Thursday, 8 April 2010

The realities of trust

It is early morning and I am watching a mother and her baby and thinking of the unbelievable trust bond that exists between them and wondering why, as we grow into adult life, we become less trusting. I listen to politicians and bankers talk about trust and wonder why we do not see predominantly high-trust work relationships? I was recently in a large Japanese car manufacturer, a very big Postal business, and with a bunch of very high powered sales people and all of them were asking, "how do you build trust?". My very simple answer is that you cannot start unless you yourself as an individual, team, leader, business are personally trustworthy. Trust attracts trust. Charles Greene’s “The Trusted Advisor” or Coveys’ “The Speed of Trust” emphasised the importance of trust for achieving organisational success.

They and I maintain that when trust is present, it will significantly enhance the ability to change and supports (radical) change. This is because trust is said to assist in learning, creativity and innovation. Trust is a lubricant for social relations which in turn improve efficiency. We know that the prime organisational regulatory drivers of organisations can be categorised into governmental, organisational, peer, or self regulation. However, we know that the most effective drivers of performance and productivity are self and peer regulation.

The presence of trust, I would argue, reduces the need for detailed contractual and performance monitoring and is, thus, important in governance. If we extend this into more complex environments, detailed contracting and monitoring are often undesirable since they may constrain engagement, motivation, quality, innovation by impacting creativity and initiative. The interactions we have with close friends have a different character from those we have with people we meet socially, people who supply services, or our adversaries. What makes these interactions operate at different levels of trust? Trust is based on credibility, reliability, intimacy, and an acceptance of the need for joined up relationships that are equal in behaviour and commitment. Trust may sometimes not be based on evidence. Indeed, there is a tension between accepting what someone says because of trust, and doing so because one has evidence that what they say is generally true. In the current market environment, where the degree of ambiguity and uncertainty is increasing, with the associated increasing need for change, innovation, learning and risk-taking all of which are enhanced by being in a trust based environment, we must look at the issue of trust in a more deliberate way.

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