Bara Brith Camp: Why trust is important to public services
At our Staff Trust seminar, Professor Searle used the definition of trust as being “a willingness to be vulnerable to the actions of another party based on the positive expectations that the other will act beneficially or at least not inflict harm, irrespective of any monitoring or control mechanism.” I found the facets of trust particularly useful:
- Ability – have they shown that they are competent at doing their job
- Benevolence – do they have benign motives and a concern for others beyond their own needs?
- Integrity – are they principled? Are they fair and honest?
- Predictability – do you know what they are likely to do?
Why are the Wales Audit Office interested in trust?
Trust is really important in our day to day lives, and just as important in public service delivery. According to a CIPD report, 37% of job satisfaction comes from trust, and a trusting organisation is likely to have staff that put in more effort, with improved co-operation, recruitment and better performance.
So you can see why the Wales Audit Office would be so interested in the topic. The Auditor General for Wales has also repeatedly spoken about the need for well managed risk taking to improve public services, and as I wrote in my last post about Unmentoring with Kelly Doonan of Devon County Council, that can’t happen without trust.
When distrust becomes active mistrust, purposely negative behaviour like theft and fraud take place. And if all that wasn’t enough, public services are going to need to trust each other to deliver services that meet the goals of the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act. Organisations will need to work together to deliver effective services, and the Wales Audit Office will be developing our audit accordingly.
Professor Searle discussed how we often trust people who are like ourselves, which can be a barrier to collaboration as the voluntary sector, local government and the NHS are all very different places. There are countless studies on how diverse thinking leads to better decision making, and we need to avoid groupthink, where people are reluctant to go against the grain.
Trust in large organisations
Larger organisations often have lower levels of trust and have to work harder to build and retain trust. They tend to have more levels which might dilute the impact of the positive actions of those at the top, and the broader policies of the organisation.
Managers also need to determine the level of downward monitoring that is really necessary as that affects how trusted employees feel by their employers. It’s worth having a look at how Phillipa Jones encouraged Bromford Housing staff to break rules if it benefits customers and is in line with organisational values.
Making the most of resources
One of the steps that Professor Searle advocated was to create a trust fund that you can use when times are tough. A lack of trust can be expensive when time is diverted into non-productive activities like additional monitoring duties for managers, and counterproductive work behaviours by staff.
Having a workforce that is willing to give the organisation and its leaders the benefit of the doubt is an asset in a recession. Organisations can then make the most of their collective resources in order to go beyond survival and to develop their services and retain customers.
What are we doing?
Like the Unmentoring I’ve been doing with LocalGovDigital, we conduct Randomised Coffee Trials with people from seminars. Theses give people from different organisations the chance to share experiences, support each other and to build trust. This isn’t a big step – actually a 30 minute phone call is only a minor part of the working week, but it might have a big effect. Chris Bolton has blogged about Trojan Mice, which are small, safe to fail pilots. We don’t always have to make large scale interventions – there are small things we can all try in our day to day work that can make a big difference. And if you trying out new ways of developing staff trust in your organisation, we’d love to hear from you.