Lesson 10: Go On, Trust Me

Trust meImagine going to the newsagent’s to buy an ice cream for your children, only to find that the freezer had been locked shut.  After persuading the newsagent to take an ice-cream out for you, you then got embroiled in a heated debate. Should you hand over the money first or should he handover the ice-cream. The whole thing was ultimately resolved by the use of some fancy simultaneous exchange routine.  That is what it would be like to live in a world without trust.

Now imagine going to the hospital for an operation.

Would you want to do business with a person who was 99% honest? ~ Sydney Madwed

Trust and Customer Service

Organisations that deliver great customer service have the trust thing off pat:

A couple of months ago my wife bought a bed from John Lewis.  The beauty of buying a bed and having it delivered is that you can also pay to have the old one taken away (a painful job if you don’t own a van).  Unfortunately my wife neglected to do this, which led to some heated words.  So, on the morning of the delivery I phoned up the store hoping they would take a payment over the phone.

The van arrived a couple of hours later to deliver the bed.  When I asked them to take the old one away the driver looked at his paper work and said:

“We don’t have an instruction to do that Sir”

Here we go I thought.  So I explained the situation and that I didn’t have a receipt as proof.  Did the driver phone back?  Did he drive off?  Did we get into a long and tortuous debate?  No he just said:

“Sorry about the mix up Sir, it would be a terrible world if we didn’t trust our customers”

Then he took the old bed and left.  The moral of the story is that business works better when there is trust.  Oh and buy your beds from John Lewis, and your lights, and your carpets and your…  I will.

A Small Word with a Big Meaning

Trust is a difficult thing to nail, though we all know what it means.  A dictionary definition reads something like this

Trust –noun

  1. reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing.
  2. confident expectation of something; hope.
  3. the obligation or responsibility imposed on a person in whom confidence or authority is placed: a position of trust.

When we trust somebody or something we leave ourselves exposed or vulnerable, but in doing so we get a dividend. There is an upside to taking the risk.

It’s a social thing

Human beings are social animals, and work is a social environment.  For a business to be successful it needs to have good relationships with its customers and its employees.  To have good relationships you need to know, like and trust people.  Trust is a hugely important part of being human.  We have a natural disposition to trust and to judge trustworthiness.  Have you ever asked a passing stranger to take a picture of you and your family with your nice new expensive camera?

Getting it Wrong

The trouble with trust is that it is easy to break and once it is broken it is very expensive to fix.  Trust is not just about personal relationships.  It can be broken at different levels.

  • At an personal level, the implication of not trusting your boss can be hugely distressing.
  • For public figures, breaking trust has massive ramifications.  Think of the damage Tiger Woods did to his reputation when he cheated on his wife.
  • For businesses lack of trust can lead to bankruptcy.
  • Within society lack of trust can have huge economic implications.  How much did the implementation of the Sarbanes-Oxley regulations cost the economy ?

Trust is the lubricant of society.  Without it things grind to a halt.

When the love has gone

Fear drives lack of trust.  Fear that you will look bad, not hit your target, be undermined or shouted at.  Fear of the boss.

Research shows that only 49% of employees trust senior management, and only 28% believe CEOs are a credible source of information.  We can question the research, but what is your gut reaction.  Have you ever worked somewhere where you didn’t trust your boss?  How did it feel?

“Leadership without mutual trust is a contradiction in terms.” Warren Benni

According to Steven Covey, when you don’t trust somebody it invariably comes down to one of four reasons:

  • Intent: motives and purpose aren’t clear.
  • Integrity: the ends don’t justify the means.
  • Capability: the skill and knowledge isn’t there to deliver.
  • Results: quite simply, there aren’t any

These four key reasons manifest themselves in a host of negative behaviours:

  • Facts are manipulated or distorted and half-truths are spun to people’s advantage.
  • Mistakes are buried and not learnt from.
  • People routinely under promise and over deliver.
  • It becomes really, really important to get the credit.
  • Any opportunity to play the blame game is seized with both hands.
  • Knowledge becomes power, it is withheld and hoarded.
  • Gossip spreads.  The “undiscussable” is discussed in corridors and coffee bars.
  • New ideas are stifled at birth, they are either threatening or too risky.

None of these will improve your business.

The Goldilocks Syndrome

There is lots of advice about behaviour and how to create a trusting environment but essentially it boils down to treating others the way you would like to be treated yourself.

It is worth remembering Goldilocks

That bed is too hard.  That bed is too soft.  That bed is just right

When creating your emotional bank account, trying too hard is as bad as not trying hard enough.  Have a think about some of the components of trust.


Not doing what you said you were going to do is a sure way to destroy trust, but always delivering exactly on time, never asking for an extension is as bad.  Is this person a man or a machine?  What magic are they using?  If it is this easy for them why am I paying so much?


Telling lies will also break trust, particularly when you get found out.  The other side of the coin, being brutally honest all the time, is not necessarily helpful.

“Yes, your bum does look big in that” is a phrase I would advise against.


As my John Lewis story expounded, trusting people is a great way to get them to trust you back in return.  It is a very clear message.  However repeatedly trusting people who are “shifty, devious and not to be trusted” makes those around you doubt your judgement.  Once again, too much is too much.

 A man who trusts nobody is apt to be the kind of man nobody trusts ~ Harold MacMillan.


A little loyalty goes a long way, saying things behind people’s back is highly likely to come back and bite you.  We are, however, distrustful of those who are too loyal, we can’t understand their motives, we become unsure about what is driving their behavior.

A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself ~ Josh Billings

The same is true of predictability, helpfulness, integrity, politeness…. the myriad of qualities that engender trust.  We intrinsically know when somebody is trying too hard.

The Payback

So trust is ethereal, difficult to come by and easy to break, but if you have it in your organisation it will make the world of difference.  Information gets shared, mistakes are learnt from, credit is given and fear removed.  The strangest thing about trust is that despite its nature, it is easy to measure, you can spot it a mile away.


Carry out a trust audit.  It doesn’t need to be elaborate, run a workshop with your team working through these simple questions:

  1. Describe the most trusting working environment you have ever worked in?
  2. What are the barriers to achieving the same environment here?
  3. What steps could be taken to bridge the gap?

Spend 1/2 an hour on each question, jotting down the responses you get and exploring their answers.  Critique the outputs and ask yourself what actions need to be undertaken.  Is the issue one of integrity, intent, skill or results?  What could you do about it?

If you would like to know more about a businesses that uses trust to it’s advantage it is worth learning a little about Chris Zane

In next week’s lesson we will discuss employee targets.

Thank you for reading.


Post Script

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