Building Organizational Trust in an Age of Cynicism

In times of change, the last thing you need to experience—as an employee, a colleague, a corporate leader, or a customer—is the discovery that trust has been violated.

Does any of this sound familiar? A person, group or organization has broken a promise. A manufacturer’s work product is not up to spec as expected. A vital partner doesn’t follow both the letter and the spirit of an agreement.

And the reaction?  A break-down of trust sparks change-based anxiety.  On the other hand, the remedy for this anxiety is the building and embedding of viral trust, integrated throughout a company and those they do business with.

“Building viral trust?” you might say. Hmmm… easier said than done – but it can be accomplished with commitment and diligence. But exactly how do we embed trust in an organization? Trust is a value that is ignited when it becomes an action. To start, we need to create and require four pillars of trust within the company.

First, to create trust, truth-telling must be the expectation. This may go without saying, but we can’t have trust without the assurance that we are telling each other the truth in matters large and small. To assure this we, as leaders, need to assure everyone working with us that we want to hear the truth, Period. Go ahead – tell it to us straight, no matter how ugly. And do it safely, without fear. This is a building block for trust. It will enable us to speak what we believe to be true rather than what we think others want to hear.

Second, to create trust we need to share values. We understand the importance of sharing values in our personal relationships and friendships. If we don’t share a view on what things are vitally important, or what standards of conduct aren’t acceptable — relationships are going to be short-lived.

The same goes for our business relationships. But the reality of intense competition and meeting quotas can force people to behave without a moral compass.  That’s why leadership is so important.  Without the north star of shared values, a company can lose its right to be trusted. Its products can lose their reputation for quality and trustworthiness. Employees are keeping their backs to the wall. The desire to take chances and to innovate is muted.

Third, to build trust we have to embrace responsibility. The buck stops here – not there. No one trusts a person or a company that won’t assume responsibility for plans, promises, decisions, and if necessary, failures. We all watch if those around us pass this ‘trial of trust’ – don’t we?

A healthy trust environment isn’t one where individuals feel forced to assume responsibility. To create a trust environment, it must be in our culture’s DNA to embrace responsibility for company decisions, practices, relationships and communications. Leaders and employees at every level will be rewarded when they step up to the plate for initiatives that succeed or fail, and to own up to wrongs and make them right.

Fourth, we create trust by always delivering on our promises.  We all love promises – when they’re kept, right?  Same goes for a company. So, when your company makes products and offers them to customers, and as you maintain relationships with your customers – trust is bolstered by promises kept.  But promises broken?  Well – then trust is broken or destroyed – sometimes forever. And that is unacceptable. Be a company that keeps its promises to everyone. Everywhere. Period.

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