Trust pt. 2

Who can I trust with all this turnover?

After my last blog on most of us having trust issues, I was talking to a young professional, in her 20’s about the idea of trust. She raised a terrific question: How do we build trust in an environment that seems to have a lot of turnover? That got me to thinking.

If we have a smaller, to mid-size team that works in fairly close proximity and we all know each other, it can be a setback when one or two people take another position and leave the team.

In the gig-economy, with the so-called “war for talent” and the increasing mobility of smart, talented people it gets tougher all the time to have the kind of continuity and longevity that most of us desire in our organizations. So, what are we to do when we need to grow trust, and perhaps even recover from feeling a little bit hurt when a team member moves on?

In a September, 2006 article in the Harvard Business Review, Robert Hurley provides us with some ideas on the decision to trust. He states “Clearly, companies that foster a trusting culture will have a competitive advantage in the war for talent”.

In the article, he outlines 10 variables in his model that can help drive our decisions to trust or not trust. The first 3 are from the perspective of the “truster” or the person who is deciding on whether to extend trust to the other person or the “trustee”. In this article, I will summarize the first 3 then tackle the remaining 7 in a follow up article.

For the truster, he identifies the first three as Decision-Maker Factors and measures them across a spectrum from low tolerance to high tolerance. Here are the items that are first considered.

  1. How risk-tolerant is the Truster?
  2. How well-adjusted is he/she?
  3. How much relative power does he or she have?

Hurley adds, “The first three factors concern the decision maker… the ‘truster’. These factors often have little to do with the person asking for trust: the ‘trustee.’ They are the result of a complex mix of personality, culture, and experience.”

For those who are more tolerant of risk, Hurley describes that they are not that concerned what could go wrong, and so they are quicker on the uptake of trust. On the other hand, those who are more risk-averse can be more cautious in trusting team members. If the environment is one of high turnover, it could be that the risk aversion comes into play even more.

Second, the level of personal adjustment of that team member can be a point of impact or response to a team member leaving for another position. In other words, do we find it hard to not take departures somewhat personally when we are very committed to the organization? It can be hard to separate our commitment to the organization from our feelings about the person leaving.

Third, is the topic of relative power in the situation. How much do we have? If we are in a position of authority, we can tend to have less aversion to trusting because we have more ways to sanction employees who break trust, according to Hurley. However, if it is a peer considering a departure, we are typically more cautious to trust, because basically we have minimal leverage on them as co-workers.

So, where do you stand in terms of risk-aversion or comfort with trusting others? Do you take it personally when team members move on, or realize that in most cases, taking a new job isn’t personal really? Finally, we can feel a little powerless to impact the coming and going of team members, and that can tend to make us cautious when new people join the team.

Next time we look at situational factors that impact our comfort with or aversion to risk and trusting others. It can be a vulnerable feeling to trust others, in general, but it certainly impacts us in the workplace. At the same time, does a lack of trust in others advance or limit our organizations and team?


Hurley, R. (2006). The Decision to Trust. Harvard Business Review. September: