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Bonds of trust

It is mainly by increasing trust levels that you can lower your costs, increase speed to market and improve customer responsiveness.

I recently addressed the management team of a well-known multinational company operating in a highly competitive and fast growing industry. During the session, I asked, “What makes your company unique?” This is what I heard some say, “People”, “Culture”, “Technology” and “Empowerment”.

I followed this up with another question, “What makes them perform exceptionally well?” One gentleman remarked spontaneously, “Trust!” And I, along with others, wholeheartedly concurred that trust between people is the key to achieving superior performance. It builds ownership, a sense of pride and commitment. “Individual commitment to a group effort — that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” Underlines Vince Lombardi

Everyone agrees that people, their level of commitment and competence, is what determines an organization’s competitive edge.

Here lies the challenge. The toughest thing about building bonds of trust is that it’s very difficult to build and very easy to destroy. “The essence of trust building is to emphasize the similarities between you and the customer”, says Thomas J Watson.

Other than focusing on similarities, trust is also built by repeatedly making commitments and fulfilling them – creating expectations and living up to them consistently, over time. This also serves to build the corporate brand, which in turn helps attracts talent and customers.

Other than inspiration, you need discipline. Beware of people who pretend. Such people show commitment verbally but troubles begin as soon as they step out of meetings. They passively resist by not completing the work on time. They waste their energy blaming others or you! This could be because they fear not being able to deliver on deadlines; or they might be anxious that resources won’t be available when required; or they may be apprehensive about extended time commitments that may disrupt their family life.

What is important for you is to look out for signs of non-commitment. Body language says a lot…so listen with your eyes carefully! Create a climate of trust in which people feel safe to talk. Timing is often crucial in such confrontations. Some people do not like to speak out in meetings. They can be contacted later at a more convenient time and in a private space, where they feel comfortable opening up. By getting to know the different styles of your colleagues you can apply effective approaches that will yield the truth you need to hear, before it’s too late. This will save you from heartaches later.

Mutual trust is based on two dimensions: 1) competence and 2) integrity. Honoring your commitments unfailingly will contribute to your integrity, while achieving agreed goals by creatively solving problems, reliably and effectively, will demonstrate your managerial, leadership and technical competence.

True strength in relationships is derived from perceived and real competence and integrity. According to Jack Welch, a globally respected ex-CEO of GE, “When a company is strong, it not only pays taxes that provide for important services, it also builds world-class facilities that meet or exceed safety and environmental standards. Strong companies re-invest in their people and their facilities. Healthy companies provide good and secure jobs that give their employees the time, the spirit, and the resources to give back to their communities a thousand-fold.”

Therefore, your primary social responsibility as a CEO is to assure financial success of your company. You can achieve this by building a corporate culture where level of trust between people is high. How this is done will vary from one company to another.

In strong organizations people will be more accustomed to talking openly about their differences in meetings. Ideas will be attacked, instead of personalities. Conflicts are differences of opinion in any given situation, which are aired when there is an honest exchange of views and ideas. At times the stakes are high and emotions fly. Such candor only works where people trust each other.

Organizations that are weak are usually ‘boss-centric’ where openness is seen as confrontational and embarrassing. In such a culture, it is preferred that you came into a meeting having worked out the issues one-to-one beforehand so that there would be no surprises or hurt feelings. The latter approach favors political correctness. This is often viewed as manipulative, where backroom deals are common place. Rumors flourish. Trust is eroded.

In the 90s, Motorola was more of the former, having a truth-telling, trust-based culture, whereas IBM was more concerned with political correctness. The phenomenal growth of Motorola endorses the view that bonds of trust are a sure recipe for enduring success. IBM embraced such an approach and admirably transformed itself.

An organization is nothing more than a series of commitments people make to each other. It’s not bricks and mortar. It is the quality of these commitments that makes a company strong or weak; fit or unfit. The very survival and success of an enterprise depends on it.

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