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MANAGEMENT: Trust Affects Everything
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Imagine being offered a product that would guarantee an increase in employee productivity, loyalty and cooperation- as well as enhance customer satisfaction, repeat business and referrals? You would be interested, wouldn’t you?
What if it cost next to nothing and you could have it delivered immediately with the benefits guaranteed to begin within a few short weeks? Would you want to know more?
What is this miracle product? In a word: trust!
Before you dismiss the idea as too vague or idealistic to be useful, let me point out that research supports the notion that trust affects everything, including the bottom line. Everything from the speed and scope of business to employee retention and engagement is impacted by the dynamics of trust in the workplace.
In the book, The Speed of Trust, author Steven M. R. Covey uses the metaphor of a trust tax that companies pay when there is low internal or external trust. In scenarios of low trust, all parties are required to spend the significant energy looking out for their own best interests. Employees need to make sure that they are being fairly paid and not taken advantage of, so they hesitate before embracing new responsibilities or changes in the work environment. Potential customers commit time and energy to making sure they get what they want without being taken advantage of and will want guarantees and safeguards in place. All this extra time and energy undermines profit and efficiency.
Contrast this to high trust environments. In high trust environments, employees are willing to give more than their minimums because they have a stake (emotional and otherwise) in the success of the business. They know that if the business flourishes, they will benefit as well. In high trust environments, current and prospective customers will be more likely to give your products and services a try and continue their patronage. Customers who trust your business will be very likely to promote it to others who have similar needs.
Given the obvious benefits, why doesn’t every business create high-trust environments? I suspect it’s because too many leaders have a limited understanding of what trust actually is and how to build it.
The good news is that trust isn’t overly complicated, though it is multi-faceted. Covey describes trust as having 4 pillars: 1. Integrity, 2. Intent, 3. Capabilities, and 4. Results. Individuals and companies need to demonstrate reliability and credibility in each of those areas if they want to avoid the low trust tax and reap the rewards of high trust bonuses.
Integrity is often the main concept that people think of when they think of trust. Integrity captures the values of honesty, humility, character and commitment to one’s word. Without integrity, employees will be self-protecting and customers will be reluctant to give the business a try. However, when integrity is consistently expressed, both employees and customers will be positively inclined to engage in mutually beneficial transactions.
The keys to demonstrating integrity are keeping one’s word, dealing honestly and fairly with others and absorbing the costs for making things right when it’s appropriate (I didn’t say, “Building trust was completely free!”). Nevertheless, laying and maintaining a foundation of integrity is essential for building trust.
Intent has to do with one’s motives and agendas. It’s about seeking win-win scenarios rather than trying to take advantage of someone else. In high trust environments, both parties acknowledge that the best transaction is one in which everyone gets what they want. There will inevitably be some compromise, but the long-term benefits of loyalty and positive regard will more than make up for any less-than maximum short-term gain.
The best way to build trust in the area of intent is to make one’s agenda explicit and transparent as well as making an effort to genuinely consider the desires of the other parties involved. For example, employees expect their companies to want them to work hard and put in a good day’s work. However, if they know that their efforts and performances will be rewarded fairly and predictably, they will be more likely to contribute their part of the bargain. Similarly, if customers know they are getting a fair deal and that their needs are taken seriously, they will be willing to pay above the bottom of the market in exchange for their continued patronage.
Beyond demonstrating integrity and intent, leaders and businesses that seek to create high trust environments must also demonstrate competence and relevancy in their products and services. Being honest and of good intent is not good enough to overshadow low quality or incompetence. Leaders and businesses must demonstrate expertise, relevancy and reliability if they want to gain and keep the trust of others.
Being committed to continual learning in one’s area of expertise is essential for demonstrating current capability. Discovering and implementing best practices in one’s field lets both employees and customers know that you and the company are committed to excellence and are worthy of trust.
The final pillar of trust is what author Seth Godin calls “deliverables.” It’s not enough to have character, intent and capabilities if one doesn’t deliver on one’s promises. Ultimately employees want a fair wage, a positive work environment and a place where they can make a meaningful contribution. Similarly, customers want quality products and services delivered on time and for a fair price. Anything short of these results erodes trust.
Perfection is not required, but consistent quality is. And, when mistakes are made, high trust leaders and organisations pay the price to make things right.
The benefits of building and maintaining trust are worth the efforts. Similarly, the costs of low trust are too great to ignore. Building trust in the workplace will take time, but if you’re ready to stop paying a trust tax and start collecting a trust bonus, you can start today. Stick with it and you’ll reap the rewards!
If you would like help in assessing and creating a customised trust-building plan, contact us at LDiT where we practice what we preach. You can reach us at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or www.lditraining.cn. 
Dr. David Zovak
Director of Strength Based Leadership
Reference: The Speed of Trust, Stephen M. R. Covey, Free Press, 2006.

By Dr.David Zovak
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