Hiring for trust


Greg Morris | CEO | Sebata Holdings | mail me |

The best talent is not necessarily the most experienced.

A jockey would never race with a horse he hadn’t met. There’s a high risk that the horse might bolt or buck because it doesn’t trust the jockey or understand his cues. Equally, the jockey must be able to trust the horse on the racetrack, to understand when the horse is stressed and how it might react, and to calm the horse with rein pulls and verbal cues.

In most organisations, we don’t have the luxury of time to determine if we can trust someone – especially a new hire. We don’t know how they’ll react in stressful situations. We don’t know, ahead of time, if we can rely on them to do their jobs and take responsibility for their decisions and actions. It can be hard to place faith in individuals we’ve only just met.

But, if we entrench a culture of trust within our organisations and use our policies and ethical expectations to guide hiring decisions, there’s a better chance we’ll find the right people.

Trust issues

According to PwC’s Annual Global CEO Survey 2018, 15% of CEOs say a lack of trust in the business is the biggest threat to organisational growth. Further, only 52% of South Africans think their CEOs are credible and a massive 63% don’t trust their CEOs at all – according to the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer. Clearly, trust is a huge problem in SA, which has been listed among the Barometer’s most ‘distrusted’ countries for three consecutive years.

That’s right: we have trust issues. So, if we want to hire trustworthy colleagues, we need to build companies that value transparency and open, authentic communication. Everyone should know what the company’s purpose is and work towards common goals. There should be no room for ambiguity, especially when hiring new people.

When expectations are clearly communicated and employees are given the autonomy and responsibility to act with integrity, exciting things start happening. For instance:

  • Employees can focus on performing to the best of their ability, rather than worrying about the quality of work they’re getting from their colleagues.
  • Employees don’t have to make allowances or preparations ‘just in case’ a colleague lets them down. Everyone gets the job done, in the best interest of the company.
  • People at high-trust companies report 74% less stress, 106% more energy at work, 50% higher productivity, 13% fewer sick days, 76% more engagement, and 40% less burnout. The same study found that people working in high-trust cultures enjoyed their jobs more, were more aligned with the company’s purpose, had more empathy for their colleagues, experienced less burnout, and earned more.

Doesn’t all this sound better than the alternative; namely, low-trust environments that breed stress, low morale and productivity, and divisiveness? Remember that, when people are unhappy, they act in ways that put the company, its reputation, and its IP at risk.

Attracting trustworthy talent

A good way to find trustworthy talent is to ask for referrals from those you already trust – your people. We’ve found that personal referrals are a great way to find talent that will thrive in our culture. And since the candidate’s character and performance indirectly reflects on the referrer, employees are unlikely to recommend someone who won’t be a good fit.

You can also get a sense of a new hire’s trustworthiness with these interview questions:

  • Tell me about a time when you faced potential risk as a result of being honest.
  • Have you taken any unpopular stands at work?
  • Tell me about a time you made a mistake at work, and how you fixed it.
  • How do you handle working with someone that you really don’t like?

Remember, hiring for personality and cultural fit can be more important than hiring for skill and experience – the latter can be taught. Don’t rush the hiring process. Interview hundreds of people if you must, to find the right one, because a wrong hire is a difficult fix.

Time in the saddle

The fastest way to earn someone’s trust is to be trustworthy yourself: take responsibility, show up every day, be reliable and dependable, do what you say you’ll do, show appreciation and respect, and have your colleagues’ backs in tough times.

To improve trust within the organisation, focus on your communication. Help employees to understand how their contributions make a difference to the business and its customers, improve the flow and frequency of communications, and build authentic relationships.

You can’t fake trust. It’s a skill that we choose to learn. And, as with learning any new skill, it takes practice, patience, and persistence to get right. But once it’s entrenched in the organisation, people will want to work there, making it easier to find the best talent.

Like horses, if we instinctively don’t trust someone, we’ll brace ourselves against them. We might even bolt for good. If all else fails, go with your gut. It’s the one thing you can trust.




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