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Personable and straight-talking leaders are the key to solving trust crisis, according to new research by the CIPD and University of Bath

  • 24 Apr 2014

The CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, has today released new research in partnership with the University of Bath demonstrating how HR can help businesses recruit and develop more trustworthy leaders.

The research underlines the importance of the four foundational pillars or characteristics of trustworthy leaders that is: ability, benevolence, integrity and predictability, which play out differently in various organisational contexts and their recruitment, development and assessment processes. The research suggests that HR can increase trustworthiness within an organisation’s leadership team through a number of methods:

  • Implementing values based interviewing, asking interviewees about beliefs and behaviours
  • Encouraging leaders to share their personal stories, which reveal something of them as people rather than functionaries
  • Providing master-classes on self awareness
  • Encouraging the use of assessment practices such as 360 degree feedback
  • Creating platforms for open conversations about trust
  • Ensuring that trustworthy behaviours are visibly rewarded.

According to the findings, being personable and straight-talking are the strongest attributes associated with being a trustworthy leader, with one of the main recommendations being that leaders step away from the ‘uniform of leadership’ from time to time in order to reveal their personal side.

The report, ‘Cultivating trustworthy leaders,’ builds on previous research ‘Where has all the trust gone?’ and draws on practical examples of 13 cross sector organisations that have done a great job of retaining and developing trustworthy leaders, including John Lewis, BBC Worldwide and Unilever. It recognises the current high levels of economic uncertainty in society, as well as the high profile crises of trust in many organisations, as catalysts for businesses to review their approach to selecting and cultivating trustworthy leaders. The research is part of a series, with a final report on what behaviours make for trustworthy leaders being published in the autumn. 

Claire McCartney, Research Adviser at the CIPD, comments: “It’s proven that organisations with high levels of trust perform better in terms of innovation, problem solving, engagement and knowledge sharing. Given the recent crises in trust in the banking and health care sectors in particular, it’s more important than ever that HR steps up to provide the appropriate platforms for trustworthy leaders to develop. But it’s also important that organisations allow their leaders to flourish without getting too bogged down by process and technology. HR needs to let their policies evolve alongside the personal and relational side of trust. It’s also really important for leaders to demonstrate benevolence, integrity and consistency in their actions.”

Kirstin Furber, People Director at BBC Worldwide, said: “Trust is a core value of BBC Worldwide.  It is essential within our organisation, particularly following the introduction of our new geographic structure which was designed and implemented by our leaders rather than external consultants.   The structure encourages a collaborative working culture required for working across different cultures and time zones as you can’t always meet face-to-face.  To support this we have an array of people and processes in place including recruitment, annual appraisals and development opportunities that reinforce our values.”   

Professor Veronica Hope Hailey, Dean of the School of Management at the University of Bath who led on the research, said: “Sometimes we let HR processes and systems get in the way of trusting our own judgements of a leader’s worth as a trustworthy person. What came through from the research was that when considering the four drivers of trustworthiness, HR selection processes were good at measuring ability and predictability. However, the softer elements of trustworthiness, benevolence and integrity, were much more dependent upon assessing an individual as a whole person. This means considering a potential leader’s personal conduct inside and outside the workplace, and how their personal moral code would fit with the overall organisational culture.

“What is needed is a balanced approach – HR processes and systems are great for ensuring consistency but should not be allowed to override a personal judgement of a leader’s trustworthiness. The HR system should not be allowed to override our own sense of judgement!”

Professor Veronica Hope Hailey will be discussing the findings of the report with Geoff McDonald, Global VP HR - Marketing, Communications, Sustainability and Water at Unilever and Bishop Ed Condry,– who holds responsibility for leadership selection and development at Church of England and Diocese of Salisbury, at the CIPD’s annual Learning & Development Conference on 30 April. To find out more and book your place visit:


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