The One Thing You Can’t Buy That Gets Your Business Ahead

One of the most common challenges my senior management clients face is how to foster curious, high-performing, healthy and engaged employees during an era in which constant change and innovation are keys to success (see also Leadership In The Digital Age). The answer is actually simple: The No. 1 factor for preparing employees across functions and business units to become a true asset to the business is trust. And trust doesn’t cost money. It starts at the leadership level, with the behavior of each and every leader.

But nearly all of my clients overlook this. Instead, they expect to hear suggestions like invest more budget in talent development programs, approve requests for more team-building workshops, hire the latest VR-enabled training gadget, offer more flexible work time and other perks, and so on. These are all good ideas and, for sure, they can pay off, but it is trust that makes the real difference.

Why trust? Because trust has the power to inspire and influence. It’s the glue that bonds us to each other and turns threads of connections into steel cables. Trust is among the strongest known predictors of a country’s wealth and it is the basis for long-term investments, motivation, engagement, and innovation. The 2015 Edelman Trust Reporteven ranked trust as the essential factor for innovation. Yet leaders across the globe do a lousy job in building trust with their teams. Although we know from research that key trust-building leadership attributes are beyond the 50% importance rank, only 20% of leaders meet that expected level.

Can you build trust? Yes, of course! Can you do this easily? No, not at all! It takes time, and the trust and reputation you build over years can be destroyed and ruined within seconds. Nevertheless, there are always a few steps you can take to improve:

Talk open-book.

Don’t tell your people only half of the truth – be honest with them. Tell them the full story, explain where you stand, and demonstrate integrity. Leadership isn’t about being the smart one keeping secrets from a stupid crowd of employees. Be transparent and get feedback.

Correct wrongs.

Remember how you told your kids or were told by your parents to say “sorry” if you did something wrong or to fix the sandcastle if you destroyed it on purpose? How come we forget to apply the same principle as adults in the business world? If we as leaders mess up, we should apologize and try to fix our mistake.

See people, not hierarchies.

In almost all the large, medium and small organizations that I’ve worked with, there is a phrase about demonstrating respect written into each organization’s core values. Make sure that you apply this in your daily business life — play fair, play kind, and be respectful regardless of age and gender, and most importantly, regardless of hierarchy.

Do what you said.

Again, this is one of those attributes that we value most and try to teach our next generation. But it’s all worthless if we ourselves don’t live up to being trustworthy, keeping our commitments, and doing what we promised or said we would do.

Listen with five senses.

We experience a lot of information all day (and night) long. Make time for face-to-face conversations with your team members. Then, make sure you listen first, go back and ask for clarification, and then ask for feedback. Listen with all your senses — because sometimes our eyes and our hearts are better listeners than our ears.

Building trust takes time, but investing in these steps now will help you, your employees and your organization succeed.

This article was first published with Forbes®.com