Is trust a nice-to-have social variable within a company or an economic variable that can be quantified and measured for achieving better business results? It is in fact, probably the single most important cultural aspect of any high-performance team.

I learned this fact in the early days of SEAL training, down range in combat and in every company I have been involved in building. Every communication, decision, action, strategy and transaction is impacted by the levels of trust within an organization. Positively or negatively.

When the trust "account" is low, speed goes down and costs go up - and therefore products and services suffer. When the trust "account" is high, speed increases and costs go down--and therefore great efficiencies are unlocked and products and services flourish. This of course leads to great profitability and shareholder value.

But how do we measure trust and in what areas? And once we discover how to measure it, what do we do with that "data" to increase trust?

To simplify the measurement of trust, you could break it into three categories:

1. Internal Trust Levels in the Company:

This is only the starting point and it must go further than just this category. But this area gets you started asking the right--and relatively simple--questions to ascertain initial trust levels. Questions such as these must be asked: Does the team trust their leadership? Does the culture practice true collaboration or is it a false activity that is being faked? How competitive is the environment? Is there a regular flow of information between team members and across departments? How thick are the walls of the silos? Do employees actively practice accountability and is that behavior exhibited from the top?

2. Behaviors that Build or Damage Trust:

Organizational culture is all founded on the beliefs, experiences, actions and behaviors of those on the team. If you want a high-trust organization, you have to behave your way there, not think your way into that behavior. It's simple to look around the room and say, "Yeah, sure, we trust each other." But truly measuring the behaviors in the areas of credibility, accountability, and results will give you a better understanding of the reality. When performing a culture diagnostic focused on trust, you have to determine which trust behaviors are helping you and which ones are hurting you. The ones that are hurting the company need to be addressed aggressively.

3. The Economic Impact of Those Trust Levels:

Unfortunately, trust doesn't show up as a line items in your financial statements. But wouldn't it be cool if it did? However, you can make a simple list based on surveys or just good old fashion transparent feedback from the team members at all levels. On one side of the list, name all of the behaviors, actions and occurrences that are damaging trust (unkept promises, politics, turnover, churn, rules for the sake of rules); on the other side, name all of the behaviors, actions and occurrences that are building and maintaining trust (visible loyalty, trust collaboration, transparent communication, respectful conflict, retention). Obviously, the areas that are damaging trust is where you need to start in order to begin rebuilding in those areas.

Low trust organizations suffer in the areas of high employee turnover, customer churn, slow speed of execution and increased costs for getting things done.

For example, losing an employee due to low trust levels (you can obtain this information in a simple exit interview) can cost upwards of 1.5 times their annual salary! Replacing that employee costs even more.

Trust also has external factors such as customer retention. Studies (not that you need a study to understand this) show that replacing the revenue from a customer can cost up to five times as much as actually keeping that customer.

Like anything else--especially when it comes to factors of trust, credibility and accountability--these behaviors must first be exhibited by senior leaders on and off the battlefield. That's one of the burdens of command. Acting in a trustworthy manner, while not tolerating anything but the same from employees, will ensure that you maintain a strong team culture founded on the bedrock of trust.

Published on: Dec 22, 2016