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Why Trust and not Engagement?

It seems a really important question to answer: “Why trust and not engagement?” We at Entrusted Consulting (www.entrustedconsulting.com) believe in reframing the way we work together and are often asked this question.

Turning to a wonderfully written report from the CIPD (Where has all the trust gone. March 2012), I would like to share an extract on why trust is so important in business and our personal lives, now more than ever.

This has been a central question from practitioners, yet conceptually trust is quite a different construct from engagement. Emerging as it has from the positive psychology movement, the term ‘engagement’ has become for practitioners an umbrella concept for capturing the various means by which employers can elicit additional or discretionary effort from employees – a willingness on the part of staff to work beyond contract. Different employers apply different outcome measures to demonstrate its efficacy as a management activity (Vance 2006; Macey and Schneider 2008). Engagement is about giving of one’s energy to an organisation, whether that is on a cognitive, emotional or physical basis (Kahn 1990), almost like an exchange relationship.

On the other hand, trust is about accepting a certain amount of uncertainty but being willing to trust the other party that they will act in a positive way towards you. Trust is about a willingness to make oneself vulnerable in the face of uncertainty or insecurity. Trust is a more personal relationship based on a perception of mutual and reciprocal aims and purpose. It is part of employee engagement, as the MacLeod Task Force ‘Engaging for Success’ acknowledges, but it is a distinct concept in its own right (MacLeod and Clarke 2009).

One simple way of thinking about the difference between trust and engagement is by comparing it with the relationship of marriage. Some days marriage partners can really love each other and some days love each other a bit less. Love is a little like engagement. It is an energy which can have fluctuating levels but for most marriages to work over the longer term each partner needs to trust the other to always have a benevolent and positive disposition towards the family, their home and their relationship. Very often when one party has an affair within a marriage it is often possible for the aggrieved party to love them again but they will report trust is more challenging to repair. Trust, therefore, can be seen as the basis by which people together create sustainable long-term relationships which see them through difficult or uncertain times.

The importance of trust at times of uncertainty is perhaps why we are more aware of it as a concept right now. People are feeling more uncertainty at a societal level and, in some cases, in the workplace. Those organisations which can maintain good trust relations or repair trust relationships will reap the business and operational benefits of trust, of which there are many. One distinct benefit of trust is its link to innovation. Some economic commentators argue that for UK plc to return to growth, restore job opportunities and find ways in which to deliver public services with reduced funding provision, innovative approaches will be key to these three activities within the workplace.

focus-on-organisational-trust

Another reason why a focus on trust is more relevant at the moment is that trust has a moral dimension to it. Engagement does not necessarily carry a moral dimension. In contrast trust does concern a firm’s moral and ethical principles (Becker 1998, Mayer et al 1995, Schoorman et al 1996). Perceptions of trustworthiness include the organisation’s competence (or ability) and predictability (Dietz and Den Hartog 2006), but also focus attention on two ethical dimensions (Searle [forthcoming]). One is benevolence, which emphasises the positive intent towards those who are trusting in them. Another is the integrity of the organisation, which concerns the degree to which they and their managers adhere to general moral standards. Research both conceptually and empirically illustrates that employees prefer to trust organisations that uphold moral and ethical standards (Gillespie and Dietz 2009, Searle et al 2011a).

As you know, I’m keen to explore further Trust and what lies behind achieving this mercurial ‘faith’ in your abilities as a leader. Please do share your thoughts on the subject – I am sure we can all learn something from each other.

Peter Buckley

I coach and develop individuals and businesses, in the private and public sector, Internationally and in the UK at board C-Suite and operational levels. Acknowledged outstanding results delivered through bespoke individual and team coaching, mentoring and leadership development to enable performance and productivity improvement with positive team dynamics and sustainable enhanced morale.

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