Topics: Trust, Harvard Business School, Management Pages: 16 (5296 words) Published: April 20, 2014
Harvard Business Review Online | The Enemies of Trust

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The Enemies of Trust
You’re honest, straightforward, and competent. So why don’t your people trust you?

by Robert Galford and Anne Seibold Drapeau
Robert Galford is a managing partner of the Center for Executive Development in Boston and has taught in executive education programs at Harvard, Columbia, and Northwestern. Anne Seibold Drapeau is the chief people officer at Digitas in Boston. This article is adapted from their book, The Trusted Leader (Free Press, 2003).

Try an experiment sometime. Ask a group of managers in your company whether they and their closest managerial colleagues are trustworthy and, if so, how they know. Most will claim that they themselves are trustworthy and that most of their colleagues are as well. Their answers to the second half of the question will likely reflect their beliefs about personal integrity; you’ll hear things like “I’m straight with my people” or “She keeps her promises.” A little later, ask them whether they think they and their colleagues are capable of building trust within the organization. Because we’ve asked this question many times, we’re pretty sure we know what you’ll hear: A sizable percentage will say they have little or no confidence in the group’s capacity to build and maintain trust.

What accounts for the gap between the two sets of answers? With their differing responses, the managers are simply acknowledging a fact of organizational life: It takes more than personal integrity to build a trusting, trustworthy organization. It takes skills, smart supporting processes, and unwavering attention on the part of top managers. Trust within an organization is far more complicated and fragile than trust between, say, a consultant and a client. With a client, you can largely control the flow of communication. In an organization, people are bombarded with multiple, often contradictory messages every day. With a client, you can agree on desired outcomes up front. In an organization, different groups have different and often conflicting goals. With a client, you know if there’s a problem. In an organization, there’s a good chance you don’t, even if you’re in charge. If things aren’t working out with a client, either party can walk away. That’s not usually an option for people in an organization, so they stick around. But if they think the organization acted in bad faith, they’ll rarely forgive – and they’ll never forget.

Trust within an organization is further complicated by the fact that people use the word “trust” to refer to three different kinds. The first is strategic trust – the trust employees have in the people running the show to make the right strategic decisions. Do top managers have the vision and competence to set the right course, allocate resources intelligently, fulfill the mission, and help the company succeed? The second is personal trust – the trust employees have in their own managers. Do the managers treat employees fairly? Do they consider employees’ needs when making decisions about the business and put the company’s needs ahead of their own desires? The third is organizational trust – the trust people have not in any individual but in the company itself. Are processes well designed, consistent, and fair? Does the company make good on its promises? Clearly these three types of trust are distinct, but they’re linked in important ways. Every time an individual manager violates the personal trust of her direct reports, for example, their organizational trust will be shaken. 24-Feb-03

Harvard Business Review Online | The Enemies of Trust

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As difficult as it is to build and maintain trust within organizations, it’s critical. An established body of research demonstrates the links between trust and corporate performance. If...
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