How To Build A Culture of Trust In Your Business


Strategy, Structure, and Culture... Get one wrong and you have a very small chance for success, get two wrong and you’re out the race before it even starts, get all three right, and you’re likely to be incredibly successful. Starting with Culture, first ask: “Do you have a Culture of Trust in your organization?”  If not, you are missing a crucial link to the ongoing success and value of your company.

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,”, which is why when working with clients I start with Culture.  It is extremely difficult to grow a company without a strong culture.  

Define and Defend Your ‘Cores’

Jim Collins said that “Culture is all about your 'Cores'; Core Purpose, and Core Values.”  How you define and defend your 'Cores' will often determine your ability to grow and scale your business.  If you can articulate your 'Cores', 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.

Build Authentic Relationships

Trust is built on deep and authentic relationships, with shared values and vision, and a sense of care and support for one another.  Relationship allows and enables influence. The deeper your relationship is with those you’re leading, the more effective you’ll be in leading them, because you will be able to influence them to accomplish the great things you envision the organization doing. 

People in your organization will not perform with any great interest and energy unless they are in a relationship with you. They will be watching you, listening, and observing you. 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.

Lead Transparently

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 ineffective and will have a difficult time succeeding in accomplishing its goals. This is an important and oftentimes overlooked activity that has potentially dire consequences to any organization.

As a leader, 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. Understanding where you are in the process of building relationships and taking the time to establish trust (as distinct from rapport) with others will shape the way you behave and relate to those around you.

You begin to earn trust through building relationships with others and shaping the position through your efforts. 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.

Get Regular Feedback

Are you getting feedback on a regular basis as a leader?  If you are a CEO, is your senior leadership team comfortable giving you feedback?  Are you getting feedback from your board?  How are you handling it?  Occasionally you will find yourself as a leader in a defensive position, due to something you have said, or how someone is perceiving what you have said. In those situations, I like to apply the ‘Rule of 1%’.  

The Rule of 1% recognizes that at least 1% of what the person is saying is probably true.  This opens a crack in the door of defensiveness, and allows a rational discussion to occur. From there, discovery happens, and when we discover things about ourselves that previously were hidden, we begin to grow.   

Learn to respect the feedback process and to appreciate the honesty and authenticity of the person who is speaking is important.

Be present.

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 'Cores', your Core Values and Core Purpose, and driving for results, then your organization will notice. You are modeling behaviors they find worthy, and they will follow. You will begin attracting people to your team who relish the experience of engaging with you. You begin to make progress and accomplish results.  

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 takes time.  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.