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How to Create Organizational Trust
By Eileen O. Brownell   Printer Friendly Version

"While a code of ethics often specifies what people ought to do, the creation of trust depends on what people actually do."
-Gerhard Gschwandtner, Publisher, Selling Power

Every summer, Mom would enroll my brother and me in swimming lessons. The town we grew up in did not have a heated regulation public pool. The local swimming hole was a section of a mountain feed stream routed through a manmade dam. Large oak and sycamore trees shaded the stream making it even colder then it already was. We shivered from cold as we sat on the edge of the stream waiting our turn to jump into waters that seemed like the Pacific Ocean to a six year old. The water moved constantly and it was impossible to see the bottom of the stream. A drowning leaf that tickled our leg would be mistaken for an alligator (certainly not native to northern California). Fear was constant for all of us as we kicked, paddled and glubbed our way through the daily exercises and challenges. Our instructors, dressed in all red suits, used a variety of techniques that ultimately got us to put our faces in the water and blow bubbles through our noses before progressing to the next stage of the lesson. At some point during the two-week process, we were expected to leap into the water and swim unassisted to our instructor. It seemed like a mile and was a huge challenge to a small child. We did however take the plunge. We trusted that our instructor would be there to save us just incase we floundered or could not make it.

How did we know our instructor would be there when we jumped? We knew because over the course of time he had built our trust one day at a time. Managers must do this with employees and companies must with customers. Trustworthiness is the backbone of any credible organization. In order to grow and survive in our fast paced world, an organization must develop credibility through trust with its customers and employees. Consider the results of a recent survey conducted by Development Dimensions International Inc. Fifty-seven organizations surveyed 1108 workers in four different countries. A total of 56% of the non-management respondents indicated that a lack of trust at work was a problem and 46.5% of all respondents including managers indicated it was problem. A recent Gallup Poll on public trust indicated that no one is trusted 100% of the time. Americans gave trust ratings to public entities as follows:

  • 64% United State Military
  • 58% Police departments
  • 57% Religious organizations

Additionally, the professionals trusted the most were pharmacists, doctors, dentists, individual clergy, engineers and college professors. The survey further indicated that the clergy was trusted more than twice as much as journalists, who were trusted twice as much as politicians.

Trust is indeed an important issue in American business today. So how does an individual or organization create trust with it's customers or employees? It is done carefully one building block at a time. Trust creates a solid foundation that endures through time because organizations and individuals have proven themselves by their actions on a daily basis. In order to create trust within your organization, try the following techniques.

Keep your commitments and promises. If there is any doubt that you will be unable to complete a commitment or promise, then do not give your word that it will be done. Once trust is broken it is very difficult and next-to impossible to re-establish after it has been damaged two or more times.

Share yourself honestly with open communications. When you are unwilling to share your feelings and concerns it is an indication to others that you have something to hide. Effective interpersonal relationships can only be created when people are willing to share and to except the information presented in a non-judgmental way.

Listen. People trust others whom they believe understand them. Use your very best listening skills by confirming your understanding of the conversation and the information presented. If you have not restated the information correctly, then accept the corrections.

Keep Confidences. If you want to destroy trust in a heartbeat, repeat information that someone else has shared with you in total confidence. If your client has provided helpful information but chooses to remain anonymous, then it is your responsibility to maintain their trust. Gossip has destroyed more then one organization, as well as individual reputations because someone was unable to keep a confidence. The World War II saying loose lips sinks ships could easily be turned into loose lips destroys relationships.

Be accessible. When managers are available for their staff and customers, relationships are personalized. Strong and stable organizations have leadership that is approachable and caring. That message is indicated through the manager's actions as well as their word. A customer, who feels respected, treated fairly and promptly will not only trust the individual, but the organization as well.

Tell the truth. Mark Twain once said, "Tell the truth and you don't have to remember anything." Honesty is always the best policy. If someone asks a question, and you don't know the answer, tell them "That's a good question, let me find out and I'll get back to you." You can create trust in the relationship through your honesty and willingness to follow through on your commitment or promise.

Show respect. Respectful individuals create a climate of trust by looking out for the best interests of another individual. When you willingly go the extra mile to satisfy or create the best possible business scenario for a client, you establish a foundation of trust. By creating opportunities for your staff members to learn, grow or be promoted also indicates, "I respect your ability and want you to succeed."

Be fair and consistent. People like to work and do business with individuals that are predictable and dependable. Individuals who vacillate, easily change their view point depending on whom they are talking with, or refuse to make a decision because it may upset some people, are viewed as wishy-washy. Because their actions and decisions are unpredictable in similar situations they are viewed as untrustworthy.

Cooperate and look for ways to help. Rather then avoiding a potentially challenging situation, confront it head on with a willingness to develop alternative solutions. Your cooperation during uncomfortable situations will indicate your willingness to help even in the most difficult of times. It will further establish that you will not run from difficulties and can be trusted to stay with a challenge until it is resolved.

Avoid excuses and blaming. If you made a mistake, be honest and own up to it. Even if you personally did not make the mistake, avoid blaming another department or employee. Excuses and blame diminish not only your personal credibility but also that of your organization.

Be accountable. All interpersonal relationships are ultimately based on personal responsibility and accountability. A climate of chaos is created by lack of accountability. People are never sure if they will receive an open, honest answer when others do not take responsibility for their actions. A business will only flourish as long as the employees are held accountable for their actions toward the customers and each other.

Habits and practices that foster trust are fairly obvious. Creating trust within an organization requires daily commitment. From the top to the bottom of the organization, everyone must establish their credibility and reputation as trustworthy individuals repeatedly. It is a matter of managing your own behavior on the job while doing what is ethically right and equitable with everyone. As a child, I learned to trust the swimming instructor based on his behavior and actions on a daily basis. He was consistent, listened to my concerns and fears, was always honest and had a genuine desire to help me. He walked his talk. I knew everyday that as I placed my life in his hands, he would never let me drown. Do your customers and employees trust that you will never let them drown?

For permission to print How to Create Organizational Trust in your company newsletter or professional journal contact Eileen.

Copyright © 2000 Eileen O. Brownell. All Rights Reserved.

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