president like everyone. Make it a point to greet people, converse with everyone at different times. Surprise the workforce with unexpected signs of appreciation and gratitude. Make sure the workforce and especially the production floor are first. Leaders should be of service to the workforce. Ask a simple but powerful question often: “How can I help?”

3. Recognize greatness where it occurs. Find three different people every day and catch them doing something well. Communicate your observation (and gratitude) sincerely and in person. Say thank you. Find and recognize people who do a good job when no one is looking. The results are shocking, but you must be sincere and genuine. Insincerity creates distrust.

4. Send a handwritten note or motivational card to team members telling them how much you appreciate the job they are doing. Tell them you are proud of their work and that you are glad they are on the team. Meet with them for a few minutes where they work and make sure their supervisor hears the praise you are communicating. Recognize the supervisor for their leadership and the quality of their team.

5. Be humble. Recognize your own failures and shortcomings. Let people know it is OK to make mistakes, by sharing your mistakes. Applaud others for sharing their mistakes. Consider using a phrase like “Good catch!” when someone discovers a mistake. Celebrate the catch, not the error. Focus on the catch because it occurred before it affected the customer.

6. Stop being punitive. Score sporting events and grade things, not people. Scoring people is demeaning, humiliating and most of all, shallow. Eliminate point systems and scoring of attendance and tardiness. Stop using plus and minus to indicate a person passed or failed. Avoid counting flaws, blemishes, and imperfections. Remember to focus on the positive.

7. Start recognizing acts of teamwork and collaboration that create synergy. Remember, we are working with people and we are directly affecting their lives. If you care about your workforce, show them. Communicate with them. Have a conversation and listen intently. It is impossible to know what people are going through until they trust you enough to tell you. Invest in your team. The return on investment for your time is substantial.

Real success and cultural impact occur when workers trust their leaders. But first, leaders must demonstrate they trust their workers. Give the people who work for you a reason to open up. Show them that you genuinely care.

Once you begin to make progress, conversations will have a deeper meaning. Workers will put in extra effort performing tasks because they need to be done, not because they are directed to do them. They will apply judgment and make decisions.

Leaders show they trust the workforce when:

• Focus is on workforce success. Leaders are searching for success instead of failure. People are coached and the conversations and discussions focus on opportunities to improve.

• Workers are treated like the most valuable asset in the company because they are.

• Leadership looks for ways to serve the workforce and bring out the best in them.

• Engagement with the workforce becomes routine and familiar.

• Ideas originating with the workforce are frequent, recognized, and acknowledged.

• Discussions involve the workforce for their perspective and recognizing their contribution.

• Disciplinary action is the last resort. Once the bell of disciplinary action is rung, the sound to the team member is deafening. The team member begins looking for employment elsewhere and leaders begin looking for a replacement. Investment by both parties ceases. Indicators that the workforce trusts the leadership include:

• Workers welcome leaders’ walks on the shop floor. Leadership’s presence is appreciated.

• Workforce team members smile and wave when they see the leadership at a distance. This is a big indicator.

• Workers are engaged on multiple levels.

• Workers look everyone in the eye with self-confidence and pride. The interaction feels different.

• Communication of good news and bad news is just news.

• Rumors are replaced with direct questions to the leadership on important matters.

• Ideas and suggestions originating with the workforce become routine and often abundant.

• Key performance indicators that depend on workforce performance improve

Leaders have the privilege and the responsibility of taking the first step in building trust. Like other disruptive ideas, leaders initiate the change. The underlying challenge is that the leadership must initiate, develop and demonstrate trust in the workforce, then prove that leadership is worthy of trust from the workforce. Trust changes everything. When trust is established, the corporate culture shifts to being positive, sustainable, and exciting. Trust becomes the currency of the business internally and externally.

Trust requires constant communication and attention. When leaders are committed, trust becomes a systemic part of the organization, and it has a positive impact on every aspect of the business.