Beyond Disruption or Digitization, Trust is Now a Top Priority

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You’d expect to see topics of disruption, digitalization and global competition to headline this week’s Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) Summit, but instead, the topics of Trust and Culture are expected to take centre stage.

In a recent Financial Review article by Patrick Durkin, he refers to KPMG research that shows more than 94 per cent of directors highlighted trust as a key issue with the potential to damage organisations. In addition, and somewhat alarmingly, the research also reveals that the same amount of directors’ report that they don’t have a proactive strategy to tackle the problem.

Most people ‘get’ that trust is important in our professional and personal life. However, the real problem with trust, especially in organisations, is up until now, it’s importance, while accepted, has not been an organisational priority.

This lack of prioritised focus on the importance of trust in organisations results in reactive apologies and actions after a breach in trust has occurred. However, reactive apologies and actions to mend trust are in no way as effective as proactive strategies and actions aimed to earn and build trust.

When trust is at risk, everything is at risk, and the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer1 found that trust in Australia’s key institutions – government, business, NGOs and media – has slipped for the second year in a row.

This creates an atmosphere within and outside of organisations of distrust, which we know from other research2 shows the higher the levels of distrust the higher the cost to an organisation through increased stress, rework, blame, and excuses. Distrust in organisations also is associated with decreased revenue, client satisfaction, employee engagement and productivity.

The Triangle of Three Trusts

triangle of trust - David PenglaseOne very effective strategy to gain a prioritised focus on trust is to consider trust in three ways. As represented here in The Triangle of Three Trusts, at the pointy and pivotel end of the inverted triangle is the confidence we have to Self-Trust. Our future-self needs to trust our current-self. The confidence required for self-trust also requires a host of other elements including, but not limited to, discipline, willpower, self-esteem, and self-love. Self-trust is represented this way in the inverted Triangle of Three Trusts, because if our self-trust is lacking, everything else in our lives becomes off-balance.

Resting on top of Self-trust is the courage we have to trust in others. Whenever we place our trust in someone, we take a risk. Trusting others is certainly not about blindly placing our trust in others. We need to hold people accountable for the trust we place in them. This means setting and managing expectations and staying in communication to monitor progress.

Finally, placed at the top of the inverted Triangle of Three Trusts, is the combined character and competence required for us to earn others’ trust. It is important to note that being a person of ‘good character’ is only part of what’s required to earn others’ trust. You can be a person of good character, but if you lack the competence (skills, knowledge, products, service) required, wanted or needed by another person, there will be a lack of trust. Flipping this, you may have the necessary competence, however, if you lack the character (integrity, culture, or the way you apply your competence) there will also be a lack of trust.

Trust isn’t a topic that is as easy as saying promise what you can deliver and deliver on what you’ve promised. While a good place to start, the reason why trust and culture are going to be the hot topics at the upcoming AICD Summit, is because trust impacts almost every measure of success in our personal and professional lives.

To turn around the falling levels of trust in Australia’s key institutions,  it will require organisational leaders to adopt strategies and activities to develop trust in these three ways.

  1. 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer
  2. The Speed of Trust: Stephen M.R. Covey
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