Todd McKinnon, co-founder and CEO of Okta
By Todd McKinnon
August 7, 2015

The Leadership Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer for: How do you build trust with your employees? is by Todd McKinnon, CEO and co-founder of Okta.

Building trust is far easier than rebuilding it. That’s why the key to establishing a trusting relationship between company leaders and employees is not to lose it in the first place. Of course, that’s easier said than done, but if you’re balancing your long-term vision with short-term goals and taking responsibility for your actions and the actions of others, trust should come naturally and prevent doubt from festering within your organization.

At Okta, we’ve built our company around transparency and trust, making both core values and constantly infusing them into how we work. Why? If you don’t give your employees a reason to doubt you, they won’t.

Balance long-term vision with today’s priorities

If you need employees to believe one thing about your organization, it’s that you can and will execute on your vision over the course of many years. That means it has to be compelling enough that hundreds — and hopefully thousands — of people want to be part of it, but you also have to set realistic expectations as you go. I’d never promise world domination with a short timeframe.

The key here is to go bold when it comes to the next 10 years and, at the same time, emphasize the importance of tactical, measurable goals and deadlines over weeks, months and quarters. Your ability to execute against these goals along the way is crucial to their trust in your long-term vision. Our leadership team makes it a point to regularly review our long-term view of success — at quarterly off-sites, weekly all-hands meetings and annual sales kick-offs — while also being transparent on our progress against mid-term goals (good and bad) at those same events.

See also: Managers, here’s why honest feedback matters at work

Don’t wash your hands of tough conversations

I’ve seen managers determine the level of trust within a company over and over, which is why executives need to empower the next level of leadership to keep open lines of communication with their teams. Managers who embody company values and culture will inspire others, but they also have the ability to sabotage the trust built by evading responsibility (breaking hard news to employees by saying, “It wasn’t my decision” or, “It was above my pay grade,” for example). Although those statements may be true — as I’ve written before, not every decision can (or should) rely on your input — washing your hands of a difficult decision undermines credibility as a manager and a leader.

When having difficult conversations with employees, managers must take responsibility by — at the very least — understanding the context of the decision so they can help employees understand the outcome. Odds are they won’t be happy with every decision made at the company, and many things won’t be within their control, but they can gain trust with employees by being open and communicative with what they do know.

See also: How a boombox helped this CEO build trust with his employees

 

Make difficult staffing decisions quickly

One example of how leaders can build or sabotage trust is with staffing decisions. If someone in a leadership position isn’t working out, you need to pull the plug immediately. If you don’t, your team will lose trust in you. In the early years at Okta, I waited too long to let go of a few managers who were clearly struggling. I stalled and saw the negative repercussions in team morale. The leaders you surround yourself with are a reflection of your values, so if a person of authority isn’t performing, it will affect your team’s happiness, quality of work and overall productivity. If you want people’s trust, you’ll need to hold other leaders accountable.

Read all answers to the Leadership Insider question: How do you build trust with your employees?

Want your employees to work harder? Eliminate your offices by Lars Albright, co-founder and CEO of SessionM.

How this CEO regained trust with his employees byDavid DeWolf, president and CEO of 3Pillar Global.

This is the best way to build trust with your employeesby Ryan Harwood, CEO of PureWow.

The real reason your employees quit by Robert Hohman, CEO of Glassdoor.

 

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