Building Trust: The Five Building Blocks

Building Trust: The Five Building Blocks


So how do you build trust? Well, that’s the subject of this entire book.

1) At the most basic level, trust is about reciprocity.

Reciprocity means getting treated fairly. In a work setting, this means people feel trust when they are paid fairly for the work they do. They feel trust when they are recognized for a job well done.

Reciprocity hinges on predictability. If you’ve said something will occur if certain expectations are met, you’d better adhere to the deal—otherwise you’ll set off a chain reaction of distrust.

2) Trust is not just about reciprocity. It’s about speed.

In a world where information flows at the speed of light, the speed of trust is the speed at which a colleague voluntarily communicates information that is important for you to know. For example, if I have the inside scoop on a competitor’s new marketing push, the speed of trust is reflected in how quickly I send you that information.

3) Trust obviously depends on communication.

Trust means that every employee, starting at the top, knows the organization’s goals. Trust means that roles and responsibilities are clear, and that the rules for dealing with conflicts are well understood. Trust means holding people accountable for what they do and don’t do. High levels of trust enable people to listen to each other’s views, to talk about tough issues, to share information, and to work together as a team.

4) Another important element of trust is transparency—letting people know what’s going on even if the news is not all good.

W. L. Gore, the maker of Gore-Tex fabric, provides regular updates to every employee on how the company is doing in meeting its goals. Senior management goes out of its way to communicate what’s going on with revenues and profits. Among mid-sized companies, it’s consistently ranked number one in Fortune magazine’s survey of best companies to work for. It’s also one of the most profitable.

Transparency also builds trust with customers and shareholders.

Transparent pricing is one example. Anyone who bought a car in the twentieth century was accustomed to dealing with an informational black hole. In the twenty-first century, auto dealers build trust with their customers by being open about their pricing and profits—and the experience is infinitely better. eBay builds trust by showing where your bid stands in relation to others and providing tips on how to place the winning bid. Google builds trust by sharing detailed compensation information. Transparency builds trust.

5) Perhaps the highest form of trust building is reciprocal communication.

Reciprocal communication means you treat people around you as equals—valuing their ideas and showing visibly that you respect their views, even if their ideas are different from your own. As a leader, you should convene people regularly so that they can identify hot issues, share views, debate approaches, and agree on a common course of action. The CEO of a large utility company, one of our clients, convenes his executive team for an all-day meeting every six weeks so that the team can grapple with emerging issues and challenges, discuss options, and decide together what to do. The company is recognized as one of the best-run businesses in the industry.

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