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The Building of Organizational Trust

I think we would all agree that the cultivation and building of trust between people is an essential component to building healthy cultures and strong, world-class teams. I have taken a little time to research the subject of trust-building, attempting to identify the best actions leaders can take to deliver the most predictable results in building trust. In this article, we will discuss the issue of organizational trust and how we, as leaders, can directly influence the building of trust within our organizations. We will explore the principles that go into the strengthening of organizational justice as a means to the building of organizational trust. Lastly, we will begin to enumerate the organizational benefits that result from the building of trust at an organizational level. Notations have been provided to give you a sense of where the ideas contained within the article originated.

The Relationship between Organizational Justice and Organizational Trust

Organizational justice - and, more importantly, the perception of an organization applying just decision-making methods - is critical to people’s ability to trust. It is the perception that fuels people’s opinions, and it is this that we need to work to improve as leaders. There are a few critical elements to building the perception of a just organization.

First, what is generally meant by trust is the belief that people in power will act in the best interests of the stakeholders at large (Podsakoff et al., 2000). Trust is further defined as unfailing confidence in a person’s or group’s truthfulness, ability, and their collective personality to be successful (Lypnack and Stamps, 1997). Therefore, the level of trust in an organization is dependent on belief in the leaders themselves. This belief is shaped through the perception of making solid or just decisions. The development of belief in an organization’s ability to make just decisions ties directly to research on organizational justice.

Greenberg (1990) refers to organizational justice as the just and fair manner in which organizations treat their members or stakeholders. Organizational justice is generally considered to encompass three different elements: distributive justice, procedural justice, and interactional justice (McDowall and Fletcher, 2004).

Procedural justice

Procedural justice is the fairness of procedures used to determine the outcome of decisions (Folger and Konovsky, 1989). These procedures should be consistent, bias-free, and take the concerns of all parties into consideration and be morally acceptable (Leventhal, 1980).

Interactional justice

Interactional justice is the fairness of interpersonal communication relating to organizational procedures (McDowall and Fletcher, 2004). It is concerned with how the information was communicated, and whether the individuals affected by a decision were treated with respect and dignity in the communication (Bies and Moag, 1986).

Distributive justice

Distributive justice refers to the concerns expressed by stakeholders with regards to the distribution of outcomes and resources (Greenberg, 1990; Cropanzano and Folger, 1989).

organization-trust-chart

If you begin to apply the above segmentation of organizational justice into the context of your own organization, you will start to see the emergence of a tangible plan to begin to increase trust. While procedural, interactional, and distributed justice are all significant in creating greater trust, I believe there are incremental benefits in applying a strategy that works to increase all of these areas at the same time. In this regard, I believe working on all three organizational justice realms at once will produce larger and quicker gains in the trust level of an organization than if they are worked one at a time. This is where a plan of attack becomes critical to this work. The plan should outline the balanced growth of each segment relative to one another, addressing as many concerns of the people in the organization as possible at the same time.

I hope this helps your thinking of how to do trust-building at an organizational level. Trust is a solid foundation for a strong culture. It is hard to imagine a positive culture when the leaders and the organization itself have low levels of trust from its members.

Authored by: Dr. Bryan Bechtoldt, EdD

Dr. Bryan Bechtoldt, EdD

Bryan is the President and Principal for SVA Consulting, LLC, a member of the SVA family of companies. In his role, Bryan works with SVA’s clients to help them prepare their organization for transformation through shaping vision and development of implementation strategies.


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