Whether or not we are consciously aware of it, we all know when trust is present or absent in the workplace. When we feel free to let our hair down, to ask a question, think out loud, admit we're not sure, or seek assistance, we know we're in an environment of trust. If getting ahead or merely getting the job done requires constant back watching, we know trust doesn't exist.
Is trust necessary? Arky Ciancutti, a medical doctor, and Thomas Steding, a Ph.D. in computer science, think it's crucial. The consultants and authors of "Built on Trust: Gaining Competitive Advantage in Any Organization" (Contemporary Books, Lincolnwood, Ill.) believe that high-trust organizations outmaneuver those built on fear.
"An organization in which people earn one another's trust, and which commands trust from the public, has a powerful competitive advantage," says Ciancutti, who heads the Learning Center in San Anselmo, Calif. "It can retain the best people, inspire customer loyalty, reach out successfully to new markets, and provide more innovative products and services."
Ciancutti and Steding say the two best tools for building trust in an organization are closure and commitment. Closure means that every interaction ends with a promise that includes time. In other words, who will do what, and by when. It's the difference, says Steding, between "I'll get to it" and "I'll give you the sales forecast by the close of business Tuesday."
Commitment is a "condition of no conditions." It's an unconditional promise of the heart that you intend to do what you say you will do. It shouldn't be taken lightly, the authors say, and you should erase doubts before making a commitment. Ciancutti and Steding say most of us make commitments too quickly because we don't want to appear negative. We're also often coerced into making false commitments - those made without our hearts - because organizations don't allow participants to air their doubts openly, without fear of retribution.
For company leaders who truly want to build trust, the authors suggest 10 tips:
Solve problems through direct communication with your peers, your manager and your manager's manager.
Share credit genuinely. When in doubt, share the credit.
When you're not sure about taking on a commitment, air your concerns with the relevant parties. Ask for help as soon as you see slippage in your commitment.
Spend time mingling with those you manage. Ask non-assumptive questions, and make only promises you can keep. Work back through lines of authority.
Be explicit and direct about what you need or expect. Welcome questions and respond with closure.
Act positively even if you are afraid. Be willing to be wrong in order to be timely.
Listen carefully to new opinions or questions. Try to understand, and address issues with your honest opinion.
Establish trust with all team members, not just a selected few or none.
Don't blame others for problems in your area.
Schedule regular meetings for coaching, input and feedback. Develop systems so that staff members can communicate specific management-improvement suggestions.
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