Q. How do you define trust? And, is the concept of trust universal or does it mean different things to different people?

A. The most simple definition for trust is confidence. I tend to trust someone when I feel confident about their agenda, or track record of results. The opposite of trust, I would define as suspicion. I tend not to trust someone if I’m suspicious about their agenda, or their capabilities.

The concept of trust is universal. I’ve spoken on trust in some 55 countries over the past few years, and what I’ve learned is that every culture values trust. The principles that undergird trust are the same and are universally valued. However, the practices, and the way people behave to build or communicate trust tend to be more nuanced from culture to culture. Context matters. The key to navigating the different practical nuances of trust is to listen first to others, and demonstrate respect for what you hear.

Q. In your presentation on trust at the ASFA Conference last week, you suggested we look at trust through three lenses: firstly through yourself, next through your team and thirdly through our industry and society. Can you explain this further and give an examples/case study illustrating how building trust ‘from the inside out’ can best be achieved.

A. Trust is built from the inside-out. It’s hard to build trust, and even harder to sustain trust with others if you don’t even trust yourself. To play that out, you can see how it would be difficult for an organisation with a low-trust culture to sustain trust with their customers and the marketplace. Indeed, it’s incongruent, and ineffective, to ask people you don’t trust to go out and build trust with customers. But it’s natural, and effective, to ask people who you do trust to go out and build trust with customers.

While inside out makes intuitive sense, as validation of this approach, just a few years ago a scientific research firm out of South Africa ran this Speed of Trust model through rigorous research criteria. The study spanned 179 organisations across 10 different industries. One of the interesting things they found was that the trust that you have within your teams is 97 per cent predictive of the trust you will have within your company overall. It’s inside-out. If you ripple that out, they also found that the link between internal company trust and external market trust (your customers) is 73 per cent predictive. In other words, 73 per cent of the variance of the trust your customers have in you is related to the trust you have with each other, internally. That’s perhaps some of the most clear evidence of how trust is built, and sustained, from the inside out.

Q. You said that trust must be highly valued in an organisation and that it is a learned skill. Do you think that everyone is capable of learning, understanding and acting in a trustworthy way?

A. Absolutely. Trust is a function of our credibility, and our behaviour. We can all work to become more credible, and in the same way that we can lose trust through our behaviour, we can also learn to build trust deliberately, on purpose, through our behaviour. In my book, The Speed of Trust, I detail a language, framework, and process for developing, extending, and in some cases even restoring trust. Indeed, to turn trust into your greatest strength – both for leaders, and for teams/organisations.

Q. For leaders, how does ‘declaring intent’ improve outcomes in an organisation and community?

A. I think this is one of the most impactful things a leader can do to begin building trust, or even to restore trust if it’s been lost. When we work with teams and organisations, we often measure both the levels of trust, as well as the components that are responsible for that level of trust, wherever it’s at. One of the areas in which we see the biggest gaps is around the core of credibility of Intent. Having good intent means both that you, as a leader, care about your people – and that they know that you care. When there’s a gap between how much you care, and how much people think you care, it really makes it difficult to get anything meaningful done.

When you declare your intent, you’re giving people both the what and the why. Sometimes leaders give the ‘what’ but they often don’t give the ‘why’. Always give the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’. The ‘why’ gives meaning, the ‘why’ gives context – the ‘why’ changes everything!

When you aren’t deliberate or explicit about declaring your intent, people nonetheless ascribe intent to you. At best, people will be guessing your intent – at worst, they’ll be projecting their biggest fears and worst-case scenarios. My rule is “no guessing!” Be deliberate. Declare it. Why? Because when you declare your intent, when you give people the ‘why,’ it gives them a new lens through which they will view and interpret your subsequent behaviour.

Q. How has the digital age impacted trust?

A. I think the digital age has impacted trust in every way. Technology has become such an integral part of our lives. Consider the advent of the sharing economy, how it’s beginning to complement—and in many cases even replace—traditional forms of commerce. Think of how many traditional industries have been disrupted by technology in the digital age. Look at ride-sharing services, open source technology, crowd funding, social media, peer-to-peer lending, or person-to-person vacation rentals. There is a whole host of products and services today that are made available in marketplaces that facilitate transactions between total strangers. The whole engine of this sharing economy in the digital age is based upon trust. When trust is there, it works, if trust isn’t there, it doesn’t. That statement alone communicates volumes on how to thrive in the digital age.

Q. In your opinion, who are the modern-day role models (either people or organisations) that exemplify the value of being Trustworthy?

A. There are more and more examples that come up all the time, ranging from Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway, to Howard Schultz and Starbucks, to Colleen Wegman and Wegmans Food Markets, to Marc Benioff and Salesforce.com, among many others.

Consider Zappos.com, and their CEO, Tony Hsieh. They sell shoes and apparel online. Tony Hsieh’s whole mantra is around delivering happiness. He really believes in it. He wants to deliver happiness to his customers, he wants to deliver it to his people. He made a decision many years ago that he was going trust his people and trust his customers. Zappos has a very abundant return policy with free shipping back and forth. Someone could order 100 pairs of shoes, and if they didn’t fit right, or the customer ended up not liking them, they could return all 100 at no charge. People could take advantage of that, and there’s clearly a cost to it, but most people don’t. People like being trusted, and the trust Zappos gives to their customers comes right back at them. Customers love them for it, and continue to shop there because they trust them.

Zappos also trusts their own employees. For example, they don’t time their calls in their call centres. They trust their representatives to serve the customer in the best way possible. The representatives want to prove that trust is justified and do their very best on every call.

Another fine example is an Australian IT and software company, Atlassian. Many organisations keep their strategy, and especially their financial plan very close to the vest. Atlassian puts both of those things out in the open on their company intranet and invites people to give feedback. They also encourage their employees to spend 20 per cent of their time working on their own ideas to benefit the company. They trust their employees, and their employees both reciprocate that trust and rise to the occasion and deliver results. I believe Atlassian has been ranked by the Great Place To Work Institute as one of the best companies to work for in Australia for the past several years.

2019 ASFA ConferenceYou would have received the newsletter after each of the Conference days however, if you missed them, you can read about Stephen Covery’s keynote here.