Businesses revolve around relationships which we largely manage through assessments on the value, reliability and dependability of organisations and people. This evaluation is continuous and is present in all aspects of our lives; be it choosing a business partner, waiting for a delivery from a supplier or choosing a place to grab a quick lunch. However, by and large it is an unconscious process governed by our own individual background and outlook on life. To put it another way, we subconsciously decide what and who we can trust and through this decision we open or close opportunities.
Commitment and trust are two of the foundations blocks of our social structures. Commitment is a promise to a certain future, and trust determines whether we accept that promise. This simple structure allows us to move forward towards an uncertain future but it provides no guarantees. Granting trust always means taking risks for the sake of creating a future that would not be possible without it. If we focus too much on the risks we either miss opportunities or divert our efforts to managing our distrust. On the other hand, when we naively grant trust we waste our time and effort in following pipe dreams. The challenge is not to get a right balance but to understand the nature of trust and to become aware of our decisions and their consequences.
Heavily process-oriented organisations are designed to reduce risks. They operate on the premise that processes can be trusted more than people. In such organisations people’s responsibilities are often limited to following processes impeccably. This type of culture or management style suffocates innovation, takes responsibility away from individuals and produces suboptimal outcomes.
On the other hand some of us grant trust too easily / too freely or rely on our intuition to accept or reject commitments or partnerships. While this approach allows us to move fast it is not reliable and has a potential to cause significant waste. In these situations we are not taking full ownership for the future that we are committing to create. We are either leaving it to chance or to our prejudices.
So what is trust and how can we live with it in a more grounded way?
Some consider trust as a personal characteristic that inspires positive expectations. This is what attracts us to charismatic leaders. We either instinctively or over a number of interactions develop a belief that they share similar values to us and they will protect and promote our interests in our absence. These are important aspects of trust but they do not capture its entirety. To understand trust fully so that we can work with it at our conscious level we need a more grounded and pragmatic description.
Trust is not a transaction but a bond which holds us together. Both, or all, parties need to realistically believe that their concerns will be addressed by others. However, to be able to use it as a management tool we need to move it from an elusive concept to an observable structure. To do so I have deconstructed Trust into three connecting elements.
Personal characteristics in terms of integrity and sincerity – I use two simple definitions to assess these characteristics; open, honest, complete and accurate communications, and doing the “right thing” to fulfil promises made regardless of personal pressures and circumstances.
Alignment of motivations and interests – It is the hidden agendas which damage relationships and reduce our chance of success. We need to openly acknowledge and discuss people’s motivations and facilitate them. In an ideal situation the fulfilment of the promises and commitments would be directly aligned to personal goals. If that is not possible then we need to be aware of potential consequences.
Competency to fulfil commitments and promises – To assess this we need to focus on three fields of expertise which are; specific domain related skills, capacity management and finally reliability which is achieved through meticulous coordination.
This structure allows us to observe and assess trust in a more measurable way but what we do with it is what matters.