02/09/2015 07:16 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Key to Successful Change Is Trust

Change efforts in the modern context are typically messy and peppered with mistakes, problems and unmet expectations. In a high-trust environment, leaders will be given the benefit of the doubt and will be able to course correct and move forward. In a low trust environment, the mistakes and problems serve as further evidence for the dire state of the organisation and the incompetence of leaders. One simple mantra for trust is that you cannot communicate your way out of a problem you have behaved yourself into.

So if all change efforts are messy, and trust is a precondition for change, then the challenge for leaders becomes the building of trust. In my experience, trust is comprised of three key components; credibility (do I believe you can do what you or others say you can?), reliability (do you actually do what you say you will?) and intent (what is your underlying motive and how much do you stand to gain?). Leaders who consistently deliver on their promises, who behave in a way which is honest, open and authentic, and who focus on purpose, contribution and legacy, build enduring trust and dedicated followership.

At a more practical level, one of the fastest ways to build trust is to extend more trust than is warranted. Much like a bank account, this means making continual and significant deposits so that when the inevitable problems occur, the resultant withdrawals do not put the account into deficit. This approach can be humbling for many leaders; particularly those who have been raised on a diet of command and control where subordinates are expected to win their trust.

While the building of trust can seem daunting, the rewards are exponential. Stephen Covey summarises the benefits in his simple formula for the economics of trust; low trust equals low speed and high cost, high trust equals high speed and low cost. To verify this formula for yourself, compare two commercial partnerships you are engaged in; one which you would consider high trust versus one that you would categorise as low trust. Now imagine the commercial implications for your organisation if all of your relationships were like the partnership you categorised as high trust!

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