How to Build a Corporate Culture of Trust
BY Lou Dubois
When trust exists between employees and management, and more importantly with customers, business will thrive. Here's how to implement a trust strategy in your organization.
If you choose to read any of the extensive literature in your local bookstores or online that address team effectiveness, it will almost always center on the simple fact that trust is the most important element in building a winning team.
Whether you're talking sports, business organizations or anything else competitive, it comes down to creating synergy and trust between members of your team. If NBA superstar Kobe Bryant didn't trust his Los Angeles Lakers teammates Derek Fisher, Pau Gasol and others to make the right decision with the ball in the most high-pressure situations of this year's NBA Finals, its unlikely Bryant would be celebrating his fifth NBA championship. And that extends to the office as well.
Organizations are facing some of the biggest challenges of the last 25 years thanks to the economic climate of the past few years. Therefore, the need to build and cultivate solid relationships is vital not only for success but also survival. Solid relationships are built up over time by gaining trust. And while most other parts of business require measurement, trust is tough to measure. But the effects of a lack of trust can be clearly evident (unhappy customers, lost business), and down the road very costly to your business.
How to Build a Culture of Trust: Defining Your Strategy
But how can you define trust? And how can you be certain it exists within your organization? According to Dr. Duane C. Tway, Jr., as he published in his 1993 dissertation, A Construct of Trust, trust is, "the state of readiness for unguarded interaction with someone or something." Certainly there are different types of trust as well. There is internal trust, between employees and managers, and top-level management. And then there is trust between your organization and your customers.
"An organization that has a high cultural level of trust has to behave in a trustworthy manner, but also be really good at trusting others," says Charles H. Green, founder and CEO of Trusted Advisors Associates, LLC in West Orange, NJ, which works with clients large and small to improve trust on many levels. "So internally with your partners and employees, you have to be able to let loose the paranoia and trust your direct reports and your partners to do something, rather than freaking out over performance or not being in control. On the other side, obviously, you need to be trustworthy."
So while trustworthiness needs to be established on an individual level at the top, from an organizational perspective, Green says the easiest way to measure your level of trust is to look at four different factors:
1. Client focus: you need your employees to believe in the mantra that you're not in business solely to make money, but actually to help your customer. Money is a byproduct of success, not the other way around.
2. Collaborative: don't instinctively lead with what you think should be done or what your competitors aren't doing. Make it work like any team, and show customers that you want to work together to reach the best solution.
3. Transparency: if you want trust, you can't keep secrets from others. One of the buzzwords of President Barack Obama's campaign in 2008 was "transparency," as it stresses being open and visible without hidden agendas.
4. Timeframe: perhaps the most important measurement, you need to be thinking about your business in terms of relationships and not simple transactions. Most sales models are inherently transactional, with a lead and a close. But if you think about your business in a more medium- to long-term perspective, with an ongoing, ever-flowing cycle, you're developing a relationship of trust.
How to Build a Culture of Trust: Implementing the Strategy
The turbulent economic conditions of the past few years that have crippled many businesses certainly diminish the trust levels within them. Several studies show that up to 60% of employees do not trust senior management to turn their organizations around and get the business back on track. And while it may not seem like a vital part of business regarding internal trust, the banning by many organizations of social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and others is a sign that management doesn't trust employees to use those sites for business purposes. Meanwhile, many companies have found a way to implement social strategy successfully.
"We tell a lot of our clients that 80 percent of developing a social strategy in terms of trust development is getting the company ready and 20 percent of it is actually teaching employees how to use the tools," says Kyle P. Lacy, a noted blogger and founder/CEO of social media consulting firm Brandswag with offices in Indianapolis and Oklahoma City, which teaches companies to utilize online media to help business. "I think that so many times companies just tell their people to start using it without implementing any kind of strategy or goal setting, and they just kind of go do it. They need to realize that by letting an employee establish a personal brand, it's a sub-brand of their organization and makes them look better as well."
So how can you implement a strategy to build a trust culture in your workplace? It's ideal if it starts at the top of an organization, but that's not always necessary. There are plenty of resources you can check out, but the simplest approach is a three-tiered commitment to a few core trust principles:
1. Capability trust, or allowing people to make decisions, involving them in discussions, and trusting that their opinions and input will be useful.
2. Contractual trust, or being consistent in terms of keeping agreements and managing expectations.
3. Communication trust, or sharing information, providing constructive feedback and speaking with good purpose about people.
As noted American writer and journalist Ernest Hemingway famously said, "the best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them." If your trust is abandoned, then you know the answer, but until then, give them the benefit of your trust.