Building the High-Trust Driven Organisation

There is a strong connection between a high-trust culture and business success. In fact, the connection is so strong that strategy-minded leaders, who care deeply about the financial well-being of their business, should make building a high-trust culture a top priority.

The disruptive world that we all now operate within is a crucible within which resilient leadership is now forced to redefine. Acting without perfect information, often with only a few hours or days to spare, CEOs need to guide their organisations through the daily myriad of decisions and challenges, with significant implications for their company’s whole system; employees, customers, clients, financial partners, suppliers, investors, and other stakeholders, as well as for society as a whole.

Considering the fact that all entities are primarily made up of people, it is important for individuals in any organisation, nation or global community to trust each other and themselves to get the work done.

Indeed, not only is trust between people necessary for the success of any endeavour, but it is also essential for any entity to even exist.

Trust starts with transparency: telling what you know and admitting what you don’t. Trust is also a function of relationships: some level of ‘knowing’ each other among you and your employees, your customers, and your ecosystem. And it also depends on experience: Do you reliably do what you say?

In times of growing uncertainty, trust is increasingly built by demonstrating an ability to address unanticipated situations and a steady commitment to address the needs of all stakeholders in the best way possible.

Transformation and Change

The converse in high-trust cultures is equally true. When the trust goes up in an organisation, the speed will go up and costs will come down. Your ability to collaborate goes up, as does your ability to attract, retain and engage people. When trust goes up, you’ll see people sharing information, not being afraid to make mistakes, more creativity, higher accountability and greater energy and satisfaction. When you move the needle on trust, you move all kinds of other needles with it.

As businesses and governments transform to meet new challenges, it’s essential to embed trust intelligence into the core of their operations.

I wrote a blog in January 2022, ‘Leadership needs to lead with Trust Intelligence (TI)‘ which defines why the five Intelligences; IQ, EI, SI, DI and WI.

As humans we need a balance of skill, competence, morality and ethic behaviours to be truly effective in this new world, however, all these intelligences need to be within the TI umbrella to truly be effective.

Moral and ethical leadership is the key to a successful business, yet it’s clear from the news lately that the leaders of some of our most influential governments and corporations are making morally questionable decisions. These decisions will lose the trust of society, customers and employees.

Trust is the foundation of high-functioning relationships and can only be achieved by meaningful dialogue. It is clear that this is not happening. Instead, we’re using electronic communication, where it should never be used.

Enterprises powered by trust will be able to deliver on all three transformation drivers: people, technology and innovation. They’ll be able to leapfrog their competitors. To shape new markets. To lead to better futures.

It’s hard to quantify exactly how important trust is for a business. For business owners, a lack of trust is your biggest expense. It may take years for a manager or an executive to develop the trust of his or her employees, but only moments to lose. Without trust, transactions cannot occur, influence is destroyed, leaders can lose teams and salespeople can lose sales. The list goes on.

Trust and relationships, much more than money, are the currency of business.

Trust is the natural result of thousands of tiny actions, words, thoughts, and intentions. Trust does not happen all at once; gaining trust takes work. It might take years of calling on a certain client to break through and fully gain their comfort and trust. Yet in spite of the importance of trust in the business world today, few leaders have given it the focus and nurturing it deserves.

Building, maintaining, and sustaining trust is essential, and it is one of the central tenets of Human Resource Management (HRM) theory to actualize such organizations that have a high trust intelligence within them.

This means that HR professionals have the new task of building trust, and more importantly, maintaining and sustaining it so that organisations continue to thrive and differentiate in the new competitive marketplace.

While many factors determine whether a particular organisation is a high-trust or low-trust environment, the key aspect is the organisational culture which needs to encourage trust between the employees and the organisational stakeholders and within the employees.

Organisational Culture is the codified and implicit set of rules or codes of conduct by which organisations operate and hence, the way in which organizational culture is defined, maintained, and upheld is indeed important for organizations to function.

The importance of every organization and HR Function requires clear instructions from Boards, Senior Management and Executive leadership to codify policies and rules or codes of conduct that determine how employees must behave and act in their interactions with each other and with the larger organisational ecosystem.

This is contingent upon the HR function to first assist the stakeholders in defining the rules, and then ensuring that such rules are consistently maintained and enforced, and perhaps, the most important aspect here is that such codes of conduct must be upheld meaning that during times of crisis, the HR function must indeed “co-create” or must back up words with action and execution.

A key challenge for any HR professional is to ensure that cultural factors and socio-cultural influences do not come in the way of actualizing a high-trust organisation.

Authentic cultures are not formed by values posted on the wall; they are the result of leaders being purposefully committed to living those values and willing to personally change in order to model the behaviours and actions that maintain integrity.

When values are real, employees and customers know the enterprise is authentic and true to its culture. Especially in a crisis, comparing actions to values is a litmus test of a company’s authenticity.

Culture, we know, is the core of resilience, but it alone is not enough. Other work by our company has shown that organisations that accelerate performance during good times and bad are able to mobilise, execute, and transform with agility.

Today, a company’s foresight, ability to learn, and adaptability will set it apart.

Companies strong in these areas have leaders who are future-focused, demonstrate a growth mindset, are able to pivot quickly in times of rapid disruption, and maintain resilience to navigate their organisations.

Trust is the Glue

Trust is at the foundation of healthy relationships. At its core, trust is the willingness of one party to be vulnerable to the actions of another. It is an expectation that two parties will act in a way that is mutually beneficial. For these reasons, trust is a key element of effective communication, teamwork, employee commitment and productivity. It leads to stronger working relationships and a healthier organisational culture.

Because of the inherent vulnerability involved in trusting relationships, it is widely understood that trust must be earned. This is true whether it is between two colleagues, a manager and an employee, or even between an employee and the organisation at large. In some instances, it can be hard to build and sustain because individuals may not be aware of the unintentional ways that they have broken the trust of their colleagues.

Once Trust is Broken

A lack of trust in the workplace is the virus that can create a diseased workplace culture. It often begins with leadership and spreads throughout the team, leading to a cycle of unhealthy responses that affect engagement and productivity.

As a leader, if you don’t trust your team, you’re likely either micromanage or withhold information and work on initiatives on your own or with a select group of people. This can create a vicious cycle, as your team may respond by pulling back even further, so you’ve created a perfect storm in this self-fulfilling prophecy of distrust.

Trust helps to make challenging conversations easier – this has been written in my new book “The Trust Paradigm” : making teams more integrated and employees more engaged. Exploring ways in which trust can be built can help individuals and companies create stronger relationships and healthier cultures.

Mark Herbert, my Co-author of ‘The Trust Paradigm‘, states:

“It is my belief that an important part of empathy is the ability to trust and be trusted. When your employees feel that you care, then you have earned their trust. If they trust you, they will take more risks with you and be more open with you. People will talk openly with you only when they trust you. As trust builds, there will be more sharing of information, feelings, and thoughts. The more you share, the easier it is to relate to one another. Building trust is something that takes time and effort. It involves both you and the other person in the relationship. The level of trust is what makes each relationship unique.”

From swift decisions to shutter offices, institute work-from-home policies, and scale the technological tools to stay connected to customers and stakeholders, agile leaders have assessed the risk and pivoted quickly.

They must also reassess the medium and long term, building on past crisis interventions and associated learnings to evolve operations and innovate to meet changing needs, all while staying true to their culture.

To explain, trust is as much a function of personality as it is about the societal culture from which people come.

Many sociologists have pointed out, most Western nations are implicitly high-trust ones, and while developing countries do have high-trust cultures, it is often the case that due to the diversity of such cultures, there are challenges arising from cultural norms as far as building and maintaining trust is concerned.

Clarity of thinking, communication, and decision-making will be at a premium.

Those CEOs who can best exhibit this clarity, and lead from the heart and the head, will inspire their organisations to persevere through this crisis, positioning their brand to emerge in a better place, prepared for whatever may come.

Crises like these, with deep challenges to be navigated, will also lead to opportunities for learning and deepening trust with all stakeholders, while equipping organisations for a step change that creates more value not just for shareholders, but for society as a whole.

From time to time, we lose our bearings as individuals, especially when facing overwhelming challenges, as we are today faced with a changing global environment; it is in these moments that we lean into our core, our character and personal values, to find strength and focus on what really matters.

Leaders facing the unprecedented times and circumstances of the moment are also looking to their organisation’s core, its communal culture and values, to inspire resilience, unleash agility, and help employees to thrive, not simply survive.

It’s also important to recognise and address the emotions of all stakeholders.

This is not just about charts and numbers. Narratives can be powerful ways to acknowledge the fears that naturally surface in times of crisis, while at the same time framing the opportunity that can be achieved if stakeholders come together and commit to overcoming the challenges that stand in the way.

A recent survey carried out by DataPad for and on behalf of International Business and Executive Management asked employees questions on ‘trust and respect’ in relation to their executive leadership, heads of department and their immediate line managers.

The closer the manager’s role was to the respondent, the more likely it was for the employee to answer positively. Immediate managers were trusted ‘a lot’ by 48% of those who responded and ‘a little’ by 36%. Sixteen percent of immediate managers are not trusted at all.

Working with CEOs over the years, I have found that thriving cultures are those that are purpose-driven and characterised by vitality and a growth mindset.

Organisations where leaders are purposeful and intentional and open to personal change, and where every employee has a voice and is actively engaged in living the organisation’s values, are those with thriving cultures.

Many organisations entered into this crisis with such a culture. Others were struggling. But, like the process of glass blowing, in which beautiful structures are created by manipulating molten glass in a hot furnace, we have observed healthy and resilient cultures emerge from the fires of crisis.

At their core, organisations are shadows of their leaders. Leaders who greet crisis with perspective and compassion, confront the current reality with optimism for the future, demonstrate personal resilience, and inspire that resilience among their employees are those who will make the difference.

In final summary, indeed, the necessity of maintaining trust is complemented by the behaviour of leadership during any business or economic cycle, when it becomes necessary to return to “First Principles” or the Raison D’etre of

Existence which when translated into plain English means the core of what it means to work for such organisations.

In the same manner in which government, business and personal crises threaten the character of individuals and how they respond is indicative of their personality, organizational impact is the core trust or the glue that binds the organisation, and hence, how the leadership responds determines whether the Trust intelligence has broken down or is very much in existence.

Leaders serve as role models for their followers and demonstrate the behavioural boundaries set within an organisation. The appropriate and desired behaviour is enhanced through the culture and socialisation process of the newcomers.

To conclude, leaders need to help bridge the trust gap, we recognise that organisations need to work with each other and with wider society to identify practicable, actionable steps that businesses can take to shape a new relationship with wider society: a new ‘settlement’ based on mutual understanding and a shared recognition of the positive role that business plays in people’s lives.

To create such a settlement, businesses need to see themselves as part of a diverse, interconnected, and interdependent ecosystem one that involves government, regulators, individual citizens, and more.

Trust within and across this ecosystem is key to its long-term sustainability and survival. That’s why trust needs to be restored to the heart of the business world.

As Stephen M.R. Covey once said:

“Contrary to what most people believe, trust is not some soft, illusive quality that you either have or you don’t; rather, trust is a pragmatic, tangible, actionable asset that you can create.”

Trust is the Superpower for Man + Machine and Global Change

The acceleration of global integration has ushered in a new, interconnected world that defines our future.

Trust is the superpower that lays the foundation to emerge. To establish trust, leaders need to create a culture that values transparency, authenticity and the courage to fail.

We build trust through a pattern of selfless acts giving our time, attention and resources to others without the expectation of material return. Selfless acts, such as extending unexpected rewards or offering additional support during heightened times of stress, tighten our human bonds, strengthen our psychological safety and help make our sense of fear more manageable.

• Trust creates a sense of shared mission, unleashing meaningful purpose.
• Trust creates a feeling of security, unleashing resilience and collective cooperation.
• Trust facilitates healthy risk-taking and activates a growth mindset, unleashing imagination.
• Trust helps us connect as individuals, unleashing happiness and compassion.
• Trust opens the door to possibility, unleashing transformative practice.
• The speed of this innovation is accelerating and we will see even more change in the future than ever before.

The question, however, as we come to face rapidly changing realities, how do we solve for enhanced employee satisfaction, better customer experience and energetic execution of business strategy?

How do we weave long-term value creation into daily operations? Is the pace of global change sustainable?

The globalisation machine has brought great riches to those able to adapt, but left others further behind, leading to increasing inequality within countries. Another feature of globalisation is that it has bred interdependency, exposing the global population to cascading risks, from financial crises to pandemics and cyber-attacks. Our actions now affect others in ways that were unimaginable in a disconnected world.

Notwithstanding, humans don’t just have the ability to adapt. They have the power to assess, process, and grow. Flourishing in the face of change requires mutual trust, a mindset open to possibility and ongoing practice both on the individual and corporate levels.

We now live in a world where virtually anyone can bring about mass destruction. Cyber has become the new nervous system and will become ever more vulnerable as the internet-of-things technology sees explosive growth. New technologies also threaten the very fabric of our society. An Oxford University research group says 47 percent of US jobs are vulnerable to machine intelligence and perhaps as much as 35 percent of UK jobs.

A seismic shift is underway. Thanks to new technologies that enable frequent, low-friction, customized digital interactions, companies today are building much deeper ties with customers than ever before. Instead of waiting for customers to come to them, firms are addressing customers’ needs the moment they arise—and sometimes even earlier. It’s a win-win: Through what we call connected strategies, customers get a dramatically improved experience, and companies boost operational efficiencies and lower costs.

Research has identified four effective connected strategies, each of which moves beyond traditional modes of customer interaction and represents a fundamentally new business model. These strategies have been described as; a response to desire, curated offering, coach behaviour, and automatic execution. What’s innovative here is not the technologies these strategies incorporate but the ways that companies deploy those technologies to develop continuous relationships with customers.

Most companies still interact with customers only episodically, after customers identify their needs and seek out products or services to meet them. You might call this model buy what we have.

In it, companies work hard to provide high-quality offerings at a competitive price and base their marketing and operations on the assumption that they’ll engage only fleetingly with their customers.

Let’s explore specifically the aforementioned strategies:

Respond to Desire; this strategy involves providing customers with services and products they’ve requested—and doing so as quickly and seamlessly as possible. The essential capabilities here are operational: fast delivery, minimal friction, flexibility, and precise execution.

Curated Offering; with this strategy, companies get actively involved in helping customers at an earlier stage of the customer journey: after the customers have figured out what they need but before they’ve decided how to fill that need. Executed properly, a curated-offering strategy not only delights customers but also generates efficiency benefits for companies, by steering customers toward products and services that firms can easily provide at the time. The key capability here is a personalized recommendation process. Customers who value advice—but still want to make the final decision like this approach.

Coach Behaviour; both of the previous two strategies require customers to identify their needs in a timely manner, which (being human) we’re not always good at. Coach-behaviour strategies help with this challenge, by proactively reminding customers of their needs and encouraging them to take steps to achieve their goals. Coaching behaviour works best with customers who know they need nudging. Some people want to get in shape but can’t stick to a workout regimen.

Automatic Execution; all the strategies we’ve discussed so far require customer involvement. But this last strategy allows companies to meet the needs of customers even before they’ve become aware of those needs. In an automatic-execution strategy, customers authorize a company to take care of something, and from that point on the company handles everything. The essential elements here are strong trust, a rich flow of information from the customers, and the ability to use it to flawlessly anticipate what they want. The customers most open to automatic execution are comfortable having data stream constantly from their devices to companies they buy from and have faith that those companies will use their data to fulfill their needs at a reasonable price and without compromising their privacy.

There is a revealing quote often associated with management theorist and proponent of systems thinking W. Edwards Deming: “In God we trust; others must provide data”. Deming died nearly thirty years ago, but the business world has embraced his philosophy ever more tightly since then. Today we are surrounded by astonishing amounts of data, and our ability to parse, analyze, and interpret them would likely be beyond even his far-seeing mind.

With the coming of Big Data—and the opportunity it gives for providing nuanced, ever-more personalized analysis, interpretations, and solutions to problems—it can at times seem that all future decisions will only be taken inside the ‘black box’ of the processing unit, hidden from human view and comprehension.

Increasingly we are seeing why this is not best practice. For me, all analytics should start with the human—not, as is often the case, with the data.

Twenty-five quintillion bytes of data are generated every day. That’s 25,000,000,000,000,000,000.

In this era of data abundance, it’s easy to think of these bytes as a panacea – informing policies and spurring activities to address the pandemic, climate change or gender inequality – but without the right systems in place, we cannot realize the full potential of data to advance a sustainable, equitable and inclusive future.

As our global challenges grow increasingly urgent, it is clear we need to approach data in a new way.

Business analytics should offer a structured, systematic way for leaders and teams to approach business problems. There should be systems that allow us to leverage the underlying data to support the intuition of individuals, and certainly not replace the decision-making capabilities and experience of domain experts who should be guiding the process.

It is not only organizations that need to have expertise in evaluating and analysing data. Data-driven decisions are now so prolific that we all, as individuals, have an interest in better understanding how these processes and systems operate.

There is a common misconception that recruiting an expert in data analytics or data science is going to lead to quick solutions to every problem you have. Very often the new talent with data expertise does not have the domain expertise required to fully engage with and understand these problems to begin with. Not, at any rate, at as broad and deep a level as you would need in order for them to bring about optimal and innovative solutions.

To unlock the real value of these new data analytics hires, they should be partnered with your domain experts—people with a very sharp intuition about the right questions to ask and the issues your team or organization ought really to be caring about.

In order for technology to reach its full potential, company leaders need to be transparent and instill trust for data sharing. Research by the British Science Association revealed a vast lack of trust in artificial intelligent machines, with fears of being ‘taken over’ by technology. This suspicion is a major barrier to close relationships forming between technology and humans a relationship that is needed in order for technology to work. As an example, artificial intelligence is in fact not artificial at all, it is an astute web of intelligence surfacing the most pertinent elements at the right time for the right purpose and enabling humans to make the choices that are right for them.

While some may think artificial intelligence is a long way from affecting their day to day, companies must get a handle on how best to utilise its superpowers before it’s too late. Action is the true measure of technology either taking action on our behalf because we have chosen them to do so, or informing action that we take. We’re on the cusp of a generational change in how we think about computing. While the capabilities of machines and the capabilities of humans are different, they work so much better together. The power and accuracy of AI complements the creativity and emotion of humans. Together they are more powerful than either is alone.

Final thought, with trust as the end goal, it’s crucial that the design of new technologies be fully consistent with an organization’s and community’s values. The challenge for organizations is to anticipate unexpected implications of the tools and innovations that they build and avoid reinforcing existing social inequalities, as well as consider the ethics of the elimination of existing jobs on the future workforce.

A great quote by Paul R. Daugherty, “Human + Machine: Reimagining Work in the Age of AI”, sums up the final thought perfectly:

“The simple truth is that companies can achieve the largest boosts in performance when humans and machines work together as allies, not adversaries, in order to take advantage of each other’s complementary strengths.”