One of the absolute foundational elements for building a successful small business is to have a high degree of trust with both your employees and your customers. However, trust can be elusive — very hard to build and incredibly easy to lose. I recently had a Fortune 100 client ask me how, specifically, they could increase the level of trust within their organization, and after a great deal of research and thought, I’ve developed this list of seven key factors that are essential for building trust.
1. Tell the Truth. Without honesty, there is no trust, and without trust, there’s no leadership…and eventually no business. The first and most important element in creating trust is to be completely honest 100 percent of the time. By the way, this is also the single most important characteristic of a leader who people would willingly follow.
2. Be Transparent. Knowledge is not power…sharing knowledge allows you to empower other people, and that extends and multiplies your power. It is one of my very favorite business axioms: “People without access to information do not have to take accountability for their actions.” If you want to create trust, you must over-communicate and share as much information as you possibly can.
3. Extend Trust First. The absolute best way to build trust is to give it first. Most people say, “I will trust the other person when they prove to me that I can trust them.” Effective leaders extend 100 percent trust immediately and then pull it back quickly if the person proves they are not trustworthy.
4. Be Vulnerable. Be honest; admit that you don’t have all the answers, that you are confused sometimes and that you do need help. No one can make it alone today — the competition moves too fast, customers are too demanding, technology is overwhelming…you need as much help as you can possibly get, so just be vulnerable and admit it.
5. No Games. If you want to build trust, wipe out politics, rumormongering and private “closed door” discussions. No masks, no silos, no turf guarding, no drama.
6. Keep Your Promises. Create a culture of both personal and mutual accountability where people are engaged, having fun, doing great work AND delivering the required business results. This is about professional integrity — doing what you say you will do and being reliable and consistent — because reliability and consistency are fundamental to building trust.
7. Communicate Clearly. Ambiguity creates distrust, so you must take the time to ask great questions, be an incredibly focused listener and constantly drive for exceedingly clear communications. The few minutes you spend to clarify your communications and make sure they are well understood will save you hours, days or weeks of pain in the future.
In case you are not fully convinced, let me share with you why building a culture of trust is so important. In Patrick Lencioni’s superb book, “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team,” he clearly lays out how a team descends into chaos and eventually destroys the business. In very simplistic terms, here are the five levels of team dysfunction:
The first level is a lack of TRUST; if the people on a team do not truly trust each other, it leads to the second level of dysfunction, which is a lack of VULNERABILITY. Without a solid foundation of trust, people on a team are afraid to speak with candor, courage and complete honesty. What happens next is a lack of COMMITMENT; people are not truly honest when discussing ideas and debating projects, so, in an effort not to offend others or look vulnerable, they simply go along with what everybody else says. This leads to the fourth dysfunction, which is a lack of ACCOUNTABILITY; because people have committed to things they don’t really support, they do not want be held accountable for implementing them. This leads to the last and final dysfunction, which is a lack of RESULTS; no one in the company holds each other accountable for the projects they never really believed in because they were too afraid to tell the truth and tell people they did not think something was a good idea. So, to put it succinctly: Lack of trust leads to a lack of results.
If what I have just described sounds at all familiar to you, I strongly suggest you go back to the seven steps I’ve listed for building trust and work on them throughout your organization. But remember, it all starts with you: You must first be trusting and trustworthy in order to build trust within your business.