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A crisis of trust – guidelines for BAM owners (Part 1)

Saturday, July 23, 2016


“To be trusted is a greater compliment than being loved.” – George MacDonald

In early 2016 I picked up a copy of the The Economist, entitled “The World in 2016”. An article on page 90 intrigued me entitled, “A Crisis of Trust” by Richard Eldelman.1 Mr. Edelman maintains that “trust – or, often, the lack of it – is one of the central issues of our time”. He may be right.

The Edelman Trust Barometer has been tracking trust issues for fifteen years, particularly between countries in the categories of government, business, technology, media, and NGOs. Technology is the most trusted sector and government is the least trusted institution worldwide. While trust in business is recovering, trust in CEOs has declined by ten points since 2011.

A recent Maritz poll2 indicates that only seven percent of workers strongly agree that they trust their senior leaders to look out for their best interest. John Blanchard’s research demonstrates that 59% of respondents indicated they had left an organization due to trust issues, citing lack of communication and dishonesty as key contributing factors.3 Clearly everywhere and in every sector, trust is at a tipping point.

All of this got me thinking about missional business startups. Certainly trust is fragile – in all aspects of life, and also in business. It is imperative for clients, customers, employees and team members to trust the owner because it is often easier to mistrust than to trust. What can a business owner do to develop high levels of trust?

The simplest understanding of trust is that it centers in competence and character. If owners and managers are competent in their knowledge, practice, and in getting things done; and they are persons of integrity, reliability and promise, they are probably a person of trust.

Perhaps the following concrete actions will go a long way to building trust in the business environment.

1. Tell the truth and live with integrity

Study after study has indicated that the number one quality that people want in a leader is integrity. Business leaders need to tell it straight, be open and honest inside and outside the company. The Biblical Decalogue (The Ten Commandments) makes it clear that we are not be bear false witness. Zechariah states in 8:16, "These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another; render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace."

People need to be treated appropriately and justly and management’s actions must be consistent with the values of the company so that employees and all others can see that they can rely on the leader.

We live in a time where moral standards are being eroded, even among good Christian people. It is mandatory that our character is built upon a foundation of integrity and a commitment to spiritual development.

Sometimes this is difficult to do in a corrupt society where all around we see dishonesty, deceit and corruption. We helped Jim buy a small factory in Indonesia. One of the consultants went with him to the tax office where they revealed that they wanted to discuss ahead of time what taxes might look like for certain levels of revenue. The tax authority had never heard of such a question and developed a respect for Jim from that day forward.

2. Demonstrate competence

Competence goes a long way toward producing credibility which is foundational to trust. Can you produce results? Can you get the job done because you have the skills to make things happen? Does your product go out the door with excellence? Competence involves the technical knowledge of what the product or service entails, the operational capacity to practically get it done, and the political understanding to accomplish things in the context of the culture, organizational politics and local political milieu.

Sometimes competence is simply a formidable expertise, but sometimes it may require you to say, “I don’t know”. That demonstrates knowledge of what you do not know and allows trust to develop as you recommend another source for the client.

Dale has developed a credible coffee outlet in Nepal because his credibility is well developed and proven. He has studied business (MBA), has become accomplished in understanding and valuing the culture and is an expert in coffee roasting and retail. In areas where he was weaker, he hired people to help him. Dale has developed competence which is widely recognized.

3. Value people by showing that you care about them

People will trust you if you value them, get to know them by identifying their needs and seek to empower them in the workplace. This includes having good communication skills and showing that you are human by being open with your life. The leader then is seen as a “real” person.

One of the best ways to build trust is by sharing information so as to allow them into the inner workings of the business as much as possible. Discussion of important marketing topics, future business plans and strategies, financial data, performance feedback, current problems – all communicates trust and a sense that “we are in this together”. By giving a sense of identity to everyone, trust develops, productivity increases, morale develops, and teamwork solidifies.

The Second Commandment of Jesus mandates love as important in relationships with others. In fact Jesus said that love for God and our neighbor are the two most important things (Mark 12:31). That includes learning to listen more effectively, using names in conversation and telling people what you appreciate about them. One of the ways I found to demonstrate this was to be accessible, allowing people to come to my office just about any time.

People are valued when you respect their time. Start meetings on time, promptly return phone calls and reply to emails. Thoroughly address all points raise in communiques. Provide feedback regularly.

What does this look like in a cross-cultural startup? For Bill it simply meant that he learned to ask about the families of the employees. That simple act of love and care caused him to be called the “best boss in all of China” by one of his foremen.

Come back next week for three more actions you can take to build trust in your environment.

1. Edelman, Richard. "A Crisis of Trust." The Economist. March 13, 2016. Page 90.
2. Managing in an Era of Mistrust: Maritz Poll Reveals Employees Lack Trust in their Workplace. Available online at: www.maritz.com/Press-Releases/2010Maritz-Poll


Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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IBEC Ventures -- Consultants for BAM/Business as Mission