Trust is one of those nebulous concepts essential for business success, but we are incapable of putting a firm finger on when it comes to enterprise learning. Can you teach trust? Kevin Wilde, vice president and CLO, General Mills Inc. and Jane Hutcheson, vice president, learning and development, Toronto Dominion Bank Financial Group, think not, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to build it into the fabric of a company’s culture.
“I equate trust with commitment,” said Wilde, who is responsible for training and developing more than 27,000 employees worldwide for one of the most recognized food brands on shelves today. “A couple of years ago we reinvented our leadership model of what we expect and what it’s going to take to win and fulfill our strategy, and integrity is at the heart of it. No one is going to follow you or join your team if you’re not trusted. Trust equates to an internal guide that you know you’re going to do the right thing. From an employee and a peer perspective, you’re going to do the right thing for their situation—not just for your own. At General Mills, there is a culture where we expect everyone to understand that it’s important to do the right thing. It’s really a sense that that’s the only way we want to run as a shop here. That attracts great people, and it’s that talent that wins in the marketplace.”
Trust is directly connected to employee satisfaction, productivity and commitment, not to mention a host of other metrics that ascertain levels of on-the-job intensity and participation. General Mills does an employee climate survey that asks: In the employees who are really committed, what do we see? “Number one, we see highly committed employees here believe in leadership, and they have a great relationship with their current boss,” Wilde said. “They can see they’re being developed, and they feel they’re being empowered. All those things have a theme behind it: ‘I want to hang around with these people, and I want to contribute here because there’s that underlying connection of trust.’ We also see it on our 360s where we’ll do leadership training. We do coaching, and at the heart of it all is, ‘Do you build and energize others based on who you are and how you act?’”
While Wilde doesn’t believe you can teach trust per se, there are ways to encourage its presence and practice in the workplace. Leadership plays a key role. Specifically, leaders can share their thoughts and experiences candidly, and if you make a bad hiring decision and bring someone onto the team who may not share or demonstrate your company’s ideas or ideals about the trust, it’s best to admit it quickly. “If you make a bad staffing hire you just have to admit to it and move on,” Wilde said. “You don’t train a certain amount of values and ethics and the instincts to do the right thing. You’re just wasting your time. If you’ve got a situation, you’ve got to start with staffing.
“Beyond staffing, you have to look at rewards. Some of this is not trainable, and you’re wasting everybody’s time, fooling yourself and creating more cynicism by creating a series of courses on trust. However, if you believe people are trustful, and they know how to do the right thing but things just aren’t working out, then the whole notion of how are we acting, how are we being rewarded for those actions is important. If you can change that, great. To the degree that you can’t, it’s a matter of how can you coach someone on the inside. You point out the behaviors that create trust and maybe the natural way that leaders act that unintentionally signal mistrust. Things like being authentic, sharing your thoughts, your feelings, your reactions to things, sharing what information you can, doing a little bit more with all of those things, is trainable and I think it does make a difference on trust.”
Jane Hutcheson, vice president, learning and development, Toronto Dominion Bank Financial Group, agrees that you can’t necessarily teach trust, but says that having constant reinforcement, emphasizing trust as a theme and highlighting situations where people suffered negative consequences as a result of behaving without integrity, are beneficial. Hutcheson is responsible for the education and development of some 48,000 employees worldwide. “If you think about the critical importance of employee engagement in terms of people’s willingness to give their discretionary effort, go the extra effort or whatever, obviously a fundamental piece of that is, do they have trust in the organization? Otherwise, why would they? That is critical to the performance of an organization. I absolutely think that trust is important, and from the engagement aspect, people throughout an organization mirror the kind of behavior that they see at the top of the house. If they think their leaders are behaving in ways that are not trustworthy or have integrity, then they’re going to go, ‘If I cut a few corners here or play with things a little bit, I won’t be doing anything different than they are,’ which puts your whole organization incredibly at risk. Training, as well as communication, is an important part of the solution.
“We have, in the last year, adopted TD’s (Toronto Dominion’s) Guiding Principles: Be customer-driven, respect each other, reflect the diversity of our communities, know our business, enhance our brand, act with integrity, understand that reputational risks matter and treat TD’s reputation as your own. Those have been communicated throughout the entire organization and positioned as, ‘These must guide your behavior regardless of what level you are in the organization.’ They are referred to regularly. They’re part of a prioritization process. If people say, ‘I want to do this or that initiative,’ they need to be able to demonstrate ways in which it aligns with this. So, they’re kept alive in that sense. That’s part of the awareness piece.”
Toronto Dominion Bank also recently introduced a new leadership profile that deals with trust, and the company is working to embed it into the entire organization. In this case, Hutcheson said, trust can be earned and learned. “It deals more with trust from the perspective that employees don’t trust that they will be treated with respect, and so some elements of this program you can actually learn,” she said. “One of the elements of leadership profile is called Live Transparency. It says speak candidly with respect, not rounding the corners; be grounded, authentic, genuine. I believe that we can provide some learning experiences that actually help build the skill elements so you understand that it’s important, and help build some of the skill components so when it says treat people with respect, you know what that looks like. How do you actually do that? What kind of behavior would demonstrate that? You can actually help people develop skills. It’s not directly saying, ‘Here’s how to trust or how to behave in a trustworthy fashion,’ but it teaches you behavior which is likely to encourage people to feel trust in you.”
“We’re doing classes. It is part of our leadership 360. It’s a lot of our formal things, but (promoting trust) is hard to do in this era of corporate challenges going on,” Wilde said. “History’s changing overnight—consolidation, the notion of free agent leaders who come one day and are gone the next. I don’t think you can trust in a temporary workforce. I’m not convinced that great talent is here today and gone tomorrow. They want to be part of something meaningful, with really great people over time. Trust is one of those ultimate connection points that can attract and inspire great talent.”