How trust makes for great places to work





The level of trust you place in others, and the reasons for that trust, are important factors in making for an effective workplace environment, says Dr Marianne Broadbent.

In an earlier column I wrote about how Trust is a key part of building great teams. Since that time the whole notion of Trust has taken on even more significance in workplaces, in governments, between governments and citizens, between businesses, amongst politicians and the populace, and of course amongst ourselves, both personally and professionally.

In the work that we do, the criticality of Trust – and the importance of building Trust – cannot be over-emphasised. But Trust has a bit of a jelly-like quality – it is hard to really grasp, to define, and to understand its many dimensions.

Over the past month I have had the opportunity to re-acquaint myself with Stephen M.R. Covey, and his work The Speed of Trust*, as facilitator at one of his major Australian business commitments. He is son of Stephen R. Covey, author of the well-known and influential 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, first published in 1989. Stephen Covey Jnr ended up leading his father’s business and then the merged entity FranklinCovey, as CEO.

Covey makes a strong case that the ability to Trust – and be trusted – changes everything. In essence, where we trust another person, or members of our team, or our boss, or those from another organisation, we are able to get on with things much more quickly.

He refers to this as ‘The Speed of Trust’ because it enables us to ‘speed up’ our interactions. We have confidence in the other person with whom we are dealing. We expect them to do the right thing.

Trust has economic value

Trust has economic value in that it is an asset that reduces our interaction time and our transaction costs. When Trust goes up, speed goes up and costs go down. It is a critical factor in the development and success of effective leaders and smart organisations.

Lack of trust fosters a climate of suspicion and saps our energy as we start double-guessing situations and often doing ‘workarounds’. As Covey puts it –  ‘Mistrust doubles the cost of doing business’.

In our management consultancy work we are often asking candidates or executive participants in leadership advisory work – ‘Who is the best boss you have ever had?’ or ‘What is the best peer team you have ever been part of?’

We are often seeking to understand the sort of work environment in which they really thrive; but the reasons behind their answers tend to be very consistent. We get responses like – ‘We trusted each other to get things done’ or ‘We trusted each other to do the right thing’ or ‘I felt really trusted by others, and I really enjoyed that and gave it everything’.

But what is this thing called Trust? We might instinctively know that it is a good thing, but Covey’s real contribution is to elucidate what Trust is, its key components, why they matter, and what you can do about it.

Trust is about Character + Competence

We trust another person when we have confidence in them. That Trust, says Covey, is based other’s perceptions of character and our competence. We can all recall people with whom we have worked who had integrity and good intent, that is ‘character’ in Covey’s terms, but they were not very competent. Thus we could not trust them to get a job done well, and in the way it needed to be done, as it would ourselves or others at risk.

At the same time, we have all come across people who had a high level of technical competence, and whose expertise were much valued by their organisation, but they were ‘not trusted’. They might be smart and know a lot about the organisation, the business, or the program or products, but their behaviour was not really consistent with what was required.

Perhaps they did not collaborate well, or share information with others, or were not respectful of the work of others. They were competent, but lacking in good intent, and thus lacking in integrity. We could not trust them to do the job properly.

As an aside, it is always a very powerful and positive sign when those with good expertise but bad behaviours – and who have been warned and failed to reform –  are exited from an organisation. It can be a turning point reinforcing the expectations and behaviours that will – and will not – be rewarded.

We can grow Trust and we need to nurture it

Covey provides a neat analogy of large tree, a living and growing thing. It has deep roots, large branches and continues to grow. The roots and trunk are about the character of the tree – demonstrating Integrity and Intent.

That other ‘hard to define’ word – Integrity – is also simply defined as the congruence between your Intent and your Behaviour. How often have you exclaimed that ‘he just lacks integrity’, knowing this is not a good thing, but not quite being able to make it tangible. The takeaway is that a person of high Integrity is someone who does what they say they are going to do – their Intent is actioned in their behaviour.

The upper part of the tree, the branches that produce the fruits or flowers, represent our Competence. Competence is about our Capabilities and our Results. Our talents, skills, knowledge, capacities and abilities go to make up our Capabilities. These provide the foundation on which we can deliver. Results are about our track record or what we have actually achieved, and Results matter to our Credibility.

To sum up then: Trust is about Character (Intent + Integrity) and Competence (Capabilities + Results).

Practice the Reciprocity of Trust

While Trust can be described as a very tangible attribute and asset, gaining and giving Trust can remain a challenge. We all know people who are gullible and have trusted too many people; and we know those who are overly suspicious and who trust no-one.

A key lesson for me over the years has been to always assume goodwill and good intent on the part of others. If there is a choice between conspiracy and stuff-up, I assume stuff-up every time, and 95 per cent of the time that is the reality.

Keep that in mind when you reflect on your own approach to trusting others. Trust is a reciprocal virtue – that is, we need to trust others to get trust in return. In those conversations with candidates and participants I mentioned above, the positivity created by trusting others is a very powerful leadership tool.


*This column draws on the work of Stephen M.R. Covey and his work with Rebecca Merrill, The Speed of Trust: The one thing that changes Everything, NY, Free Press, 2006.





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