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By Nicole Lowell, Staff Writer for James McPartland

What is the one thing which, if removed, would destroy the strongest of relationships within the most successful organizations — yet if fostered, has the potential to create unparalleled advancement in both life and business? The most effective leaders around the world know the answer to this is: Trust.

While most of us can easily understand why trust is imperative in our personal relationships, leaders often struggle to accept that cultivating trust within the organization as a whole is just as critical in the business world. Through James McPartland's work with CEOs and their executive teams, the topic of trust is frequently raised. Caught up in the busyness of business, organizational leaders can often overlook the fact that work gets done with and through people, and that without a healthy level of trust in place, those people, their performance, and the outcome of their work is greatly impacted.

Too often, leaders trivialize the importance of trust, viewing it as only a soft and mushy, “nice to have” perk, when the truth is, trust is vital. It takes work to build and maintain trust — yet not putting one’s hand to the plow can have a direct negative impact on the success of the business, measurably affecting both pace of growth and cost.

And if you’re the CEO or leader of your organization, the bulk of the work — of cultivating trust within your organization — starts from the top down. It starts with YOU.

Former CEO and global authority on trust, leadership, and culture, Stephen M. Covey wrote an eye-opening book on this very topic. In his New York Times bestseller, The Speed of Trust (The One Thing That Changes Everything), Covey asserts that,

Organizational Trust: If You Build It, Change Will Come article by Nicole Lowell, staff writer for Executive Coach, Author & Speaker, James McPartland

Trust is the most overlooked, misunderstood, underutilized asset to enable performance. Its impact, for good or bad, is dramatic and pervasive. It’s something you can’t escape… Trust is the new currency of our interdependent, collaborative world.

Covey reinforces the undeniable truth that the best businesses are built on trust. In his book, he aims to equip company leaders with the tools needed to create a culture of trust in their organizations. In this article, we summarize what these tools are and how you can apply them to ensure a high-level of trust is operating in your workplace, thereby inspiring your team to achieve the business results you want to see.

But first, let’s consider what a low-trust working environment looks like.

CEO and executive leaders in a meeting
Executive leadership meeting
Businesswomen sitting down in an office for a meeting

The Economics of Low-Trust vs High-Trust

When there is a lack of trust, speed goes down and cost goes up. In a low-trust environment, the assumption is that people won’t do their jobs properly without hard rules and regulations in place. In Why Successful Leaders Lead With Trust, Inc CEO Jim Schleckser explains that,

“There are some real costs associated with putting these kinds of constraints in place. For one, there is a cost to your bottom line since the more rules you add, the more people you'll need to hire to help enforce those rules. You also slow down the organization by adding layers of decision-making and constraints. But perhaps more importantly is the cost to the people working inside the organization. Working in a low-trust environment sucks the life out of you. It's not a happy place to work because it's hard to bring your best self to work every day.”

In a high-trust environment on the other hand, speed goes up and cost goes down. When leaders inspire trust, it has a direct effect on employee engagement and retention. Team members who trust their leaders are more engaged and more likely to be loyal and remain with the company long-term. Chief HR officer at Dell, Steve Price, backs up this claim by providing results from a recent internal survey of their team members. In his Forbes Business article, How Trust Accelerates Success: Three Lessons For Leaders, Price shares that,

“The link between engagement and success is quite clear. A Gallup employee engagement assessment shows that high employee engagement led to a 21% improvement in productivity and a 22% improvement in profitability over companies with less-engaged employees. In the long run, retaining engaged employees will cut costs for hiring and training new employees, maintain productivity and open the door to developing new inspirational leaders.”

Now that we understand the real and financial implications of high and low trust environments, let’s take a look at Covey’s model:

Covey’s Five Waves of Trust Model

In The Speed Of Trust, Covey outlines the “Five Waves of Trust” as a model for understanding how we both establish trust and make it actionable. In order to move trust from being an intangible concept into a concrete driver of value and economic growth for your organization, leaders should strive to model the cultivation of trust in all five of these areas — each of which have a key underlying principle:

1st Wave: Self-Trust (underlying principle: Credibility)

2nd Wave: Relationship Trust (underlying principle: Behavior)

3rd Wave: Organizational Trust (underlying principle: Alignment)

4th Wave: Market Trust (underlying principle: Reputation)

Organizational leaders shaking hands

5th Wave: Societal Trust (underlying principle: Contribution)

Understanding each of these “waves”, or areas where trust must be applied and built upon, empowers you to see how you may need to adjust your behavior in ways that will instill trust. We can obtain the results we desire to see produced by those we lead, by inspiring the reciprocation of trust in them.

The waves of self-trust and relationship trust in Covey’s model revolve around the key concept of personal development, a foundational component of the work James McPartland and his team does with CEOs and their executive leadership teams.

Change Starts With YOU

Covey posits that the way leaders can increase their credibility (the underlying principle of self-trust) is to focus on strengthening the four key elements in one’s self, or four “cores”, as he calls them.

The 4 Cores of Credibility

1) Integrity: Who we are is our word. Nothing more, nothing less. You can focus on conducting yourself with integrity by practicing self-awareness. While unforeseen circumstances can make it impossible to keep our word at times, we should always seek to honor our word by making whatever amends necessary. To delve deeper into this concept and why it applies to leaders and their teams, it will help to understand why elevating performance starts with integrity.

2) Intent: The three keys here are motive, agenda, and behavior. Motive is the reason for doing something. Agenda is what you intend to do because of your motive. Behavior is the result of the combination of your motive and agenda — it’s the action you take. What inspires the greatest trust in any relationship is when all three of these key elements align with having good intentions by seeking win-win outcomes and acting in the best interest of others. As a leader, you can improve your intent by taking time to re-examine your motives and communicating your intent out loud so that your team knows what to expect and can feel confident everyone is on the same page.

3) Capabilities: Leaders can enhance their capabilities by developing their TASKS (Talents, Attitudes, Skills, Knowledge, Style) and by focusing on their strengths.

4) Results: A solid track record establishes credibility with ourselves and others and is what differentiates a “producer of results” from just a “talking head”. Leaders can improve in this area by: always taking personal responsibility for results (rather than passing blame); preparing and expecting to win; and finishing strong.

Tw businessmen shaking hands
CEO giving a speech
CEO talking to his key leadership team in a meeting

Model What You Want to See in Others

The second wave in Covey’s model (relationship trust) is about behavior — “13 behaviors” to be exact — that Covey says are most common in high-trust leaders. As you work on consistently behaving in ways that build trust, concentrate your efforts on modeling the following for your team:

13 Behaviors that Create, Build, & Inspire Trust

1) Talk Straight – Communicate honestly & clearly. Declare your intent to avoid confusion or doubt about what you’re thinking. Don’t manipulate information.

2) Demonstrate Respect: Show kindness and fairness to all, regardless of their ranking position or their ability to “do something for you”.

3) Create Transparency: Be open, authentic, and don’t hide information.

4) Right Wrongs: Demonstrate humility by apologizing quickly and taking action to make amends. Don’t deny, place blame, or cover up mistakes.

5) Show Loyalty: Give credit to others freely and speak about others as though they are present.

6) Deliver Results: Define results up front, accomplish what you said you’d accomplish, be on time and on budget, and don’t make excuses.

7) Get Better: Make the time to continuously learn and improve. Accept feedback graciously, and act upon it.

8) Confront Reality: Address tough issues directly and head-on. Create a safe atmosphere to talk with your team about the problems that are arising in the workplace.

9) Clarify Expectations: Create clearly defined expectations and shared agreement on them up front.

10) Practice Accountability: Take responsibility, hold yourself and others accountable, and communicate progress.

11) Listen First: Listen and seek to genuinely understand another person’s thoughts and feelings before speaking. Don’t make assumptions.

12) Keep Commitments: Honor your word and do what you say you’ll do. Allow yourself to perform a cost vs. benefit analysis before making commitments, to avoid having to break your word.

13) Extend Trust: While the previous 12 behaviors help you become a more trusted person, this 13th behavior helps you become a more trusting leader, which is key to generating reciprocity. Extend trust conditionally to those who are still earning it. Extend trust abundantly to those who have already earned it, and don’t micromanage.

Now that we’ve covered Covey’s foundational “waves of trust”, we’re focusing the remainder of this article on organizational trust — as we here with James McPartland believe that creating and maintaining a high level of trust in and throughout the workplace is a pillar of business success.

Office teammates shaking hands
Key leaders creating team synergy
Company leadership team high fiving each other

The Ripple Effect of Change: From Leaders to Their Teams

When there is low trust within an organization, it’s usually due to a lack of alignment between leaders and their teams. As one takes an over-the-counter remedy to temper the effects of a cold, we often see leaders trying to eliminate the symptoms of a low-trust environment within the workplace through ineffective methods (such as withholding information or micromanaging through time-killing check-and-balance systems).

The Ripple Effect of Change: From Leaders to Their Teams

Rather, Covey encourages leaders to focus on the foundational principles of improving credibility and practicing the “13 behaviors” which create, build, and inspire trust. From there, team members will follow suite as the culture begins to change. With this shift in perspective and intentional effort, team synergy has the potential to skyrocket in any organization.

And the change doesn’t stop there. In 2002, a Watson Wyatt study revealed that high-trust organizations outperformed low-trust organizations by 286% in total return to shareholders. If CEOs and organizational leaders will cultivate an atmosphere of trust, they can pretty much bank on improved performance from their team.

Need We Say More?

As a leader looking to positively impact your business performance, wouldn’t you want to take the necessary steps to cultivate a high-trust environment in your organization?

Since we think we’ve said enough on the matter, we’ll leave you with this quote from Stephen Covey himself:

“Trust impacts us 24/7, 365 days a year. It undergirds and affects the quality of every relationship, every communication, every work project, every business venture, every effort in which we are engaged. Contrary to what most people believe, trust is not some soft, illusive quality that you either have or you don’t; rather, trust is a pragmatic, tangible, actionable asset that you can create – much faster than you think possible. I am also convinced in every situation nothing is as fast as the speed of trust. And, contrary to popular belief, trust is something you can do something about. In fact, you can get good at creating it.”

By: Nicole Lowell

Staff Writer for James McPartland's Team



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