How to win the boss's trust

Tor Grenness

Employees who help colleagues without thinking about what they get out of it, win the trust, support and goodwill of their managers.

Some managers trust their employees and are confident that they will do the best possible job for the organisation. Such trust-based management is not only good for the employees' motivation and performance, but also for the organisation's bottom line and customer satisfaction.

However, many managers feel the need to control their employees down to the smallest detail. By doing so they demonstrate that they do not trust their employees.

Together with an international team of researchers, Professor Emeritus Tor Grenness at BI Norwegian Business School conducted a survey of 2,111 employees and 741 managers in 18 different countries, including Norway. The aim was to identify the reasons why managers show employees their trust and what good can come of it.

Awarding trust

The study shows that employees who do more than what is expected of them, what researchers call extra-role behaviour, are rewarded with the trust, support, help and goodwill of their managers.

These are employees who are happy to help their co-workers without expecting to get anything back. They also gladly lend an extra hand when needed to benefit the organisation.

“Managers show confidence in employees who do not just think of themselves, but show a genuine desire to help others and the organisation,” says Grenness.

Employees who experience the trust and support of their managers, perform better. This is also a signal that the manager appreciates employees who think about the welfare of others and the organisation.

“Consequently, we can expect that the employee's positive behaviour will be reinforced – i.e. a win-win situation for the employee as well as the manager and organisation,” says the BI researcher.

The organisation's employees can thus help develop a trust-based management and an organisational culture based on trust.

Cultural differences

Because the study was conducted in 18 selected countries from around the world, researchers have been able to examine whether the results are equally clear everywhere.

It is common to characterise national cultures as either individualistic and organised around the individual, which is typical of western countries, or collectivist societies, which place paramount importance on the community, a trait typical of Asian countries.

The study shows that a manager's positive response to employees who take on additional duties, are smaller in countries that attach paramount importance to the community than in countries that are organised around the individual.

“The willingness to take on additional roles is to a greater degree considered a duty in collectivist countries and thus not deserving of additional reward,” explains Grenness.

Advice to global organizations

Organisations that operate globally must consider cultural differences when they develop relationships between managers and employees.

It takes time to develop trust-based relationships. In Norway and other individualistic cultures it will, according to Grenness, be natural to first develop trust and then "reward" the employee who proves worthy of that trust. In countries such as China, it is taken for granted that employees lend an extra hand.

“Managers from individualistic cultures, such as Norway, who operate in China must think about rewarding employees who lend an extra hand even though they have not yet had time to develop trust in this employee,” he recommends.



Reiche mfl: Why do managers engage in trustworthy behavior? A multilevel cross-cultural study in 18 countries. Personnel Psychology, juni 2013, doi: 10.1111/peps.12038. 


Published 21. September 2015

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