Trump's Leadership Ruined Trust Among the White House Staff. Are You Doing the Same at Your Company?
A Note From The Editor
Think your company has what it takes to make our Top Company Cultures list? Apply now.Apply now »
Earlier this month, author Michael Wolff released Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, which examined, among other things, the work environment in the White House during Donald Trump's presidency.
To say the book was controversial is an understatement: After all, according to Wolff's reporting, employees -- lots of them -- have been fired. Tensions have raged between and among some of his top advisors. And, the book claims, employees have been turning on one other.
With turnover so high and scandals so prevalent, the administration's top employees have become unsure whom they can trust. All of which begs the question: Are other American workplaces equally dysfunctional?
To get answers, leaders need to take a look at their own companies, to assess how they work to promote trust among their employees. By creating a supportive environment, leaders can ensure that their team is united. Here’s how:
Embrace competition . . . with transparency
All organizations need a competitive instinct to stay sharp. Yet, leaders get in trouble when there’s no transparency. Employees begin to wonder why someone else got a promotion over them. They think their performance is being unfairly evaluated. This creates mistrust.
Jay Jamrog is a futurist for the St. Petersburg, Fla.-based HR data organization, Institute for Corporate Productivity. The organization has done extensive research on factors that impact the workplace.
“In every study we have done, transparency has the highest correlation with market-performance factors like market share, profitability, revenue growth and customer satisfaction,” Jamrog said via email. “It also has the highest correlation with the practices we study, like performance management, agility, succession management, innovation and creativity [and] leadership development.”
So, while you're pushing employees to do more, do it in a way that everyone can see and understand. For example, if there’s an opening in a training program, clearly lay out the criteria for the spot. Give examples of what types of skills and experience the organization needs.
Then, once the winner is announced, provide details about how he or she exemplifies the criteria. This way, there’ll be no wondering if a co-worker received special treatment to get the position.
Focus on people, not results.
Audrey Epstein is now a partner and founder of the Denver-based team consultancy, The Trispective Group, and the co-author of The Loyalist Team: How Trust, Candor, and Authenticity Create Great Organizations.
Earlier in her career, Epstein told me, she worked at a fast-paced tech company that prioritized speed instead of relationships. Employees were rewarded for results, even if they stepped on others in the process.
But then the tech bubble burst. “Suddenly, sales and operations had to work together. Engineers had to talk with marketers,” Epstein said via email. “Leaders had to make decisions based on shrinking resources and what was best for the entire company, not just their group. And, no surprise, there was zero trust.”
Avoid making the same mistake: Focus on workplace relationships from the start. Approach goals with a "team" mindset. It doesn’t matter if one rockstar employee is successful, if everyone else is hurt in the process. Reward employees who are helpful and willing to make sure the company is at its best.
Avoid manager gossip.
Nowadays, organizational structures are flatter. Leaders and their reports work more closely together. As a result, leaders can be tempted to gossip with employees to enhance camaraderie. But this can lead them into a gray area with regard to confidential information.
Consider the experience of Molly Muir. In a previous role, Muir told me, she had a leader who shared sensitive information an employee had told them. “With gossip and various versions of the same story floating around the office, distrust and animosity grew,” Muir, now the chief of staff at Irvine, Calif.-based video data company, Arcules, said in an email.
“It got to the point where the team structure broke down and employees started to work exclusively from home to avoid the toxic environment.”
Make sure yoru company leaders understand their responsibility to keep privileged information private. Also, provide other ways for them to bond with their team. Encourage them, for example, to eat with their employees so a relationship built on trust develops.
Balance one-on-one and group communication.
It’s important for leaders to meet with their employees one-on-one. But, if that’s the only form of communication, people begin to wonder what’s going on behind closed doors. A great leader balances different flows of information. This way, everyone feels included.
“Leaders who more openly communicate with the team and foster collaboration tend to foster increased trust among coworkers,” Gary Beckstrand, vice president of the Salt Lake City-based employee recognition platform O.C. Tanner, said via email.
Make it clear, then, that when leaders at your organization meet with individuals one on one, it’s to talk about those individuals' unique position in the company. When big-picture items -- like team performance or organizational changes -- need to be discussed, assure everyone that there will be a group meeting.