Building a Culture of Trust

Strategy, Structure, and Culture... Get one wrong and you might have a chance for success. Get two wrong and you are out of the running before the race starts. Get all three right, and you'll be sure to succeed.  It's important to get back to basics to discover what you are doing and where you are headed.  Do you have a Culture of Trust in your organization?  If not, you are missing one of the most important links to the ongoing success and value of your company.

Culture. The culture of any organization or group is set by the leader.   At the core of Culture are Purpose and Values.  Peter Drucker famously said that Culture trumps Strategy every time.  More recently Jim Collins said that Culture is all about your 'Core's'; Core Purpose, and Core Values.  How you define and defend your 'Core's' will often determine your ability to grow and scale your business.  If you can articulate your 'Core's', making them come alive in the organization, and fully baking them into your recruiting, interviewing, hiring, onboarding, training, and retention processes, you will be a long way down the path of creating trust across all sections in your organization, no matter how large or small.

A former former partner in an earlier company I co-founded once said to me that he trusts nobody. Never has, never will. Does that resonate with you? It certainly doesn't with me. That partner and I know each other very well, and are still good friends after our company experience. We have worked closely together, socialized together, traveled internationally together, but unfortunately those words are still true for him. When I think about those words, I can only conclude that my partner's lack of trust may have been an impediment to our growth as an organization.  Trust is built on deep and authentic relationships, with shared values and vision, and a sense of care and support for one another.  That is what I am seeking in relationships, and what I know works in companies.

Trust is all about relationship, and relationship allows and enables influence. The deeper your relationship is with those you are leading, the more effective you will be leading them, because you will be able to influence them to accomplish the great things you envision the organization doing. Leadership and trust go hand in hand, as both are about relationship. Therefore leadership, in order to be effective, has to hinge on trust. If you as a leader have not built a trust relationship with people in your organization, and they in turn don't trust those in leadership positions, then your organization, specifically the leadership team, is probably broken and will have a difficult time succeeding in accomplishing its goals. This is an important and oftentimes overlooked activity that has potentially fatal consequences to any organization.

You have the power to increase the influence you have on others by building a deeper level of trust throughout the organization, and to do that, it is important to understand where you are with respect to relationships you have with others. As a leader you cast a big shadow. You may be even intimidating to others. I was told at one point earlier in my career that some of the people in my division did not want to come in and talk openly with me because I was somehow intimidating to them. It was a very sobering moment, and caused me to reflect deeply on my behavior, and the effectiveness of my efforts to lead.

Understanding where you are in the process of building relationships and establishing trust with others might help shape the way you behave and relate with those around you. Building trust is a proactive process that needs to be managed very carefully. Building rapport with people may be fairly easy.  But we really don't have relationship until there is an additional level of bonding that takes time to develop.

We know that trust takes a lifetime to build, and can be destroyed in a moment. The culture of trust in a company needs to be proactively established by leadership, and consistently applied day to day in personal behaviors and actions.  In my experience that process can take time, and needs to be consistently applied.  We all can start practicing new ways of consistently communicating within our organizations to build a strong culture of trust. It has to start with those in leadership positions, because the organization will follow its leader.

I'd like to share some lessons learned along the way that might help understand how to build a culture of trust in your organization.  When a supervisor, manager, or executive is first hired, s/he usually does not have trust relationships with others in the organization. S/he has the authority, and perhaps the power to do things, but definitely not the influence. That part takes effort and time. If you are a good leader, you can make the position work, and there will be high expectations that you will, but just having the position doesn't make you a leader. You begin to earn trust through building relationship with others, and shaping the position through your leadership. Ideally you want people you are leading to follow you because they want to, not because they 'have to'. It takes consistent and hard work to build trust at this level, but the foundation is being built, and it needs to be strong.

As you progress, your organization will begin to respond to you. They will either like you, or they will find reasons not to like you. It is not your job to be liked or admired. They don’t want or need you to be ‘nice’.  It is your job to influence others to accomplish the task of closing the gap between mission and vision, and others will perform for you if they know and trust you, as you are coaching and providing feedback along the way.

People in your organization will not perform with any great interest and energy unless they are in relationship with you. They will be watching you, listening, and observing you. They are looking for authenticity and transparency consistently applied by you as a leader.  They want to believe in you, and need that before they will commit to you.  Listen to them, be open and available, ask questions about their work and how you might help them. Demonstrate, through your actions, that you want to serve and coach them to success, instead of directing and criticizing them.

If you are actively present, in the office, on the shop floor, in the factories or distribution centers around the country or globally, if you show the organization that you are connected and engaged, living the 'Core's' and driving for results, then your organization will notice. You are modeling behaviors that they find worthy, and they will follow. You will begin attracting people onto your team who enjoy the experience of engaging with you. You begin to make progress and accomplish results.  Your job now becomes a little easier because people are aligned with the 'Core's' within the organization, and are working towards a common goal, and trust is increasing throughout the organization, gaining momentum like a flywheel, starting slowly but gaining in speed and power. Problems are getting solved within the teams, not by you. Your organization is working together to make things happen. Any you are creating value.

After your team is built and you have accomplished significant milestones, your team trusts you, and is following your lead. They follow you as a leader because they trust you and believe you can help them achieve their goals, and be fulfilled in their own life's journey.  If you can help them do that, you have succeeded as a leader. That is something that takes time, effort, patience, and much more. But it is worth the effort, and critical to achieving exponential growth.