People will only willingly follow you if they trust you, and believe in your destination. But like boarding a train, there comes a moment when they have to step from the platform into the passenger compartment and join you for the ride. Crossing that gap is a leap of faith: It requires trust.
Yet a recent study shows that 18-30% of employees had little or no trust in the leaders of their company. And where trust is lacking, employee engagement is sure to be low, too. To cross the gap between the need and the reality, join me for a train ride, and I’ll share with you nine ways to close the trust gap and keep the people on your train motivated and moving forward.
Train to the Coast
My family was visiting Dublin, Ireland, some years ago and we planned to take a train to see the coast. At the station, there was a sign hanging on the wall by the ticket booth that advised us to “Mind the Gap.” Without any more context than that, we wondered what sort of philosophical imperative the sign was trying to evoke in busy travelers.
Of course we soon understood that the sign was referring to the gap between the solid platform we were standing on, and the doorway into the train. But it wasn’t hard to make the metaphorical leap and see it as a reminder about the potential for a gap between words and actions – the basis for trust.
Following that metaphor, establishing trust in an organization can be a lot like boarding a train to the coast. If you are the train’s conductor and you want people to join you on the journey, you have to make the gap as easy to cross as possible.
1. Keep the train clean. To begin with, if the train rolling into the station is rusted, dirty, and belching black smoke, people are going to think twice about getting on. If the doors don’t open smoothly and there’s a strange smell coming from inside, they might turn around and see about hailing a cab.
They will make decisions about the ride based on what they can see, hear and smell. That’s like your team’s reputation, and more importantly, character. Run your train with integrity, positive values, mutual respect, and disciplined maintenance, so that it will be a clean, functional train that others will be happy to board.
2. Run on time. In well-run countries, people like to say that “the trains run on time.” If you say you are going to pull into the station at 5:17 and you do exactly that, they will see you as reliable, trustworthy.
The same applies to everything else. Only say you’ll do something if you mean it. And if you do say it, be sure you do it. When your team sees the clear, consistent connection between your words and your actions, they will be ready to trust you more. Watch this carefully; people remember the one slip and quickly forget the ten times you did it right. You need to go ten for ten here.
3. Punch the tickets. As passengers board, check their tickets – you want to be sure they are getting on the right train because once the doors close, the train has only one destination. Make sure your passengers are on the right train headed to the right place.
Confirm the destination by talking about the team’s vision and near-term goals. Think of the shining rails as taking you steadily and directly forward; passengers need to feel confident that the train will stay on the tracks, and the tracks will lead where they want to go.
4. Give them a window seat. Imagine riding in the baggage compartment. Not fun, right? Noisy, crowded, no view, junk everywhere. It’s not comfortable, and you have no idea where you are. Not very inspiring.
People work better when they can see where they are going and how their efforts will contribute to team progress. Giving them a window means giving them honest, helpful, positive feedback so they can see how they are doing, the progress they are making, and how they can improve.
5. Give them access to the aisle. People need a sense of mobility and freedom to talk with friends, visit the restroom, check out the dining car, or stretch their legs. It just makes the journey more enjoyable. Box people in and they start to get restless.
When your teammates feel they have mobility, flexibility, and can move forward as a result of their efforts, they will be more invested in the train they are on and the destination it’s headed to. Give them as much space to innovate and contribute as possible.
6. Keep your passengers informed. Train conductors do this in several ways, whether it’s the published schedule, on-board public address system, electronic signs, or personally coming by from time to time. The better informed your passengers are, the better they will be able to function and the more content they will be aboard your train.
Keep your teammates aware and involved in how things are going – what the next goals are and how well they are doing in getting there. Be honest about snags along the way.
You got the smartest people you could find, right? So don’t insult their intelligence by playing games. Instead, tap into their intellect to help solve problems as they come up so your team can continue the journey forward.
7. Talk with your passengers. If you really were interested in knowing how your passengers were feeling about the trip they are on, wouldn’t you want to talk with them?
Why not do the same with your team? Find out about them personally – where they are from, what their experience is, what their personal goals and hopes are, and where they are trying to go.
Ask about what is challenging them, and look for ways to help them be more successful at what they do. When you show genuine interest in their personal welfare, they will be more likely to develop deeper ties to the team in return.
8. Teach others to become conductors. More than just talking about the destination, it can be very exciting to show your passengers what it looks like from up front. With a clear view of the track ahead and a sense of the power under your feet, it would be hard to resist becoming even more excited about the trip.
In your organization, this equates to delegating responsibility and authority to get things done. When you trust someone enough to groom them for future leadership, that trust is returned, and they become more invested in the team.
Challenge and develop your best people by giving them responsibility for specific tasks, the authority to get them done, and the resources to make it happen. Then let them drive the train for a while (or at least their part of the train).
9. Make refreshments available. The destination may be many miles away, so taking time out for refreshment once in a while is a good idea.
Your team could use some refreshment once in a while, too. When you meet a major goal, make it big deal about it, celebrate the event and look for ways to shine the credit spotlight on the deserving.
But don’t forget snacks, too. Celebrate little, daily victories at every opportunity with an honest word of appreciation, a pat on the back, or a word of praise in front of the boss. Small gestures of support and recognition can go a very long way towards keeping your team engaged and focused.
Minding the Trust Gap – The Takeaway
All these actions will help you build a high performing team that can accomplish amazing things, no matter what destination you are headed for because they help you cross the trust gap.
Keep in mind that it all starts with that first step they take from the known, the stable, the dependable, across the trust gap into the unknown.
As your team’s conductor, take pains to ensure that those first steps are certain and solid, then follow up with the kinds of actions that any passenger would appreciate.
When you do these things your train will pick up speed and you’ll reach the coast in no time.