#445  from Innovative Leader Volume 9, Number 1          January 2000

How to Build Trust
by Wolf J. Rinke, Ph.D.

Dr. Rinke is a speaker, management consultant, executive coach and editor of The Winning Manager newsletter and 12 books including Winning Management:  6 Fail-Safe Strategies for Building High-Performance Organizations (Achievement Publishers, Clarksville, MD, 1997). For information about the newsletter and books call (800) 828-9653. He can be reached at 410-531-9280, e-mail wolfrinke@aol.com or at www.wolfrinke.com.

In my role as a consultant I find that trust has become a vanishing act.  No wonder, with all the mergers, reengineering, layoffs, and downsizing employees find it increasingly difficult to trust management. And why not? After all, trust is the foundation upon which all relationships and interactions are built! And once that foundation is destroyed, relationships and interactions no longer function smoothly, effectively, or productively. So what can you do to build trust in your organization? You can start by making sure your word is always as good as gold, that your team members never have to second-guess anything you tell them, and that they can count on you to do right by them, your customers, and your organization. Once you get the basics down pat, here are six additional steps you can take to get your team members to trust you.

Step 1: Hold everyone accountable.

Always hold team members accountable for all their actions. One way to do this is to have them commit to this powerful axiom: If it's to be, it's up to me! You might even make up a huge poster with those words followed by "I hereby commit to take ownership of all my actions." Then have all team members sign the poster. Once signed, display it in a conspicuous place for all customers and team members to see. Also, since it is difficult to establish accountability among more than about fifty people, make sure that you subgroup your organization into small business units of ideally no more than fifty people per group. Typically people act more responsibly when they are in groups were everyone knows every one else. It prevents "anomie," the French term that describes a society that is falling apart because normative standards of conduct are weak.

Step 2: Establish boundaries.

Trust works when people know that they can count on each other to do a certain thing a certain way. How things are done in an organization should be defined by the organizationís mission, vision, and core values. Collectively I call that the organizational philosophy. Once the boundaries are in place you must then discipline yourself to expect that your team members are going to operate within those boundaries. (Remember most of us get what we expect.)  Control in such an environment comes after the action, when results are assessed, instead of telling people what to do or having them ask permission before taking action. This allows you to function as a coach instead of a cop, and makes your team members respect and trust you more.

Step 3: Build a learning organization.

Trust requires lifelong learning, because it can only come about if people can count on each other to perform at peak performance. Such performance is only possible if you have provided people with the resources to engage in lifelong learning, constant renewal, and change. To accomplish the latter you must also give people permission to make mistakes. And the best way to do that is for you to publicly admit when you have made a mistake. Once your team members see that you are less than perfect, they too may be willing to admit it when they make mistakes. This, in turn, enables your team members to be willing to take calculated risks and find a better way to do everything all of the time, and then share both their successes and failures with their team members. In addition, build a learning library of books, audiotapes and videotapes that you can use for training purposes, and that team members can check out to help them become the best they can be. (Remember, an organization is only as good as it's people.) I would especially recommend that you encourage your team members to listen to motivational and educational audiotapes on the way to work. That way they arrive with a turned on, tuned in, positive attitude that will enable them to deal more effectively with stress, get along with their team members and take better care of customers. 

Step 4: Practice tough love.

Highly effective leaders love people the way they are, not the way they ought to be. And love is not possible without trust. Hence, people who intentionally and repeatedly abuse trust must be removed from the organization because you must be able to trust all of your people all of the time. Otherwise you will revert back to functioning like an autocratic manager--a manager who does the checking and controlling in advance, as opposed to operating like a winning manager who lets the organizational philosophy do the checking and controlling and only deals with those team members who intentionally violate that gold standard.

Step 5: Walk your talk.

I know you've heard this one before; but this is not about hearing, or even knowing, it is about doing, because trust will only come alive as a result of reinforcing your words with actions. People are much more influenced by what you do than by what you say. I have my seminar participants prove this to themselves by having everyone stand and look at me, and follow my directions. I tell them to extend their right arm, just as I am doing. Next I tell them to form a circle with their index finger and thumb, and place that circle on their cheek. As I say ďcheek,Ē I put my thumb and index finger circle on my chin. What happens next is quite comical. Most people look like they have early onset of Alzheimerís disease because their arm will tremble as they waver between cheek and chin. Others place the circle on the chin and canít quite understand what the fuss is all about. Typically only a few people will follow my verbal instructions and place the circle on their cheek. Next I have them look at each other, which results in another salvo of snickers and laughter, and have them tell me what happened. Of course, they tell me that they were influenced much more by my actions than my words. The same is true for your team members! Thatís why you must be the role model for your team.

Step 6. Practice high-touch.

High-tech will increasingly be the norm as we move toward virtual organizations. Without high touch, however, in the form of meetings, organizational retreats, and conferences, trust will wither on the vine. There simply is no shortcut to developing trust with another human being. It canít be done via the Internet, voice mail, faxes, or other electronic media. It requires you to be belly to belly, nose to nose, eye to eye with another human being, so that you can make sure that a personís body language reinforces and supports his words. So be sure to get out of your office and spend quality time with the people who are responsible for 85 percent of your success--your team members.

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