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From the Archives: My Anchor belief: Trust-building STARTS with culture & structure

September 11, 2012

John Morgan, the author of Brand Against the Machine, says any vibrant organization must have an anchor belief. Here’s mine:

Please!!  Stop thinking trust has something to do with being liked, or saying ‘we’. Stop thinking trust has to start at the interpersonal level. Stop thinking trust has to evolve slowly or is strictly based on past relationships.

Understand the complexity of trust. Understand that you can build and support trust with policies, practices and mechanisms in your organization.

The most trustworthy individual can’t build or sustain trust within the organization or with partners if the organization doesn’t have the right culture and structure in place.

My anchor belief: Trust can be swift. Trust can be built through governance. Trust can start at the inter-organizational level and move to the inter-personal.

DANGER: This turns a lot of trust research on its head. Usually, scholars start at the interpersonal level and build incrementally from there (check out Types of Trust in Twelve Weeks to Trust). Some scholars don’t believe you can trust an organization, only the people within it. But…

Macro level-problems need macro-level, institutional solutions because organizations are bigger than any one person or leader.

Leaders can start structurally to show people on your team that they-and the organization- are trustworthy.You can start today!

  1. Always declare your benevolent intent. Suspicion breeds distrust so open up the lines of communication.
  2. Reduce hierarchy and monitoring. Set up clear performance expectations through performance agreements, which are a type of contract, and then get out of the way!
  3. Invest in peoples’ financial or psychological security through transaction specific investments like training or equipment they need to do their job.
  4. Establish positive team norms that value trustworthiness. Lead by example and support the norms by policies, incentives, etc.
  5. Talk about ethics. Live them. Run your product, policies and practices through these 10 ethics screening questions. Punish ethics violators.
  6. Create mechanisms for joint planning and problem solving – joint planning meetings, requests for input at various points in a project, stand-up brainstorm meetings or a quick phone call. Create joint goals and incentives so that everyone has something to gain from the others’ success.
  7. Put your money where your mouth is. Nothing is more tangible within an organization than budget. Ensure you have the right people on your team and that you resource projects appropriately otherwise you’ve set them up to fail which does not exactly foster warm fuzzy feelings or trust.

A lot of the focus of inter-personal trust is to show benevolence – that you care about the other person and can put their needs first. You demonstrate that when you create a work environment that has a culture and a structure that supports trust.

When trust-building practices are institutionalized, trust is sustained beyond the actions of one manager or leader. Trust becomes “how we do business” or in fancier terms, an operating mechanism.

An amazing thing about trust is that it is generative. Once you start to create it, it builds upon itself to create more trust. So, today, start where you can. Begin to infuse trust in the big machinery that is an organization and you will be amazed by the transformation that can take place.

Worried about budgets? Most of these steps don’t cost anything and as you build trust you reduce the need for double-checking, tight contracts, etc. High trust governance is less expensive than control and monitoring. You will free up funds to invest in people, projects, training, etc.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 11, 2012 11:02 am

    Great message Dominique! I concur wholeheartedly. It’s a “both/and” approach rather than an “either/or” situation when it comes to building trust on an interpersonal level and through an organization’s culture and structure. Unless both are present, people will become cynical, demoralized, powerless, and disengaged.

    Randy

  2. September 11, 2012 2:23 pm

    Thanks Randy. I do give the interpersonal piece short shrift here and you are absolutely right. For best results, you really need both. You’re fortunate to be in a position to foster this kind of development in organizations every day. I’d love to hear some of your best success stories.

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