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.
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
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.
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.
· Self-regulation. 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.
Efficiency. 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.
· Inspired performance.
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
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
basesemotional and performance, active and passiveand 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:
Folk Theorem I.
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
· 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.