The Currency of Trust

Almost a decade ago, we were asked to present for a group of leaders on “Building a Culture of Trust.” We believe in building more than just a culture of trust. We help leaders measure their culture and get it aligned to drive their strategy, which translates into high-performance. Since people power performance, it’s culture that counts in delivering results.

In a high-performance culture, trust makes everything go better and faster. Trust promotes creativity, facilitates conflict resolution, empowers employees, builds teams, and gets leaders heard during times of uncertainty and change. 

What is trust? A few ways of thinking about it:

  • A fabulous Cirque du Soleil video explanation
  • “Trust involves holding positive expectations of others despite uncertainty about their motives and a willingness to accept vulnerability to them.” Rousseau, Sitkin, Burt & Camerer (1998)
  • Trust is the lubrication that makes it possible for organizations to work.  ~ Warren Bemis
  • How do you define trust?

We are finishing a project for a client, assessing the effectiveness of a special strategic group. It’s been a fascinating study in the importance of simple behaviors and what happens when they aren’t practiced.

We’ll start at the end. Within the last three weeks, almost the entire team has quit. The team leader was offered a retention bonus of $25k for staying through December. She refused to sign and turned down the money.

After a year of being frustrated by leadership not supporting them, constantly shifting priorities and expressing zero appreciation, the trust is broken. The senior leadership team needs a mirror to understand how their behaviors created “death by a thousand cuts” for this critical team. This means that it’s not one big thing that creates a chasm filled with mistrust. In this case, it was a series of small missteps and complete lack of appreciation for the team members that eroded trust over time. It’s a classic example of what the Reina’s describe in their book, Trust and Betrayal in the Workplace.

While there is a lot of press on the topic of people leaving companies, we observe that it’s the toxic culture that is the problem. Leaders who have disempowered their people and have created mistrust are reaping the consequences.

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