Trust : Trust or Bust
Dr Arky Ciancutti is CEO of Learning Center. He is often quoted in the business sections of many business papers and journals. He regulalry appears on National and Public Radio, on topics ranging from teamwork in the workplace to today's economic climate, to international trust and mistrust. He is the author of Built on Trust.
We are a society in search of trust. The less we find it-in business, in government, in personal interactions-the more precious it becomes. An organization that commands trust from the public has a powerful competitive advantage. It inspires customer loyalty, reaches out successfully to new markets, retains the best people and fosters more innovation.
Without trust from top to bottom, the organization is left with a costly them vs. us mindset across functions and between locations. Them vs. Us is so common that we are tempted to conclude that it is inevitable, and we enjoy endless jokes about engineering vs. marketing, marketing vs. sales, field vs. corporate, labor vs. management, my turf vs. yours. The first sign is often a negative buzz in the coffee room, as departments and locations blame each other for shortfalls in their interdependencies. The organization relies more and more on almost arbitrary and accidental habits of interaction within its workforce. Senior management begins getting incomplete information. Them vs. Us generates hidden fear instead of innovation, indirect instead of direct communication, activity instead of accountability.
And positive motivation is almost never the cause. But it is the eventual victim.
Many don't realize that leadership can intentionally create a culture of earned trust, deliberately and systematically, at virtually no additional cost. Some who see the possibilities don't see the payoff, but both the possibilities and the payoff are plentiful.
The New Competitive Edge
Free markets demand that we keep our competitive edge. But to the business manager scrambling to keep up, Adam Smith's "invisible hand" can feel more like a clenched fist jammed into the small of the back. New business thinking is adding a dimension to its search for competitive edge: it is looking into the collective team mind for a new kind of resource. As we step into this territory, we begin to deal in meaning, trust, inspiration, depth, paradox, transcendence, and connection-as well as with their dark-side counterparts: doubt, fear, conflict, isolation, and just plain feeling stuck.
The Business Case For Trust
Once a foundation of mutual trust is established, some very low-hanging fruit becomes visible:
Sustainable competitive advantage.
An environment rich in trust creates an engine for innovation. There is no ceiling to the combined intelligence and creativity of the team-and no team is just like any other, since each team's true identity emerges in the safe environment of mutual support. These teams can extend trust authentically to the customer, resulting in an extraordinary level of loyalty.
In the trust-based, or Leadership organization, people at all levels are inspired to resolve open issues without unnecessary or intrusive supervision by leadership. Most become committed to developing habits of reliability and follow through.
The business built on trust eliminates the Them vs. Us energy lost to suspicion, unresolved issues, forgotten commitments, unclear agreements, missed deadlines, and the associated propensity toward blame, gossip, resentment and frustration.
The connected team discusses and processes ideas at every stage, so incremental "fixes" and improvements are made as needed. This results in superior products, fewer excuses and better cycle time.
Capacity for change.
Trust-based organizations have a knack for holding opposite conditions and points of view simultaneously. They may, for example, have tightly structured, disciplined development processes, and still be able to react quickly to changing market needs or internal situations such as mergers.
Meaning and retention.
Making trust a central principle anchors the organization and allows people to become a part of something bigger than themselves, something more than a paycheck-and that results in attracting and keeping people who like productivity and creativity.
Why Trust Works
The principle behind the trust-based organization is that we have an innate, passionate desire to contribute. Opposing this urge to contribute is fear-fear of rejection, failure, loss, retribution, or embarrassment. When we feel that our opportunity to contribute is thwarted, what we want most feels unavailable. This pushes the balance toward the fear side. Because we still care about the job, we get frustrated. Depending on individual habits and on how well the organization guides employees on how to deal with frustration, the results can be quite non-productive. Positive motivation begins to erode.
Earned trust tips the balance between the urge to contribute and fear. In an environment where leadership is visibly as accountable for trust as everyone else, we are far more likely to plunge in, to be creative and generous with our talents, to subordinate selfish territorial agendas to the common productivity.
Creating Trust Quickly
Trust is confidence, the absence of suspicion, confirmed by a track record and our ability to correct that track record. Building the culture on trust covers all these bases—emotional and performance, active and passive—and it also works quickly, which is essential for success in the marketplace. Proceeding randomly, it can take years to establish trust. But the following addresses the issue of speed:
People are more willing to trust, more quickly, when principles that promote trust have been explicitly and universally accepted.
We are willing to continue that trust for as long as peoples' behavior, particularly the behavior of key leaders, is consistent with those principles, or can convincingly be brought back into line with those principles.
Built On Trust
Learning Center's Trust Model is an ongoing process of examining the specific areas in your organization that must be addressed in order to build a culture of earned trust. These might include growth, profitability, closure, commitment, communication, speedy resolution, respect, and accountability. Leadership frames the guidelines, demonstrates good faith for a time, then initiates buy-in and maintenance processes throughout the organization and often extending to customers. Given leadership's commitment, productivity results will be visible within weeks, and growing.
Is your firm built on closure?
Do all of the business transactions, within and across functions, end with credible agreements including who will do what, and when it will be delivered? Is nothing left dangling? "I'll get you that report" isn't closure because it doesn't include time. "I'll do what I can" isn't closure because it does not specify the deliverable. If closure doesn't happen every time, your organization is focussed to that extent on activity more than accountability.
Do your teams or individuals exchange false commitments?
Commitment is an "intention of no conditions." This means that there are no hidden "ifs", "ands", or "buts." It isn't a guarantee and it is an unconditional promise, though not a guarantee. A false, half-hearted or soft commitment is saying or implying "yes" but really meaning "maybe," without the pure intention to produce the final outcome on time. Since no one knows the commitment is soft, receivers subsequently make real commitments to others, creating a house of cards that ends with a disappointed or over-charged customer each and every time. Which brings us to:
Folk Theorem II.
When the organization learns about a problem from the customer, it is already too late.
An important clue to locating areas for highest payoff in your organization can be found in your discomfort. What are you wondering about? Where do you sense lack of resolution in your team? You might get your leadership team, or your immediate team, together and communicate your discomfort. Ask for input, and wait for it. Don't be surprised if others have been sensing the same issues. Ask for their help in identifying precisely the nature of the issues, and for ideas for win-win closure. Make some promises yourself. Listen carefully. Ask for true commitments, with realistic timelines, built on trust. If your team welcomes the communication it may be time to institute your own Trust Model throughout the organization. Then a big part of your society is no longer in search of trust.
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