The Importance of Trust

I've been thinking all week about the importance of trust. It's a simple word and a complicated concept.

With that in mind, let's turn our attention to W. Edwards Deming, the father of the Total Quality and Lean manufacturing movements. What does he say about trust?

Deming is credited with this well-known saying, which used to appear on a notice posted in the offices of the National Institute of Health:
In God we trust. Everyone else must show data.

Deming clearly placed a great deal of value on the elusive quality of trust. Two of his 14 Points for Management specifically refer to trust:
Point 4. End the practice of awarding business on the basis of price tag alone. Instead, minimize total cost in the long run. Move toward a single supplier for any one item, based on a long-term relationship of loyalty and trust.
Point 8. Drive out fear and build trust so that everyone can work more effectively.

In addition to these direct references, Deming alludes to the importance of trust throughout the 14 Points. If you haven't read them in awhile, do so.

Almost every point is designed to build or reinforce trust  in the process, within teams, between workers and management, in leadership, and between organizations and their suppliers, vendors and customers.

Building trust takes time. It's slow to grow and quick to disappear. Sometimes, one significant misstep can damage the trust you've built over weeks, months or years.

This is because trust is about performance, not labels.

When I was researching and writing What Employers Really Want: The Insider's Guide to Getting a Job, I ran across more than a few companies that cited "trust" as a Core Value. Through personal interviews with employees and managers, however, it became clear that too often trust was only a word. On a regular basis, top leadership's actions were anything but trust-inducing.

In one company, for example, closed-door meetings were routinely followed by layoff announcements. When any group of executives filed into a conference room and shut the door, the entire organization went on red alert. One mid-level manager said the air of distrust was palpable.

Suddenly no one trusted anyone. Was the guy in the office next door angling for your job? Was your department head busy putting together your severance package? Were C-level executives planning to disband your team or perhaps the entire division?

Work ground to a halt as everyone scrambled to solidify their position, update their resume, or both. Lines formed at the copiers and office printers ran non-stop, cranking out one person's resume after another.

In a matter of weeks, the company's leadership team had managed to eradicate virtually all employee trust and loyalty earned over the course of decades.

Trust is a remarkable word. It can be used as a noun, an adjective and a verb. In all its forms, trust is important, but in the end, the actions we take speak louder than words.


Books | The Trust Edge
Strategy | What's the Value of Trust?

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