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If your business doesn’t have trust, it has nothing: 3 big lessons on trust

Jessica Yun
Stephen M. R. Covey speaks at the World Business Forum in Sydney on Tuesday, 28 May 2019. (Photo: Supplied)
Stephen M. R. Covey speaks at the World Business Forum in Sydney on Tuesday, 28 May 2019. (Photo: Supplied)

The business is falling apart: profits are slim and staff are unhappy and unmotivated. Every time you put out one fire, something else inevitably seems to go up in flames, but you can’t quite seem to put your finger on the heart of the problem.

If this hypothetical feels a bit too close to reality right now, it’s likely because your company is missing a crucial ingredient: trust.

At least that’s what Stephen M. R. Covey, trust expert and best-selling author of The Speed of Trust: The One Thing that Changes Everything, would argue.

Speaking at the World Business Forum in Sydney on Tuesday, he pointed out that the loss of trust and confidence has been identified as the number one challenge facing the world since the 2008 World Economic Forum.

“In a very real way, trust is the currency of the world today,” he said.

And while most people think about trust as ‘soft’, often dismissed as a social virtue nice to have but unnecessary, Covey argued that trust was indispensable both to a company’s culture and their bottom line.

“I want to reframe trust as a social currency,” he said.

Why is trust so important?

Part of the answer is that trust – or lack of it – is pervasive. “It will impact everything you do,” said Covey. It will touch every part of your business.

Businesses with high levels of trust will perform better, while businesses with low levels of trust will spiral further.

Covey justified the importance of trust in what he called his ‘Three big ideas’.

Big Idea 1: Trust as an economic driver, not merely a social virtue

This can be distilled into a very simple formula: when trust goes up, speed and cost goes down.

“Everything will take you longer to do and the cost will go up,” he told delegates at the World Business Forum.

“Why? Because you’ve now got to take all these steps to compensate for the lack of trust. Whether that be checking, verifying … redundancies, the bureaucracy, the rules, the layers and layers that tend to get put in place in a lower-trust environment.

“Nothing moves as fast as the speed of trust,” he added.

But it works the same way the other way around, as well. “When there’s high trust, you’re getting a dividend, and when there’s low trust, you’re paying a tax. You can put an economic value on it.”

Big Idea 2: Trust is the #1 competency of leadership leaded today

Essentially, increasing trust will make you – and your team – better at everything else, Covey pointed out.

It’s the essential ingredient in high-performing teams. “Without trust, you’re merely a group of people working on a project together.”

Trust changes everything in innovation, he pointed out, because it transforms coordination to allow for the culture of collaboration.

“Innovation is a team sport. But also, trust leverages our differences. Our differences are our strengths when we trust each other. When we don’t, differences can be divisive,” Covey said.

“But the synergy, the creativity, the innovation flourishes when there’s a collision of differences in an environment of trust.

“We want those teams to be agile, adaptive, responsive, to lead to the change that’s coming, that’s hitting us from every angle.”

On top of that, high levels of trust encourages calculated, smart, risk-taking, he added, pointing to statistics that said teams in a high-trust environment were 32 times more likely to take a calculated risk.

“You learn better when there’s trust, you move faster. All these things start with a foundation of trust.”

We don’t live in the industrial age anymore, where the name of the game would be to ‘command and control’, Covey pointed out. Instead, a new leadership style – of trust and inspiration – is needed.

Big Idea 3: Trust is a learnable skill

The third idea is to conscientiously go about building trust.

And – you guessed it – it starts with yourself. There are five ‘waves’ of trust and they ripple out, Covey said.

The first wave is self-trust, followed by relationship trust and organisational trust. This is rounded out by market trust and societal trust.

“As trust is manifest in each successive wave, the effect of trust becomes cumulative and exponential.”

Additionally, trust is a function of two things: credibility and behaviour, Covey said. And credibility itself is rooted in competence and character.

Those foundations can be likened to the roots and trunk of a tree, while behaviours are the branches and the fruit.

When it comes to building trust, there are 13 straightforward behaviours that all trusted leaders exhibit.

However, leaders that lose trust won’t be able to talk their way out of it, Covey said.

“You can’t talk yourself out of a problem that you behaved yourself into.

“So think about that. If we lost trust through our behaviour, the only way to get it back is through our behaviour.”

Bank executives, take note.

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