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What leaders must start doing immediately to build a culture of trust

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Stephen MR Covey, author of Speed of Trust and Smart Trust, and son of Dr. Stephen R Covey (author of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) was in Singapore recently, here's Human Resources' exclusive interview.

Q. You are the founding proponent of The Speed of Trust transformation process - which says that if your organisation enjoys a trust dividend, then trust becomes the great ‘performance multiplier’. How can organisations build a trust dividend in today's environment of great uncertainty?

High-trust teams and high-trust cultures are built and sustained from the “inside out." That means that we start with ourselves—each of us, as a leader—and then ripple out from there.

Self-trust precedes relationship trust. Relationship trust precedes organisational trust. Organisational trust precedes market trust. And market trust precedes societal trust. So the best way to establish, grow and sustain trust is to work on developing trust from the inside out, starting with each leader.

Now how do we develop it? Trust is a function of two things: first, our credibility; second, our behaviour. So with each leader we start by focusing on their credibility first (both the character and competence dimensions of credibility), and then we focus on their behaviour.

Behaviour is what we do and how we do it. Our behaviour matters enormously in the building of trust and not all behaviours are created equally. Some matter far more than others in the building (or the diminishing) of trust. We can’t talk our way out of problems we behaved ourself into—the only way out is to behave our way out so behaviour matters tremendously in the building of trust.

Q. What must leaders start and stop doing immediately to build a culture of trust with their employees?

The first job of a leader is to inspire trust. The second job of a leader is to extend trust. We inspire trust by being credible (trustworthy). This credibility flows out of our character (our integrity and intent) and our competence (our capabilities and results).

Once we inspire trust through our credibility, leaders then need to lead out in extending trust to others. Smartly. Extending trust is the defining skill that transforms a manager into a leader. It is an act of leadership. And it’s the leaders job to go first. Someone needs to go first. That’s what leaders do. Leaders go first. They don’t extend trust blindly but rather they extend trust smartly with clear expectations and with a defined process for accountability.

So two things we can start doing immediately:

  1. Focusing on increasing our personal credibility (vs pointing the finger at everyone else),
  2. Second, lead out in extending trust to others (vs withholding it).
We can’t talk our way out of problems we behaved ourself into — the only way out is to behave our way out, so behaviour matters tremendously in the building of trust.
When we inspire trust through our credibility and then we extend trust through our behaviour, the net result is that we can begin to build a culture of trust.

Q. One of the key things about trust is its interconnectedness with learning effectiveness, where trust can institutionalise new language and behaviour through a simple, repeatable process to be used after the learning event. How does this work, and how can L&D managers implement this repeatable process?

Trust is less about having another thing to do and more about “how we do what we do.” So the more trust language and behaviour can become part of the culture (how most of the people speak and behave most of the time), part of the expected behaviour, the faster we will build trust.

What L&D managers can do is give people inside their organisation a common framework, language and process for developing and implementing trust.

The key is to make the implementation of trust a process and not an event. A good process may have several learning events in it but it also has implementation and application of the behaviours common to high-trust leaders. What we do with our Speed of Trust methodology is have what we call “trust huddles”, to cite one example.

A trust huddle is where we “piggyback” an existing weekly meeting (such as a weekly staff meeting) and take 5-10 minutes to review one behaviour a week in the context of our work. What does that behaviour look like when done well? What does the counterfeit behaviour look like that so often gets in the way? And what’s one commitment we can commit to as a team this week to improve in this behaviour?

Then the next week, before going on to the next behaviour, we first revisit our commitment from the prior week: How’d we do on last week's commitment? Now, what does this next behaviour look like when done well? What does the counterfeit look like? What’s one commitment we can make this week in implementing this next behaviour? And then we repeat. And repeat. And repeat. We can review all 13 behaviours in a quarter, and then repeat that process four times a year.

Q. When it comes to building trust in organisations in Asia, what are 2-3 tips that you offer, in light of the situation as you see it during your Singapore visit?

During my visit to Singapore, and in working in conjunction with our FranklinCovey Singapore office, I became increasingly convinced that the principles behind trust apply universally (including in Asia and in Singapore) but that the specific practices can be very cultural and context specific.

So here’s the key insight: Separate the principle from the practice. Focus on teaching the principle and then let people come up with the appropriate practices for their culture/context.

Here is a three step process for building trust in any situation in Asia, or anywhere around the world:

  1. First, declare your intent that you would like to increase the level of trust in the relationship, on the team, in the organisation, or in any situation you’re dealing with. By doing this you are making the creating of trust an explicit objective and this helps people see it more clearly.
  2. Second, tell people what you’re going to do, i.e. signal your behaviour. This gives people awareness of how you’re going to be the first to lead out in creating trust and you give people an understanding of what to look for/expect.
  3. Third, simply do what you say you’re going to do. This last step always builds trust but it will build it faster and better if you do the first two steps in front of it. But you’ll also lose trust faster if you do the first two steps and then not the third. So risk and return go together. Don’t do the first two steps if you’re not sincere about doing the third step.
Photo: Provided

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