Hiring for Trust

November 17, 2020

Hiring for Trust

With hiring decisions often made in five minutes after a single interview and based on nothing more than a gut “coin flip,” what has been the outcome? According to research from BambooHR, an HR software company in Salt Lake City, about one-third of new hires quit within the first six months, with 68 percent of those departing within the first three months. 

If your company is not hiring for trust, it’s probably because it is lacking in the core values of your organization, making hiring for trust nonsensical. Sadly, most leadership teams and their HR professional staff have never considered the role trust plays in organizational success, beginning with hiring practices. Even sadder, working from home has now further compounded the glaring lack of trust that exists between employees and employers, making hiring even more challenging.

In fact, according to Jim Harter Ph.D., the Chief Scientist for Gallup's workplace management and well-being practices, U.S. employee engagement has reverted back to pre-COVID-19 levels. From the most recent Gallup measurement spanning July 13 through Sept. 27, the percentage of engaged employees—those who are highly involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace—has dropped back to just slightly above the pre-COVID-19 rate of 35 percent to 36 percent. 

If you are still reading, consider the following statistic and then think again about whether hiring for trust might make sense.

According to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, globally, there was $7 billion+ in total losses due to occupational fraud in 2018. Companies that hire for trust go way beyond third-party background checks and urine samples. Hiring for trust is an intentional strategy with positive and lasting impact.

Assess Where You Are

Before making trust a component of your hiring process, use these 10 questions to determine the role trust currently plays in your organization’s long-term plan. 

  1. Do the core values of your organization include trust? (If the answer is “No” there is little reason to continue.)
  2. Is your leadership team aligned around the long-term value of trust, or is trust ignored and taken for granted?
  3. Do your leaders believe that trust is something automatically bestowed upon them by virtue of their job title, or do they model ethical and principled behavior? An easy test is whether they refer to employees as staff or colleagues.
  4. Do employees perceive HR as a trusted partner? Is your HR team a strategic component of leadership, or is it merely a conduit of the legal and compliance department?
  5. Is your company trust challenged? Are non-competes and non-disclosure agreements part of your hiring process? How about sales quotas? 
  6. Were employees who are working remotely for the first time ever given the opportunity to do so in the past? If not, was it because leadership didn’t trust them? 
  7. Are “buzz” phrases like open and honest communication, radical transparency and purpose part of your daily wasteful “culture speak?”
  8. Is an atmosphere of trust always present in your workplace? Have you identified what’s missing? 
  9. Are those who call out unethical behavior rewarded or punished?
  10. Do your employee engagement surveys address trust head on going beyond the basic “Do you trust leadership” question? 

How to Hire for Trust

We recently invited several members of our Trust Alliance to participate in a discussion to develop guidelines, which appear to be nearly nonexistent in a literature review. Early in the discussion the group agreed that any organization that does not include trust in its core values is not positioned to hire for trust. Those who do are offered the following suggestions as an overview.

Charles H. Green, Founder of Trusted Advisor Associates, suggests hiring for the propensity to trust (trusting) and train for trustworthiness. You need to understand the difference. Make sure the culture is grounded in values that support and celebrate trust.

Lea Brovedani, who calls herself the “Trust Architect” at leabrovedani.com, added that emotional intelligence testing during the interview process can open the door to a deeper values-based hiring discussion. Also, hire slow and fire fast.

Olivia Mathijsen, a leadership and team coach at Oliv Partners in Milan, Italy, said to pay your existing employees for referrals to potential candidates who are technically qualified and who they trust. During the interview process discuss how the prospective employee “lives” the core values of the organization.

David Belden, Founder of Execuvision International, offered the following example: Some companies like Whole Foods have policies of hiring for 90 days, and at the end of the trial period the team votes on whether to keep them, extend their probation or possibly let them go.

My final suggestion to for organizations to address during the hiring process behavioral weaknesses that build or destroy trust. Once leadership identifies what they are, a trust checklist can be maintained including interview questions like “What does being accountable to your team mean to you?” 

Placing Trust Front and Center 

These leaders learn how to build trust bank accounts, not only with their employees, but with all stakeholders, serving as a strategic advantage in times of crisis. Consider this statement from Bill Daniel, President and CEO of AWL in Austin, Texas, who includes trust in all his hiring decisions. “We hire people who are trusting—meaning they trust others easily and are therefore willing to be transparent with others. And we hire people who are trustworthy—meaning they are able to be trusted by co-workers and have a demonstrable track record of this behavior that we can learn about via our interviewing process.

“Is it something that happens organically?

“It does NOT happen organically. We interview and hire for trust, we do our annual 360-degree reviews and rate our employees on how well their behaviors are contributing to our ‘trust’ culture, and we work hard to be transparent every day with the information about our business with every employee.” 

High-trust workplaces not only have engaged employees who perform better, they are also able to attract and retain top talent. Hiring for trust also sets a route for smoother sailing in both the current and post-pandemic workplace. Remember, trust is an intentional business strategy spearheaded by trustworthy leaders and owned and practiced by all employees. It begins with deliberate trust-building hiring decisions extending beyond a five-minute gut reaction and a background check.

Copyright 2020, Next Decade, Inc.

The Authors: 

Barbara Brooks Kimmel is the founder of Trust Across America-Trust Around the World, runs the global Trust Alliance and is the editor of the TRUST INC. book series.