Creating a positive engaged working culture is crucial for the success and well-being of any organization.
Trust and transparency should imbue all human interaction and both require open communication, honesty, integrity and a tolerance for risk-taking. People should feel confident in those with whom they work and in their ability to express opinions or concerns and try new ways of approaching problems without fear of retribution. Forbes reports that a transparent culture fosters a sense of security and belonging, even while at times creating tension. Open and honest communication at all levels of the organization is the bedrock on which trust is built. Even when open communication creates tension, that tension must be tolerated as the cost of quality, progress and improvement. Ideas are divisive. All ideas in complex organizations require change, and change creates stress, according to Lumen. Therefore, it is impossible to impose an idea into any organizational framework without a willingness to trust and engage others. Little is more damaging to progress than trepidation of new ideas.
If the ultimate purpose of an organization is to serve people who are ever-changing, new ideas are required despite the trepidation they create. The only elixir to that tension is trust and transparency, says Harvard Business Review. Honesty about the goals and aspirations of the organization and its purpose is essential and is especially pronounced in universities. In my experience, student aspirations and desires have changed a lot in the past 50 years, but only around the edges. The core aspiration of the people that we serve at West Texas A&M University remains to create a better life for themselves and those they love. Quality is squeezed out of the tension ideas toward progress create. Constant transparency about organizational goals and the challenges and successes the organization may face in the realization of progress is the fertile ground that creates movement, trust and transparency. Opportunities, open-doors and comfort in sharing ideas and concepts are critical in creating an engaged working culture.
Leadership should be by example in every setting. Integrity of leaders’ actions is essential according to Abbey Lewis. Consistency in applying policies and procedures, dealing with people directly and honestly, and adhering to deep principles that are shared by the organization and come about through planning and communication are critical. Trust follows even when at times it is uncomfortable. People inside and outside the organization should be involved in decision-making.
Appreciation for the effort and achievement of the people who make the organization perform is powerful. West Texas A&M University, like almost every organization public and private, recognizes faculty, staff, and students who excel and help the University achieve its goals. Such recognition builds trust according to Jim Smith. Formal recognition programs are important, but day-to-day unorchestrated acts of encouragement are powerful indicators of a culture that is trusting.
Organizational transparency regarding how and why decisions are made also builds trust. Sometimes it may appear management gets in the weeds of decision-making. Steve Jobs and Walt Disney were celebrated detail freaks, but not micromanagers. Their attention to detail is a legend and corporate myth. People in the Apple and Disney organizations understood and appreciated the power of why details matter. Being clear about business strategies, objectives and the reason behind important decisions that affect the organization builds trust.
Investing in the training and professional development of people demonstrates a commitment to individuals committed to the organization. It is not a quid pro quo, but a means to show people they are valued and provide the opportunity for professional progress by contributing to the growth of the organization. For example, any individual who works at WT is provided 50% off tuition and fees to further their education. It is a simple and honest declaration that we value employees now and in the future. As a further demonstration of engagement, we offer that same benefit to the families of employees because we understand and appreciate the power of the family unit as a positive force in society. We believe such actions build trust and engagement.
High ethical standards, fair treatment of all people, sound business practices and a commitment to social responsibility are important. Addressing issues and concerns promptly and fairly demonstrates attention to maintaining a healthy work environment.
These steps are a few examples of ways organizations can contribute to creating a culture of trust and transparency leading to a more engaged, motivated and productive workforce in service to all.
Walter V. Wendler is President of West Texas A&M University. His weekly columns are available at https://walterwendler.com/