Successful Supervisor Part 20 – Measuring Trust

April 2, 2017

Last week I wrote about the different kinds of trust. The essence of that article is that trust is far more complex, ubiquitous, and volatile than most of us realize. One question that often comes up is: how can we go about measuring trust?

For supervisors, it is vital that they build and maintain trust within their group, but how can they tell how well they are doing?

You could go out among the employees and simply ask how much they trust you, but most of them would return with a blank stare because they have no idea what scale to use.

I think a better method of measuring trust is how smoothly the operation is running. If trust is high, then most of the dysfunctional things people do other than work with high engagement will be absent. Here is a short list of the things you do not see people do when trust is high:

• Seek to get attention,
• Get away with goofing off,
• Cause disruption and trouble,
• Annoy their fellow workers,
• Undermine supervision,
• Blame others falsely,
• Skip necessary process steps, and
• Hundreds of similar maladies

If trust is high, then these problems are rare and productivity is high. There have been numerous studies that indicate high trust groups are two to five times more productive than low trust groups. Hence, one measure of the level of trust is simply how productive the work cell is working under the current supervisor.

Another interesting measure of trust is the level of turnover. All organizations face some level of turnover, and it can be devastating to the performance of an organization. It has been said that “Employees don’t leave the company; they leave their managers,” (Jim Goodnight) .

If a supervisor habitually has turnover higher than benchmark groups in the same industry, it is a sign of low trust. In organizations where trust is high, turnover is usually very low.

For example, Wegmans Food Markets work on a culture of high trust every day, and they typically score as one of the best places to work in the country. They enjoy a turnover rate usually lower than 8% in an industry that typically suffers more than 40% turnover annually.

Another way of describing the immense leverage of employee engagement as it relates to turnover is as follows: “It is not the employees who quit and leave that are the problem: it is the employees who quit and stay.”

Anytime a person is on the payroll and is not fully engaged in the work, it undermines the effectiveness of not only that person but everyone around him or her.

From a global perspective, Richard Edelman and his team distribute a study each year that measures the state of trust in 28 countries. They spend all year gathering statistics on trust and summarize them in the Edelman Trust Barometer every year. Trust is measured in four key areas as follows:

• Trust in Business
• Trust in Government
• Trust in the Media
• Trust in Non-Government Organizations (like the Red Cross, etc)

The Edelman Trust Barometer is a rich source of benchmark data that is available to supervisors to determine if their organization is doing well or not in the area of trust.

Since the Edelman Trust Barometer is a huge worldwide database, I am often asked if there are not simpler and local instruments to measure trust within any group.

There are numerous trust surveys that can be used. I have developed one of my own, that I call the “Leadergrow Trust Survey.” The survey is available for free online. I have been using it for over 15 years to help organizations not only measure the level of trust but also dissect the different areas where specific behavioral issues can be holding the organization back.

Another way to measure the level of trust is simply to determine how well the current culture provides positive answers to basic questions such as:

• To what extent do people have the opportunity to grow in this organization?
• Do people feel safe and secure, or are they basically fearful?
• How do people treat each other on their own level and on higher or lower levels?
• Is the culture inclusive or exclusive?
• Do people generally feel like winners or losers at work?
• Is the culture one of reinforcement or punishment?
• Are supervisors viewed as enablers or barriers?
• Are people trying to get into the organization or trying to get out?
• What is the level of satisfaction for people in this organization?
• Can people “speak their truth” without fear of reprisal?
• Do people follow the rules or find ways to avoid following them?

The supervisor needs to be aware that the level of trust in her work group is most impacted by her own behaviors. If she always models the organization’s values, is perceived as fair and compassionate yet disciplined about applying rules, then that is a good foundation on which to build.

Beyond that, being approachable, consistent, caring, flexible, open, energetic, positive, and many other adjectives will produce an environment in which trust can and will grow.

The ability to use a single instrument to measure trust and to apply that measure each year over a period of several years is a good way to track progress.

The caveat is to not have the instrument be too burdensome, because people tend to rebel at filling out the same questionnaire each year. If they do not perceive progress or changes are being made, they will begin to give lower scores out of frustration.

Every supervisor should be given periodic training on how to build a great culture of trust. It is especially true with new supervisors. It is a crime that many worthy individuals find themselves in the role of supervisor and have never been formally trained on how to do it well.

I believe no supervisor should be called upon to lead a group without at least 10 hours of leadership training. My own course is 20 hours, and I constantly struggle to fit in all of the content that needs to be shared with supervisors.

I believe the training should be refreshed at least every other year, because that prevents supervisors from getting stale or obtaining suboptimal habits.

If you are a supervisor, ask yourself seriously when the last time you were given training on how to do your job more effectively. If it has been a few years, or you actually never were trained, then speak up and take a course in supervisory leadership. It will help you in numerous ways.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at, or 585.392.7763

Trust Doesn’t Scale

December 6, 2014

RulerMy son knows that I am highly interested in anything having to do with trust, so he recently shared a quote that was generated by Taylor Swift, the country music singer. Taylor said,

“Trust doesn’t scale because it isn’t reducible to math.”

That quote was really thought-provoking for me. I believe her point was that trust involves emotion and risk, and those things are part of the human condition similar to the concept of love.

As I thought about it more, I think her observation about trust breaks down. There are several reasons why trust does scale.

1. You can add it or add to it – If I trust one person to do something, I can increase the level of trust into other areas and have higher total trust with that person. The word “total” here implies a kind of addition. Likewise including another person into the equation means that I can add more trust.

2. You can subtract trust – I often make the analogy that trust is like a bank account. The balance is the important number, and we can make withdrawals to the account just as easily as we can make deposits. In fact, the whole account can be wiped out in a single action.

In English is sounds like this, “I have trusted George for 10 years; he has never given me any reason to doubt him, but after he said that yesterday I will never trust him again.”

3. You can multiply trust – If I take one person who has trust in a cause, I have that singular endorsement, but if I bring a dozen people who also trust that same cause, I will have more than the sum of 12 individual forces. There is a kind of synergy when we multiply the trust of several people.

4. Dividing trust takes a little imagination – What if I have high level of trust with a person but that person fails to deliver as promised. Now my level of trust is significantly reduced, like it was divided in half or some other percentage.

I suppose I could go on taking the mathematical analogy to an extreme and describe the square root or cosine of trust. I suspect the pushback would be deafening.

Many people believe trust is a “soft” skill and that programs to improve organizational trust frequently include campfires and singing Kumbaya. In reality trust is a hard and tangible commodity that is rather easy to measure.

Richard Edelman measures trust in extensive surveys in dozens of countries every year and publishes a “Trust Barometer” to share the work of his team.

The fact that I can say trust in Business in the USA for 2013 was slightly under 60% while trust in the Government was somewhat under 40% indicates that trust does scale and can be measured.

This is especially true if we use data on trust to spot trends by asking the same questions year after year.

In my own business, I use the “Leadergrow Trust Survey” to measure the level of trust on many dimensions and at various levels in any organization.

This research allows me to customize leadership development programs for groups so they are laser-focused on the specific needs of the organization or the leaders involved.

I really do believe trust is scalable and hope this little piece has caused you to think about trust in a different way from before.

Apologies to Taylor Swift: I like your music, but do not agree with your quote that trust doesn’t scale.

Trust is Like Ice Cream

June 15, 2014

Ice creamMost people think of trust as one thing. We believe we know what the word means, but when I ask groups to define it, they come up with several different answers.

Groups typically come up with more than 20 different definitions of trust in about 10 minutes. All of the answers are correct, so it means that trust is a lot more complex than most of us realize.

Generic trust, meaning “assured reliance,” is easy to understand, but the complexities of the concept can boggle the mind.

If you are blindfolded, and you trust me enough to put some food in your mouth, you will easily identify it as ice cream.

You know the consistency, temperature, and creamy-sweet taste instantly.

Then, if I ask you what flavor ice cream you are eating, that may cause you to think a bit. When we cannot see what we are eating or drinking, our taste is not nearly as reliable as we might imagine.

For example, I cannot tell the difference between grape and orange soda when blindfolded. Before doing the test, I was 100% certain that distinguishing the two different tastes would be easy.

With ice cream, it is likely that I would be unable to tell the difference between cherry and black raspberry or perhaps even chocolate.

The metaphor works because while we know what trust is generically, the subtle distinctions between various types of trust may be harder to distinguish.

For example, I might trust you to feed my cat while I am on vacation, but not trust you to overhaul my car engine. That’s because I might not trust your competence in that area.

I could easily trust you to get change for a 20 dollar bill, but might think twice about giving you $10,000 in cash to deposit at the bank. That is because I put limits on what I am willing to risk, even though I trust you. Trust is never absolute.

I might trust you to admit you made a mistake, but not believe you are capable of discerning truth from fiction. Or I might “Trust” that you will get it incorrect every time. It can get pretty convoluted.

It is impossible to list all the kinds of trust in our lives. Clearly, trust is not just one thing.

Most of us have trust in abundance all around us every day. We have some level of trust with every person we know. We may trust the products we use, or we may not.

Hopefully we trust the organizations we work for, but that is not always the case.

For example, the Edelman Trust Barometer measurements show that in the United States, roughly 55% of people trust business to do what is right, but less than 20% of people trust their leaders to tell the truth when faced with a difficult situation.

We would find it hard to even go to a store if we did not trust the infrastructure of roads and bridges.

When we turn on the news, we find it difficult to trust the validity because we can dial up whatever flavor of news we want to hear at the moment.

Our trust in the media has consistently gone down for several years as we watch the various news outlets try to undermine each other. They have given up the pretext of being “fair and unbiased” and readily admit their news is flavored,  just like ice cream.

The complexity and variety of how trust is manifest in our lives boggles the mind, yet we need to trust in things and people every day.

The whole matter of trust becomes a kaleidoscope of images and textures that we interpret every day all day long without even thinking about it. The result is that we have confidence or not depending on what it all means to us at that moment. It is highly fluid and situational. It is also very fragile.

Although we use the word trust frequently, and it generally means one concept, we need to recognize the phenomenon is far more ubiquitous and complex than we realize. Take more notice of how trust is working in your life, and you will enhance the quality of your relationships.