On Importance of Trust

Image courtesy of Alex Wong

If we see a business organization as a „world of relationships“, as Covey would call it, than the collective performance is a factor of how effective people are in communicating and collaborating together on a shared goal. The quality of these relationships lies in a balance between the withdrawals and deposits individual parties make, and the right balance eventually leads into trust being build in a community. Covey depicted masterfully how important is honesty, openness, and authenticity in a leader for the establishment of trust in a community at work, while Maslow decidedly demonstrated how „in a company, high trust materially improves communication, collaboration, execution, innovation, strategy, engagement, partnering, and relationships“, so more attention should be paid to how to build trust in a business organization.

When I recently interviewed a CEO of a large Scandinavian organization, he told me that „there´s a huge trust in people up here, we trust them a lot, because there is no risk in giving them the responsibility“. A priori trust changes the organizational fabric dramatically, because by minimizing the need for control, it removes whole organizational levels, empowers people, decentralizes and makes the decision-making more flexible. If an employee breaks the organizational trust, he/she is promptly dismissed. In a high-trust culture, people put down defenses and commit themselves to the collective.

There are negatives sides of high-trust, however, in situations when there is imbalance between the collective goals and peripheries, manifested in the excessive decentralization and diversity. My Scandinavian CEO illustrated this point like follows: „Americans are great executors! In McDonald´s they sell burgers, and if you don´t want one, well, we are sorry. If that would be a Scandinavian company, we would soon realize that there are customers who also want pizza, and soon we would have pizza corners, and sushi corners, and the whole thing would fall down.“ Empowerment and individual responsibility need to be compensated by consensus decision-making, powerful vision, and strong leadership.

On the other hand, in the organizations (and cultures) where people are not trusted a priori, it has not only taken a lot of energy and resources to safeguard against risks, but it is also very difficult to earn trust in an atmosphere where nobody truly believes anybody. If you monitor your employee workday activities and require detailed reports, than you spread distrust, take initiative from people, and demotivate the whole teams.

I believe that a priori trust is one of the qualities of a high-performing culture and the opposite a sign of an immature, mediocre organizational culture in need of enlightened resurrection.

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