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9 Ways for Leaders and Employees to Build Trust

March 14, 2014

build trust, manage meetingsThis article was triggered by a LinkedIn Influencer article by Sam Shank. Sam comes at the subject as a boss. I’ve modified the 9 ways to apply to anyone – but it really is important for the bosses of the company to read and act on this. I used my experiences and stories here.

I’ll never forget the first day for our new CFO. It was the early mid-80’s, I had been with the company a couple of years, was young, learning the HR ropes in a $2 billion dollar enterprise. It was my second job out of college. I had settled in very nicely, was doing good work, building relationships within HR and across my assigned organizations within the company. Thinking back, I now know that whenever there is a change in the senior leadership of a company, that usually involves assignment changes in HR. I wasn’t concerned with that at the time. I was enjoying doing my work and there was a lot of work to do. Who I worked for and what I was going to be doing next wasn’t on my radar.

So back to the CFO’s first day. His name is Robert Ryan, a Harvard educated African American. I had not met him before. I had only heard “the new CFO is starting today”. In my typical fast-paced walk (more like a jog for people with shorter legs), I arrive at the elevator bank on my way to a meeting on another floor. There standing before me is Keith, the VP of HR and Bob Ryan, the new CFO. Being in an oil and gas exploration and production company in Houston, TX, I had not given any thought to what the race or gender of the new CFO might be. Being quick on my feet, I was hoping my body language didn’t show the “wow, this is very interesting, and a little bit of a surprise” thought going through my head. For me, Bob being African American was a pleasant surprise. Our company cared about diversity and I had been working with a program called InRoads to increase opportunities for minorities through summer internships. My feeling was that “someone pulled a hat out of a rabbit”. To find a minority executive with Bob’s credentials and leadership skills was an incredible coup.

Keith introduces me to Bob at the elevator. After Keith finishes making me blush with his always complimentary manner, we shake hands and say the typical introductory exchange of “great to meet you”.  On I go to my meeting. Bob moves on to what I expect is a very busy day of meeting hundreds of people. His organization was the largest in the headquarters offices and included IT, Finance and Accounting.

Three days later, after Bob has had plenty of time to meet many people, we bump into each other at the elevator bank again. Only this time it is just me and him. I say hello and without an ounce of hesitation, Bob says, “Carl, good to see you.” He knew my name. I was shocked. No, I was floored. Even if there had been discussions in back rooms about my being assigned to his group as the HR business partner, he had met many people, and keeping names and faces connected in the first days is, at least for me, a very challenging task. To say the least I was impressed.

I worked as Bob Ryan’s HR Business Partner for the next 10 or so years.  Working with Bob (and the rest of the Finance/Accounting/IT Group), is at the top of my all-time career highlights. Not because he was African American (at the time that was somewhat of a rare thing to have an African American executive at the top of a multi-billion dollar company). Not because he was CFO. Simply because he remembered my name. That simple act was the opening to a great relationship with a truly exceptional leader.

So what can a leader, or anyone, do to build trust quickly, build relationships, stay connected and deliver big impact for minimal time and effort? Here are 9 ways:

1. Call everyone in the company by name

Based on the story about Bob, no surprise here. Learn names and use them. With a large team, this may take homework, like using LinkedIn to help match faces with names. I actually use LinkedIn to learn names and faces of entire cohorts that I coach long-distance as part of a high-potential development program I deliver. I only meet with them face-to-face at the beginning and end of the program which is 4 months apart. Yet, I have become very acquainted by phone. Putting faces to names is critical.

2. Say hi first

When walking by a team member, always say hi to them before they say hi to you. Make eye contact, and, of course, use their name (see above)!

3. Make time to connect one-on-one

A great organizational leader is curious and engaging. Bob always made time for “off topic” conversation with me. He openly shared with me his family story and the impact of his opportunity to go to Harvard. I truly felt connected to Bob, more so than perhaps anyone else in the company.

4. Respond to emails quickly

Even if you can’t read through something right away, acknowledge that you got it and that you’ll look at it by a specific time. As a consultant, I’m on the other side of this issue on a daily basis. When a client (or prospect or anyone) asks for information or just communicates with me, I always respond back immediately. For me, it can be nerve-racking or frustrating when the information or communication goes out but nothing comes back in. I hold myself accountable to operate by the philosophy of respect, and answer “customer” emails within four hours. And everyone is a customer.

5. Connect on social media

An interesting new 21st century strategy is to connect with new employees on LinkedIn and follow them on Twitter. As a consultant, I have found my clients and colleagues enjoy being connected through LinkedIn and Twitter. People frequently greet me at annual gatherings where I am meeting with people I haven’t talked with or seen in years, “Hi Carl, I really enjoy reading your LinkedIn updates and Twitter postings.” That really feels good to hear that because it says I’m connecting at a deeper level – it isn’t superficial.

6. Be in the moment during meetings and chats

If you are a manager, you have no idea how negative an issue this is if you are allowing your texts/emails on your phone to distract you in meetings. Flip it around. How would you feel if you are holding a meeting with your ten direct reports and all of them bring their iPhones into the meeting and are obviously doing more reading of texts and emails than listening and participating? Please, NO iPhone in meetings or one-on-ones! If you do have to check your phone, explain the context and draw the person/people you’re meeting with into the situation with details about what’s going on and why it is time sensitive – and ideally say this ahead of the meeting.

7. Create the company you would have wanted to work at

This can be good advice for all employees, not just management. If your company’s not that fun, make it fun, spontaneous outings or something else you deem cool. I was at a client site on Halloween day. At lunch they were holding a costume contest with significant gifts for the winners and runner ups. There was a team theme category and an individual costume category. The team theme category required some kind of act/singing also. It was incredibly fun, entertaining and my cheeks were hurting afterward from how much smiling I was doing.

8. Meet everyone on their first day on the job

Strong leaders have a rule: As long as you are in town, meet every new team member right when they start. For anyone and everyone, be just as excited to meet new faces in the office as you can imagine the new employee is about joining the team!

9. Be on time

I’m a consultant. How long would I be in business if I showed up late for meetings with clients? Being late sends a message that you think your time is more valuable than that of the person you’re holding up – or worse if you are mid-management level or lower – that you are so disorganized and out of control that it isn’t likely you can handle more responsibilities. I typically show up to conference call meetings a minute early, and in-person meetings 10 minutes early. For those of you in the “death by meetings” category, when you accept an internal meeting invite from a colleague, immediately block the next 30 minutes after the meeting for your personal time. If at all possible, avoid having “back-to-back” meetings. You’ll find your “follow up and follow through skills” will go way up the more you can protect the time immediately after each meeting – to do or organize the follow up tasks.

Quick List: How to Welcome New Employees

  1. Make Introductions.
  2. Prepare Your Team
  3. Have a New Hire Onboarding Plan (first day, first week, first month, first 3 months)

Carl Nielson is an organizational development consultant, individual and team coach and assessment for hiring guru. He has delivered hundreds of workshops for leadership groups as small as 6 and cross-functional teams of up to 100. He can be reached at 972.346.2892972.346.2892. Email your questions to Carl at cnielson@nielsongroup.comConnect with Carl on LinkedIn.

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