The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines trust as “firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone or something.” In simple terms we can reduce this to whether people actually believe what you say. Ernst Hemingway said: “The best way to find out if you can trust someone, is to trust them.”
The Donald: We saw this in the recent elections in the USA. Despite the fact that Trump’s pronouncements were somewhat ‘elastic with the truth’ (now cleverly re-labelled as “Alternative Facts”) a majority of voters (electoral college) signed up with him for the next 4 years. Arguably, a key factor in the non-election of Hilary Clinton centered around the question of trust e.g. the use of a non-governmental email system. While few of us really understood the implications of this, it served to create a strong perception of un-trust-worthiness i.e. negative campaigning on the trust issue worked! Closer to home, a detailed survey by one university group demonstrated that couples reported ‘trust’ as being the #1 issue which they value in a relationship. So in politics and in personal life, trust ranks high on the ‘importance list’ for most people. The exact same point applies in organizations. We know about the need to install organization ‘hardware’ (strategy, systems, structure, skills and so on). But we also need to programme the ‘high-trust’ software. Trust is a critically important ingredient in all high functioning relationships. Yet, even where the importance of this is recognized, it’s hard to define this in a precise way or know how to build this. Trust is an elusive concept and always seems to be just slightly out of reach.
High Performance: While this assertion is difficult to ‘prove’, in my experience, high performance organizations are almost-always built on a foundation of trust. Staff may not always like the specifics, but they trust the leadership team’s ability to move the organization from today towards tomorrow. It’s back to that simple idea: Do staff believe what the leadership team say? That data used to support arguments is genuine?
Building Trust: Part of ‘trust building’ is being clear and consistent in what you say. But it’s more than this. What you ‘do’ needs to align. A couple of years back, I completed a customer services overhaul project for a multi-national in Munster. The reception area was certainly impressive. A 10’ by 10’ copy of the Mission Statement hung on the wall – signed by every single staff member – declaring life-long-love with customers (delivered through leading edge technology and world-class service). When we peeled back the layers on that particular onion, the Customer Services Manager was the worst-paid Director (by a mile). The customer services team were housed in a virtual dungeon area of the plant (no natural light). They were using 2nd hand Steelcase furniture that the engineers had abandoned. But, most telling of all, no-one in that plant had actually visited a customer site and there were no formal metrics (absolutely zero) for measuring service. Yes, some things are shiny on the outside. Like donkey droppings!
Active Listening: Here’s another twist. In the political arena we are schooled to believe that ‘changing your mind’ is negative. We are often informed through the media that Minister X or Party Y ‘rolled back’ on their commitment to do Z. This is offered as evidence of weak leadership, typically against a backdrop of pubic pressure. But, are U-turns always negative? At the most recent Resolve Annual Conference held in the Irish Management Institute, Marie Moynihan (Dell VP) told the following story: To reduce costs, Dell decided to change health providers and move to Glo health. The packages on offer were broadly similar to their current provider but offered a significant discount in premiums. When they attempted to ‘sell’ this new arrangement to staff – there was uproar. While only 5% of staff had opted for enhanced medical coverage – it turned out that a lot of people were ‘thinking about doing so’. Their family profiles were changing. While baseline cover with the new provider was cheaper, enhanced packages were more expensive. So, the company renegotiated the deal with Glo and made a number of accommodations to the points made by staff (they didn’t address every single point made). This ‘ability to change your mind’, to listen, to park the idea that the senior team have a monopoly on wisdom, is part of trust-building. If someone comes up with a better argument – doing a U-turn is not a sign of weakness or managerial pragmatism – it signals a partnership approach to the way you run the business.
Teaching Trust: Given the importance of ‘trust’ in relationships generally – and in the employment relationship in particular – you’d expect to see this topic in lights – high on the teaching agenda. Despite my mini-research (essentially a ‘trawl’ through the curriculum of six post-graduate programes in management), this topic is missing-in-action. It does not feature at all. Yet, as David Hurst reminds us: “Trust, like the lubricant in an engine, is noticed only when it is gone and the motor has seized up.” When you begin to wonder if you can trust someone (or not) then you already know you don’t. This topic should be a central part of the management curriculum for external and internal leadership development programmes.
High Performance requires Thrust e.g. the propulsive force delivered by jet engines. But, you only get this when the bedrock of Trust is in place. When is the last time your leadership team had a decent conversation about this? It’s a topic for your Leadership agenda, for sure!
PS Lighter Moments
Trust is the most important thing in a relationship. You have to be 100% sure he won’t tell your husband!
According to a recent survey, 4 out of 5 Urologists smell apple juice before drinking it.
I don’t mean to brag, but I completed my 21-day diet in 4 hours and 30 minutes.
BIG Question (from Norman Harte): “If the USA Secret Service Agents come under attack, do they shout: ‘Donald, Duck!”
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