Getting honest about trust

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I recently had lunch with one of our clients, the chairman of a large global bank. He told me a story about a call he recently took from a head hunter, who wanted some advice on his list of potential candidates for the CEO role at a competitor bank.

The client, being a generous man, spent an hour and a half on the phone giving his opinion on the 30 or so candidates. He didn’t personally know all of them, but, in a tight-knit industry, he immediately knew who was an instant write-off and who would be a better fit. What on earth, I asked, could he have conveyed about these top-level execs for this incredibly important role in just a couple of minutes?

 “Well,” he replied, “I basically said whether I trusted them to do the job or not.”

For me, that conversation was a powerful reminder of how many important events in our life occur because of stuff people say about us when we’re not in the room.

Imagine you’re applying for a job in a different part of your organisation. You send an email to your potential new boss. What’s the first thing your potential new boss does? Asks your current boss for their opinion. They’ll probably take more than a couple of minutes, but in that brief conversation they will say whether or not they think you’re right for that job. No matter what comes after, that one initial exchange will have been a key decider in your future career.

The single most important emotion in these conversations and decisions is trust.

The degree of trust people place in us – to get a job done, to support them in a crisis, to show up to lunch on time – influences our lives in ways that are often completely out of our control. Most trust judgements occur without us having any consciousness of them, but they have a profound impact on where we end up.

If you don’t trust your partner, however great your relationship may be on the surface, it will eventually fall apart. If you do trust your friend, you’ll let them get away with an awful lot, because you know they’ll come good in the end. This is just as important in business as it is among friends or family. If you trust your leader, you’ll give them your all, because you know the effort will be reciprocated. If you don’t, you’ll always be trying to protect yourself, afraid that your work will go to waste. And these attitudes directly impact on the performance of the organisation as a whole.

Over the past few years we’ve been inundated with scandals in the press featuring people in senior positions making untrustworthy decisions. This year’s Edelman Global Trust Survey interviewed 31,000 business people across 26 different markets and found that banks and financial services are the least trusted organisations of all. The same negative feedback has been found for leadership; only 38% of people trust what a CEO is saying about their own organisation.

Lack of trust is obviously a huge organisational issue; in fact, I think it is the most important challenge we currently face. So the big question becomes: what can we do about it?

In the meantime I’ll be sharing my own thoughts in three articles, kicking off with what I see as the first essential step, removing your trust blinkers.

Start noticing the unquestioned low trust behaviours that happen within our businesses every day. Immerse yourself, become a trust detective. Begin by spotting how common, and commonly accepted, low trust behaviours are. Here are my suggestions for some good places to look:

  • Corridor conversations – It’s amazing how often there’s silent consensus ‘in the room’, followed by long and angry dissections outside the room with zero accountability or action.
  • Gossiping – We all hate the thought of people whispering behind our back. But be honest: How many times have you heard or participated in a good gossip?
  • Self-serving decisions – People may claim that their decision is the best thing for the company, but their true motives are crystal clear.
  • Do as I say, not as I do – My personal bugbear! Leaders talking the talk but failing to walk the walk are all too common. This is a trait of many organisations that score ‘superficial’ on the trust barometer, where leadership is a title, not a behaviour.
  • Incompetent leaders – How many of today’s leaders lack either the technical competence or the people skills to do what is expected of them? If you have a culture of high trust with continual feedback and development, it’s not such a problem. But in low trust organisations people work around their incompetence in a miasma of fear
  • Meeting mania – Low trust manifests in general ineffectiveness. Too many people are involved in decisions for fear of ‘leaving someone out’. Decisions are constantly deferred in case they are wrong. Everyone fights their own corner. Inertia ensues.
  • Low accountability – Blaming others, not owning up to mistakes, not holding poor performance to account, silos, inter-department warring…you know the drill.

So, now you’re seeing the trust issues clearly, what can you do?

Look out for the second article in our trust series, coming next week. In the meantime, I look forward to hearing your own thoughts on how to spot the trust underbelly in your organisation…

You can share your own stories on twitter #DoTrust or through our LinkedIn group Blue Sky Performance Improvement and of course your own blogs and social presences.

Elke Edwards - Blue Sky Performance Improvement Elke@BlueSky

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2 Responses to “Getting honest about trust”

  1. The Linked In Man Says:

    Trust is hugely important and increasingly more so as time goes on. There have been several broad sheet articles about how, in the UK in particular, we are becoming a trust based economy.

    Increasingly we engage with and use people we trust to do the job, project or task we need support with.

    The trust aspects are empowered through your reputation, both physical (as in this case) or virtual, for example where between 60 and 80% of people look you up to decide IF they will meet you.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Best wishes,

    James

    The Linked In Man

  2. Simon Daisley Says:

    I love this. Trust is the strongest glue in any relationship, team or organisation. Every leader wants to be trusted by their people, but I wonder how many actually know how or why they want to be trusted? I would trust Churchill to be committed to a particular purpose, but equally I could say the same about Hitler! It just so happens that my own values are more closely aligned with those of Churchill, therefore I trust him. I believe trust from comes from a congruence and alignment of values and motivation between leader and staff, and a confidence in the self-assured integrity of the leader. The best way of getting to a leader’s core motivation is to ask the epitaph question…What would you like people to say about you at your funeral? (And I’m not including Spike Milligan’s “I told you I was ill”!

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