Building Trust

Trust is the foundational building block for organizational health.  Just as diet and exercise are the key starting points for physical health, trust is the “must have” for building a healthy, productive, and innovative work environment.  Without trust, you have no chance of creating the kind of organizational culture you may want to build.

Title: | Author: Joel Penner | License: CC BY 2.0
Title: Accommodating the Newcomers | Author: Joel Penner | Source: Flickr | License: CC BY 2.0

Trust has two components: indvidual and institutional.

Individual trust is defined as a firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something. Institutional trust is defined as the confidence that others will act as we expect.

Some institutional trust theories stress the role of networks and relationship among people and others emphasize the importance of shared norms. Trust is based on an assessment of the competence, integrity, and benevolence of individuals and institutions.

Individual trust can be built through four factors: credibility, relationship-building, ego-management, and dependability (CRED)

Credibility is all about words. Individuals with high credibility are known for doing rigorous research, having deep expertise and broad experience, and making evidence based decisions based on thorough analysis. Highly credible people are authentic—they talk straight. Relationships are built through empathy and transparency. 

People-oriented individuals build strong personal connections by making the effort to reach out; actively inquiring about others’ interests, values, aspirations, and dreams; demonstrating understanding about how people are thinking and feeling; sharing perspective; and being appropriately transparent and self-disclosing. 

Individuals who are able to manage their egos are perceived as being genuinely helpful, actively seeking ways to help others succeed, and not being overly self-promoting. Ego management means being more like Mother Theresa and less like Donald Trump. 

Dependability is all about actions. Highly dependable people do what they say when they say they are going to do it. They are perceived as reliable, consistent, predictable, conscientious, loyal, and responsible.

A helpful exercise for assessing your individual trustworthiness is to rate each of these four factors on a scale of 1-10 with 1 being low and 10 being high. Complete the following grid and compute your CRED score by assessing how you rate yourself, how you rate one of your colleagues, and how you think that colleague would rate you.

CRED Factors Self Rating Your rating of a colleague Colleague’s rating of you

Institutional trust can be built through four mechanisms: legal provisions, reputation, certifications, and community norms and structures

Legal provisions can improve trust when they enable consistent compliance with internal and external policies and regulations and by clear and fair employment contracts. Reputation contributes to trust when it is built by the social responsibility the organization displays in the communities in which it resides and by its response to mistakes or product deficiencies. For example, J&J increased its brand value as a trusted drug supplier by responding aggressively to the tampering of Tylenol bottles. GM, on the other hand, tarnished its reputation by the recent revelations that it covered up ignition switch defects and failed to take steps to fix the problem even though the costs were very low. 

Certifications can also increase institutional trust for groups such as Doctors and lawyers and by the number of employees who come from elite universities. McKinsey, for example, prides itself in hiring from Ivy League schools and leverages those pedigrees to create trust among its clients. 

It’s the community norms and structures, however, on which I want to focus in this article. These represent the desired values and behaviors in an organization that, in my mind, yield the highest return of all the options for building institutional trust.

Title: Drinking in Zero-Gravity | Author: Joel Penner
Title: Drinking in Zero-Gravity | Author: Joel Penner | Source: Flickr | License: CC BY 2.0

Healthy organizations create and abide by values that engender institutional trust. The most common values organizations publish on building walls and in annual reports are: respect, integrity, interdependence, innovation, and quality. 

The question is: Are those values dead or alive in the organization?

Institutional trust can be measured by analyzing the gap between stated values and day-to-day behaviors—how things really work “around here.” When the gaps are small, institutional trust is high. When gaps are large, institutional trust is low.

Organizations can create values, norms, and behaviors that come alive in organizations by involving employees in the development of the values, by periodically auditing the values, and by forming task forces to look at ways to close the gaps. A task force needs to be formed by the executive committee and its reports and recommendations need to be taken seriously. I have always recommended referring to this task force as a soul committee whose sole responsibility is to calibrate the gaps between stated values and actual behaviors. I have found few organizations who are willing to embrace that idea.

Patrick Lencioni has written several books which posit that trust is the basic building block for functional teams and organizations. With trust, it is possible to engage in healthy conflict, inspire commitment, hold people accountable, and achieve great results. Without trust, conflict goes underground, commitment shrinks, accountability disappears, and results suck. 

These all seem like good reasons to build individual and institutional trust. Why haven’t we?

Also published on Medium.

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