One of the most important things that leaders can do is to build and keep trust in their relationships. What is trust and why does it matter so much? Trust is what people feel about you if you fulfill your commitments.
Trust matters because it helps your organization run more smoothly. Without trust, everything grinds to a halt. Imagine your customer places an order for your product and you commit to delivering it within a week. If you have never missed an on-time delivery, your customer will feel confident you will meet their expectations. If you've missed delivery dates in the past, you will be lucky if the customer gives you one last chance. Since they don't believe you will meet the latest delivery date, the customer will keep checking up on your progress. Responding to those requests consumes your time and makes the customer more nervous and more eager to shift their business to your rival.
Trust works pretty much the same way for all your relationships -- with employees, suppliers, investors, and regulators. The benefits of getting and keeping trust are significant. The cost of losing trust is substantial -- unless you change your conduct, that loss could imperil your organization's survival.
Here are four things you must do to get and keep trust.
1. Think carefully before you make a commitment.
Each of your stakeholders wants you to make commitments that matter to them. Before you start to make commitments, ask your employees, customers, suppliers, shareholders, and communities what they need most from you.
Once you know that, think about which of their important expectations you can satisfy. Evaluate your strengths and weaknesses and the resources you have available so that you can make commitments that you are confident you can fulfill.
If you are the only one on the team expected to meet a commitment, you can set realistic deadlines based on knowing your own skills and schedule. However, if you are only one of many people who must work together to fulfill the commitment, you must factor in each individual's abilities and schedule before making a commitment.
If you say you will do things that matter to your stakeholders and you are confident that you can fulfill those commitments, you will have taken the first step toward building trust with them.
2. Communicate your commitment clearly.
The next step is to communicate your commitment clearly. In general, you know you have communicated clearly if the person with whom you are making the commitment knows exactly what you promised to do and when you promised to do it.
If you make a commitment in a conversation, that is a good start. However, you should follow up that conversation with an email, text, or some other written communication that is the same as what you said you would do.
If you make many commitments with people, you must have a way to keep track of them all. Since I do not make that many, I find it helpful that Cortana on Microsoft Outlook reminds me every morning of things I committed to do.
If you have many commitments, however, you will need a more systematic way to keep track with every one you make. It does not inspire trust if you fail to fulfill your commitment because it slipped your mind.
3. Do what you promised.
This step is the most difficult of the four. If you completed the first and second steps properly, you will have understood that what you promised to do will be valuable to the other person and you will be confident that the deadline you set to accomplish is achievable.
If you deliver what you promised by the deadline you communicated, congratulations! You have added to your well of trust with the other person and have opened the door for future interactions.
4. If you might not fulfill your commitment, warn the other party.
If your deadline is approaching and you realize you will not be able to meet it, you must communicate immediately with the other person that you are not going to fulfill the commitment.
If you apologize, explain what you think caused the slip up, and make a new, more realistic commitment, then you can hold off a possible loss of trust with the other person. If you miss that next commitment, you will certainly drain trust from the well.
When you lead your organization to build and keep the trust of your stakeholders, you must make sure you have the people and processes in place to keep track of all your commitments and how well your organization is doing to fulfill them.
Follow these four steps and reap the benefits from deep wells of trust with all your stakeholders.