Does trust have anything to do with organizational success?
In my experience, the answer is a resounding Yes – because trust is directly connected to success in relationships of all types, professional as well as personal. Trust is simply required in order for 2 or more people to coordinate action – to do anything – together. And organizations, at their most basic level, may be seen as human beings coordinating action to produce some desired result.
So what is trust? Is it a feeling, a character trait, a value, something else? And more importantly, how do we go about the process of building – and in many cases rebuilding – trust? Platitudes about the importance and value of trust are absolutely not the same thing as the ability to actually build it!
In this way of thinking, trust (or trustworthiness) is not a “thing” that’s “out there.” Instead, trust is a judgment – an assessment – made by someone, about someone or something else. It’s “in here”, it happens in language, and has everything to do with who’s doing the looking – the observer.
I first learned about this understanding of trust in my coaching certification program at Newfield Network. Since then, one of my colleagues in that program wrote a superb little book encapsulating this way of thinking. His name is Charles Feltman and I highly recommend his book “The Thin Book of Trust.”
Four aspects or dimensions of this judgment or assessment are:
· Sincerity – an assessment of whether or not a person’s internal conversations are consistent with their external conversations; the issue of whether or not “hidden agendas” seem to exist
· Competency – an assessment of the person’s or organization’s ability to actually do what they say they will do
· Reliability – an assessment of the person’s or organization’s history – over time – of fulfilling and managing commitments
· Care – an assessment that the person has my interests or well-being in mind – as well as his or her own – when making important decisions and taking important actions
Said another way, anytime trust is not present… a positive assessment in at least one of these 4 is missing.
I may withhold trust because I’ve observed Anita doing things and saying things recently that seem to contradict her earlier public announcements that she was committed to X and not Y. She seems insincere to me because of this, so it has me concerned about her future pronouncements and follow-through.
Or I may trust Dr. Jones to fix my gall bladder, but not my brakes! Here, the issue has nothing to do with sincerity – it has to do with his competence in the domain of auto mechanics.
Or I may not trust Marisela to do X not because I think she’s not capable of doing X; rather, the issue may instead be one of reliability, of her past history of not keeping or managing commitments according to some standards.
Or the issue may have to do with care, as I’ve come to an assessment that Leo only thinks of himself and his priorities when making decisions, often leaving my team and our members to fend for ourselves.
Viewed this way, trust and distrust are never permanent and universal aspects of someone’s person-hood. Instead, trust is understood as dynamic and requiring ongoing nurturing and care… in the form of certain conversations.
The value here is that once the specific aspect is identified, very different conversations can then be designed! In this way we can move trust out of the often-difficult “ethical” domain and into the “operational” domain – where it can be much more easily discussed and dealt with and improved.
To build or rebuild trust, the following guidelines may be helpful for leaders:
· Managing commitments is critical. Over time, sloppiness in keeping and managing commitments almost always leads to distrust, resentment and cynicism (as well as a poorly-performing organization).
· Conversations for building shared understanding of the standards for competency and reliability are key. What, exactly, does “reliable” mean around here? What, exactly, are the criteria for an “excellent” job, and how is it different from an “OK” job?
· Past trust violations must be identified and “cleaned up” (via sincere apologies and new commitments, for example) before employees may give their hearts to any new initiatives.
· New conversations about trust, what it is, what it isn’t, and how we plan to support each other are important.
· And leaders’ willingness to listen openly to others’ assessments of them – specifically about whether or not they (and others within the organization) are showing up as sincere, competent, reliable and caring – is vital. It provides the starting point for improving effectiveness and trust within the organization, as well as for designing a more powerful public identity in the marketplace.