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Trust: The Essential Currency of Commerce

Trust and BrandingWhat is the most important asset in business?  This question is something like the old desert island query:  “If you were on a remote desert island and could have one thing, what would it be?:  It is said that the renowned British satirist turned theologian G.K. Chesterton was asked along with others in a group discussion what book he’d want to have if he were stranded on an island.  Admirers in the group expected him to name a great literary classic or deep exploration of the faith. Instead, Chesterton said:  “I would choose Thomas' Guide to Practical Shipbuilding.”

So returning to the business question, what would you say is your most important business holding?  A building?  A unique product? A good accountant? A large Twitter following?

I’d suggest that the clear answer, though perhaps hidden in open sight like the ship building answer, is trust.  There is nothing more important in a business than trust: internally, with customers, with vendors, with partners.  It is vital to your relationships at every point of contact.

Whether you’re beginning a business from scratch, re-creating an existing organization, or looking to take a company from acceptable to extraordinary, establishing and maintaining trust is the most important task you have as a leader. Trust is the very currency of commerce. Without it, everything breaks down, with no meaningful or enduring exchange.

Trust is granted when people and the institutions that they lead are consistently living their values and keeping their promises. Certainly that is easier said than done. But every company and organization can begin at the core, with the chief executive looking within and then sharing the values that are foundational to everything he or she does. It can be the first step to earning trust.

Organizations can grow without trust for a short term, but it is not a sustainable or profitable strategy. Great companies create, nurture and harvest trust quickly and efficiently. Companies that are not growing do not know how to build trust and are often selling on price alone.

The Four Pillars of Trust

Four pillars of trust are always in play anytime anyone is engaging another.  Regardless of age, ethnic background, language, culture.  Regardless of product, service, industry niche or size—these elements determine your trust quotient.

1.  Shared Values

We understand the importance of shared values in our personal relationships and friendships.  If we don’t share a view of the world and an outlook on what things are vitally important or what standards of conduct aren’t negotiable and what principles go without saying, relationships are going to be short-lived.

We know instinctively that the same is true in our business relationships, yet the culture of a company or industry, or the intense pressures of competition or corporate quotas can move values quietly to the side.  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.

Shared values are a pillar of trust-building.

  •  What values are obviously shared across your organization?  How would you know?
  • Where there is conflict in the organization, can you identify the values that are disconnected, putting trust and progress at risk?
  • What values do you and your customers share?  Do your customers know that you share these values?

2. Shared Vision

To stay with the nautical theme a little longer, if you’re crew on a vessel, you can share values with other hard working and knowledgeable sailors that will help you survive in a storm. But if the captain hasn’t decided or won’t tell you the destination, it’s going to be a difficult and unproductive trip. Similarly, in a company, values without vision won’t take you very far (at least not in the right direction). A group of dedicated people with a common vision can more easily stay aligned and keep the ship surging in a straight line in the right direction.

It is only the company with shared vision that can be trusted to deliver over the long run.  Although a business plan can be principled without vision, it will not produce the steady plan and long-term profitability of a group with a clear and well-communicated vision.

A shared vision builds trust.

  •  Are your employees and partners certain about the vision of your company?
  • Can you connect your vision to values internally and among customers and vendors?

 3. Assumed responsibility

Shared values and vision create a philosophical, spiritual, and emotional connection. But they can be left on the table, or more commonly just posted on the break room wall or in the reception area.  The question:  Is someone going to own it?  Will the rhetoric be turned into action?

To create trust, it must be cultural wisdom to take responsibility for company practices, relationships and communications. Leaders and employees at every level will be rewarded for stepping forward to take responsibility to move forward, for initiatives that succeed and that fail, or to own up to wrongs and make them right.

No one trusts a person or a company that won’t take responsibility.  We all watch if those around us will pass this ‘trial of trust,’ assuming responsibility.

  •  Where do you most often see responsibility shirked within your organization?
  • Do colleagues believe they will be punished if they take responsibility for failures or independent action?

4. Always delivering on your promise

Values, vision and assumed responsibility create promises.  Trust is established when those promises are always kept. We all love promises, assurances of future action.  But they are worthy only if they are kept.  That is obvious to us in human relations, but it is just as evident when we operate within a company, as a business produces products and offers them to their customers, and as it maintains relationships with those consumers.

Trust is bolstered by promises kept; it’s destroyed—most often irreparably—when we fail to deliver on our promises.

The next time you feel like your business is on a desert island, check your trust.  It should always be the first choice.

  •  How is your organization intentionally strengthening trust with employees, customers and vendors?
  • What will you do this month to improve the trust level among your direct reports?
  • Where is trust at greatest risk in your organization?
  • As the currency of commerce, trust fuels growth. When trust flourishes, companies grow. When trust recedes, so does the business. As the nails and braces hold the ship together, so trust is the structure upon which great organizations are built.
  • How will you increase the trust within your organization?

--Chuck Thomas, president, The Valcort Group

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