Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Building Trust

I don't know about the entire industry, but within my circle of clients, coworkers and friends there has been a lot of discussion about building trust.  It seems that the stress of the economic changes has made it difficult to know what to trust these days.  Those companies who you thought would always be there suddenly vanished along with years of relationships and hard-won trust.  The coworkers you knew had your back were laid off or left for different opportunities.  The world of cloud computing has made it difficult for companies to maintain transparency without exposing every number and action to scrutiny.  What is one to do in this environment?

Call me jaded, but I've always been one to trust only in what is within my ability to control.  I hope for the best, but am typically prepared for the worst.  When bad things happen, or a trust is broken, I don't react as a victim.  I move on while evaluating the relationship or scenario that lead to the final outcome.  What door is opening now that one closed?  Some call that idealistic, but the fact is - it works for me (and quite a few in my close circle).

But, what do you do as an employer when you know that your employees do not trust and you can see that it is eroding away at your business?  That is a tough one to call.  Some would say, put on a good face and weather the storm.  I disagree with this approach because I believe people are more in-tune than ever with the ups and downs of business.  In sales, for instance, the leaders of the team often set the tone in a very strong way.  As an owner of a rep. firm, do you expose your numbers and set the bottom line for performance so you are taking away what you need?  I think so.  The catch is that if your numbers are not truly transparent, you will not build trust, you will destroy it.  Sales teams are uniquely qualified to break down numbers at an alarming rate, and numbers that don't add up will leave you looking like someone who cannot be trusted. 

Trust with clients?  Wow, that is a hard one to cover.  Everyone has their own method, but the one that has consistently worked for me is honesty.  Part of why I needed to start my own business was because if I heard "You're too honest for your own good," in another yearly review I thought I might strangle someone.  The truth was, I was too honest for the company's lawyers, and they were afraid that if my negotiating techniques did not work then we'd get the shirts sued off our backs.  It's a legitimate concern, but in the end the problem was always worked out in a way that was acceptable to the client and our company.  To be fair and clear, I was not so cavalier as to put any admission of guilt into email, but that's part of knowing the balance of when to document and when to make sure the clients' needs are met.  The bonus was that each situation gave me a chance to build more trust with clients, and they appreciated always knowing the truth while we worked through challenges.

Finally, taking personal responsibility is a sure-fire way to earn trust.  My friends at Brains on Fire posted a blog this morning that hit on this with a very clear example (and one that drives me crazy).  Check it out if you're interested... I couldn't have written it better myself.
(Look for the 1/5/2011 post.  My apologies, the Jan. 5th posting on the site was removed as of Jan. 6th).

So maybe, more than focusing on building trust we need to focus on who we are in business.  Are we transparent?  Are we taking responsibility for our actions?  Are we treating others the way we want to be treated?

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