How to Create Trust and Commitment in the Workplace

People go through a natural, unconscious process before they will commit themselves to an organization, person or course of action. You can accelerate this process by knowing how to consciously and consistently develop trust, respect, confidence and support among team members. 


Perhaps one of the greatest challenges today in the workplace, particularly in an uncertain economy, is how to maintain the trust and commitment of your employees.

Workers have become increasingly cynical and no longer believe that management has their best interests at heart. Many employees have turned inward in an ever stronger resolve to “look out for number one.” Teamwork in America has diminished as companies and individuals hunker down rather than step forward together to ensure the company’s long-term profitability and growth.

Never before has there been a greater need for people to work together as a team to resolve the problems in the workplace. Now, more than ever, managers must reverse the “every-man-for-himself” trend and unite the team around common goals. The fastest way to do this is to understand the internal process people go through before they will commit to a specific action, person or entity. When you know and apply the steps of the commitment process, you can accelerate the time it takes to acquire the loyalty and commitment of your workforce.

  The Ladder of Commitment

There is a distinct, specific, step-by-step process to gaining the commitment of your employees. The patented model in the diagram below, entitled the Ladder of Commitment®, explains how to build trust and commitment in the workplace by consciously guiding people through the commitment process.

The model is depicted as a ladder because people typically don’t commit easily to an action, person or organizational entity. They have to willingly climb up to “commitment.”          

Sadly people do not start out committed in any portion of life, although it may appear otherwise on the surface. For example, even though one might expect a new employee to be committed to a job to which he or she applied, this usually is not the case. Commitment is not automatic. Most people are reluctant to commit themselves to a task until they fully understand it. People typically don’t openly share their opinions or ideas at work until they’ve assessed whether or not it is safe to do so. New employees invariably hold back until they’ve  achieved a level of comfort and confidence before they completely commit themselves to an organization, individual or course of action. This initial hesitancy to commit, signals that the employee is in the Closed area at the bottom of the ladder.

Similarly, although newly-wed couples make vows of commitment at the altar when they are married, the fact that 52% of marriages in the United States end in divorce shows that vows of commitment are a far cry from true commitment, just as accepting a new job doesn’t mean the worker is willing to do that job. Newlywed couples and new employees start at the same place in the commitment process – a state of “hope” (not commitment) where one hopes the marriage or the new job will work out.

To become truly committed one must climb the Ladder of Commitment and go through each successive rung on the Ladder. Deep, lasting commitment only results when relationships are developed and solidified as one climbs up the Ladder. 

Need to be Open

The most vital step in the commitment process is to get people out of their “Closed” posture and up to the Open rung on the Ladder. The most successful companies are those that have a culture of open communication between their managers and employees. Successful companies do not leave communication to chance or make assumptions that effective communication has taken place. They ensure every employee has the information needed to succeed at work. Successful companies over­-communicate. They use several different modes and methods to get their message out. They know decisions made in the workplace are only as good as the information from which those decisions are made.

For effective communication to occur, people must be willing to speak openly. The strongest determining factor of whether an employee will open up is the reaction one gets when they do. If the reaction is positive, they’ll be more inclined to speak openly again. But if the reaction is negative, most people will close down. Extreme negative reactions to employee input can cause workers to permanently close down.

Employee performance is strongly tied to the reactions employee’s experience in the workplace. Positive reactions typically generate positive results, causing employees to open up. Negative reactions produce negative results, causing employees to close down. Consequently, you need to realize that most of what a manager does is manage reactions. If you want your employees to become committed, you must control the negative reactions in the workplace that cause people to close down.

Of course the first, and most important, reactions you have to manage are your own. If you react poorly to what you perceive to be stupid or silly ideas or comments from your employees – and cause your employees to close down because of your reaction – you may never hear their good ideas or comments later. Any good thoughts they may have shared will most likely be kept to themselves.

As a manager you also have to control the reactions of others. You must manage the reactions of your employees. Employees often react poorly toward the customers or toward their fellow employees, causing those people to close down. Customers, too, can react poorly, causing employees to close down. You may even have to control the reactions of your boss, whose reactions often trickle down and stifle the commitment of the workforce.

Open communication occurs when managers and employees react well to each other’s input, ideas, and perspectives. Department cooperation and coordination is most effective when people learn not to over-react to departmental requests or procedural requirements.  

The Seven Things That Matter Most

Once reactions are under control and people have moved into the “open” there are specific and important things that must be discussed in the open area.

To achieve high levels of understanding and commitment, employees need complete information about what is required of them. They need to know what the goals of their tasks are and why these goals are important. They also need a clear understanding of their role, what is expected of them, their authority level, and the boundaries within which they must perform their tasks. Additionally they require regular, honest, helpful feedback that recognizes their accomplishments or provides constructive coaching when improvement is needed. 

I call these seven things “the seven things that matter most” because they are critical to moving employees up the Ladder. When communicated well these seven things move people up to the next rung on the Ladder, the level where strong relationships are molded.

 The Level Where a Group Becomes a Team

Companies that communicate effectively regarding the seven things that matter most are more adept at developing working relationships among their staff that are infused with Trust, Respect and Confidence.

The trust, respect and confidence rung of the ladder is where real progress is made in a company. Tremendous levels of production can be achieved in organizations where management trusts the employees and the employees trust management. When management respects the opinions, ideas, decisions and judgments of the employees and the employees feel likewise toward management, wonderful things happen. People confidently go about their tasks without fear or concern over the political machinations that take up far too much energy and time in many organizations. Workers in trusting and respectful organizations are more inclined to take risks or think outside of the box in order to improve their part of the business.

More important, people who trust, have respect for, and have confidence in others are supportive of their colleagues.

Supportive Relationships

The tangible indicator of whether or not an organization has a culture infused with trust, respect and confidence is witnessed by the level of support one can sense throughout the organization. This is denoted in how management supports the employees, how the employees support management, how employees support each other, and the evidence of support between departments.

Effective and efficient cross-functional communication, col-laboration and cooperation are evidence of strong relationships of trust, respect, confidence and support throughout an organization. Department silos, poor communication, blaming, risk avoidance and defensive barriers are indicators of a “closed” work culture.

Believing in Each Other

When people trust, respect, have confidence in, and are supportive of one another; it’s easy for them to “believe” each other. It is easy to accept input or feedback from others, even feedback of a personal nature, when they believe the person delivering the feedback is interested in their common good. Likewise, when those in the business are at a level of belief, it is easy to respond favorably to changes that might come along within the organization because people know the changes are necessary to succeed. Since they believe management they accept management’s directives.

Once people step up to the Belief rung on the ladder, Commitment usually follows realtively quickly.

The difference between belief and commitment is what a committed person does with, or because of, their belief. Committed people sink their whole heart and soul into that in which they believe. They offer their time, talents, resources, energy and anything else required to succeed at that to which they are committed. Committed employees willingly give of themselves to their colleagues and company.

Unfortunately, real commitment seldom occurs in far too many organizations because the company never rises to the level where the employees believe management or where management believes the employees. The reason for this lack of belief is because neither party has trust, respect or has confidence in the other. The trust, respect, and confidence are lacking because they have not spent the time openly communicating about the seven things that matter most in the company.

Sadly, closed organizations may get employees to comply when directed by management to perform a task, but compliance doesn’t equate to commitment. Commitment is only attained when the managers and employees within a company consciously and willingly climb the Ladder of Commitment.

Companies that actively encourage their employees to honestly and openly communicate up and down the ranks will find their employees more enthusiastically committed to performing their tasks at the expected levels.  §


Innovative Management Group facilitates management and employee training programs that generate solid trust, respect, confidence and support among team members. True team work is developed when workers produce sound business results. We show you how to accelerate the process of moving individuals and teams up the Ladder of Commitment to achieve high levels of performance.


For more information about the Ladder of Commitment order the book “Stepping Forward Together: Creating Trust and Commitment in the Workplace.” It can be purchased for $24.95 at


10:16 am am  02-08-13
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