3rd Ingredient® Part 3: Choose Trust

Jim Blasingame

You are probably familiar with the term "dysfunctional family." My simplistic understanding of this term is, essentially, a family whose members don't work and play well with each other. Such relationships typically create emotional, mental, sometimes even physical distress, and/or estrangement. Sometimes dysfunctional families work things out, but it seems that most often the participants just live with it.

What about a dysfunctional company? Have you ever seen one? I'm no expert on dysfunctional families, but I have seen enough dysfunctional companies to consider myself an expert on those. A dysfunctional company is an organization whose members don't work and play well with each other. Such relationships typically create emotional, mental, sometimes even physical distress, and/or estrangement. Sound familiar? Oh, yeah! One more thing that is not part of the family dynamic: dysfunctional companies can become so uncompetitive in the marketplace that they fail.

Those Darned Humans
Someone once said, "Friends we choose - family we're stuck with." But what about business relationships? We certainly get to choose those, don't we? So why would a business be dysfunctional, like a family?

The reason is simple, and it's the common denominator: humans. Whether we come from dysfunctional families or not, we, the operators and employees of organizations, are humans, with all the attendant flaws and frailties. If your company is dysfunctional, it's because of the humans and their behavior.

I don't think humans are inherently bad, but I do think we are inherently self-absorbed. One of the natural by-products of self-absorption is self-preservation. It's only when we feel a level of trust that we drop our self-preservation shields. When shields are up, mistrust will flourish and goals will go unmet. When shields are lowered, good things can happen like productivity, creativity, and organizational well being.

Humans Can Choose
There is one really cool thing that humans can do, however, and I mentioned it earlier: We can choose. We choose many things every day, including our friends, what we do, where we work, and how we behave.

Dysfunction in business is manufactured when:

• An employee chooses not to trust another employee to perform as he said he would.
• One department chooses to protect its own interests against the interests of another department, or what Arky Ciancutti calls "Them Vs Us," in the book he co-authored, Built On Trust.
• Employees don't trust management to do what they have promised.

Choose Trust
I believe the single most important thing an owner or manager can choose to do is create an organizational environment based on trust. You see, trust is the archenemy of dysfunction. Arky goes so far as to say that trust is "...one of the most powerful forces on earth." I agree.

If your organization is not accomplishing its goals and making progress, look around to see if there is more self-preservation going on than teamwork. Where you find evidence of individual and departmental self-preservation you will find lots of dysfunction, but not much trust.

Closure And Commitment
In Built On Trust, Arky says the two most powerful tools for building trust in an organization are closure and commitment.

Closure happens when every transaction ends with a promise that includes a reference to time. A simple example of a transaction could be a conversation you and I have which ends with me telling you I'll get the information you asked for. To deliver closure, and therefore imply trust, my job would be to tell you I'll get the information to you before I leave work today.

Commitment, Arky says, "is a condition of no conditions." My role in our transaction does not include any "ifs" or hidden agendas. It does include my commitment to honor the level of trust I offered you. And while commitment doesn't imply an unconditional guarantee that I will produce the desired results, it does imply a guarantee that I will do what I say I will do, which is to get back to you by the end of the day, with or without the information you asked for.

Regardless of the size and importance of the transaction, closure and commitment are essential elements in eliminating dysfunction in your organization and building a culture of trust. Arky says closure and commitment are skills that have to be learned. As managers, we have to learn these skills, live by them, and teach them to those around us.

Leaders Must Create Trust
There are several old sayings typically attributed to families, such as, "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree," plus "Chip off the old block," and "Like father, like son." I've learned that these references also apply in professional relationships because they are valid more from example than genetics. In the Army, for example, I could usually tell a lot about a commander by talking to one of his privates. And the way a salesperson deals with me will often give me a pretty accurate picture of his or her manager.

If you don't have a culture of trust in your organization, it's not your employees' fault - it's yours. Remember this: Leadership, trust, and dysfunction have one key thing in common: all are gravity fed. They roll downhill.

I have a very simple position that I take with everyone I deal with which I feel promotes trust. I tell those I work with that I can deal with anything they bring me, good or bad, as long as I have the information. Even if it makes you uncomfortable to tell me the news, not telling me only makes things worse.

If you know you can trust me to appreciate being informed, even if I don't like the message, then you don't have to fear telling me. Fear is probably the most unproductive of all emotions humans. Trust, on the other hand, may be the most powerfully productive of all human emotions.

There are many steps in the process of eliminating dysfunction and installing a culture of trust in your organization. The straightest line I've seen to accomplish this is found in Arky's book. But I believe you can get started on a small scale by recognizing that if your organization is to have a culture of trust, it will begin with you, its leader. You must be the first to practice closure and commitment. Then you must encourage trust by your example of being trustworthy.

Write this on a rock... While the elements of trust must be learned, trust is also something humans desire. If you want to have a successful business, create and maintain what your people desire - an organization built on trust.


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