Trust Is the Foundation of Business

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When trust breaks down in organizations it can impact employee turnover, communication, collaboration, risk taking and creativity—among other things—all of which can harm the bottom line, according to Richard Fagerlin, president of Peak Solutions Inc. in Fort Collins, Colo.

Trust is the foundation of a strong organization, he said during a concurrent session titled “The True Truth on Trust,” held April 30, 2012, as part of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Talent Management Conference & Exposition at the Gaylord National Hotel & Convention Center near Washington, D.C.

He dismissed those who suggest that conversations about trust are “fluff” or “touchy feely stuff” by explaining that when trust is absent, employees experience what he called a “trust hangover.” This can manifest itself as:

  • Regret and lack of confidence in decisions.
  • Constant questioning of other people’s motives.
  • An unwillingness to set and maintain expectations.
  • A survivor mentality as people wait for “the other shoe to drop.”
  • Paranoia, as if employees think that people in a huddle are talking about them.

Yet low trust—and the accompanying fear it tends to cause—is understandable given the way many organizations are doing business in 2012, as the economic recovery continues, he suggested. Everyone is expected to do more with less; job responsibilities have changed; raises, bonuses and benefits have been reduced or eliminated; change, in general, is nonstop.

Fagerlin challenged certain “truths” many people were raised to believe, such as “trust is earned over time” and “it takes a lifetime to build trust and a second to lose it,” and he encouraged attendees to consider a new model of trust.

According to Fagerlin’s “three-legged” model, trust requires confidence in one’s relationships with others and a belief that they will meet expectations in three overlapping areas:

  • Integrity—how one is—is the sum of a person’s behavior, principles, values and tendency to follow through on commitments.
  • Competence—how one performs—includes an individual’s knowledge, skills and abilities as well as their ability to produce desired results on a consistent basis.
  • Compassion—how one relates to others—refers to an individual’s willingness to understand others’ points of view and to put the good of others ahead of a personal agenda.

Instead of saying “I don’t trust you,” individuals can use the three concepts in the model to pinpoint the reason they feel distrust toward a colleague, employee or leader. It provides a new vocabulary to talk about what’s behind the emotion of distrust, he said.

However, trust in the workplace requires a focus on relationships and a recognition that everyone plays a key role in the success or failure of those relationships. “Relationships can’t be a zero-sum game,” he noted, “There can’t be winners and losers.”

HR’s Role

To build trust, HR professionals need to:

  • Know when to build and when to protect.
  • Serve others rather than being served.
  • Drive results, demand transformation and ask why.
  • Remove road blocks rather than adding them.
  • Be true business partners.
  • Get on the ground.
  • Stop saying “we can’t do that” and start saying “how can we do that?”

The next step for HR is to “train the trainer” by teaching others a new approach to trust. After all, “Trust is an attitude, and attitudes are contagious,” he said.

Rebecca R. Hastings, SPHR, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.  To read the original article, please click here.