It seems every time you switch on the television or radio there is some sort of discussion about the level of trust that now exists in our society, whether it involves government, business or our everyday lives. The main thrust of thinking seems to be that there has been a seismic shift in how we view the relevance of trust in our world.
Major events in the last decade give us clues as to how the perceived erosion has occurred. September 11, for example, reduced trust in governments keeping their people safe from terrorist attack. Citizens are also losing trust in governments because of some market changes, such as China’s emergence as a major trading nation.
Recently on Wall Street, a trader got his or her fingers and thumbs jumbled up and pressed an erroneous key on their keyboard. This sent world markets into a tailspin and panic ensued, as final human decision-making was substituted by an automatic transaction program, transferring trust to a powerful computer.
The 2008 Wall Street debacle caused by speculation saw the implosion of financial markets worldwide. A chain reaction was set off that crippled the global economy and continues to have repercussions today in the European sovereign debt crisis.
These events and others have contributed to a loss of confidence and trust in authority not seen since the Great Depression; the hostility witnessed so far has even resulted in some sensible solutions being discarded due to red mist fever and anger.
For the business sector, the challenges include recovery of respective positions after the downturn, and attracting and maintaining key staff. Probably the greatest issues confronting business and organisations are rebuilding trust that may have dissolved in recent times and developing a new sustainable strategy to secure it for future prosperity.
Against this backdrop there is rising sentiment that it is unrealistic to expect companies and their staff to have a meaningful level of trust where both parties benefit. Employees’ expectations are not being met and the current situation is largely due to their resultant lack of trust.
This is difficult to grasp for many people who believe trust is the cornerstone of doing business; and the non-believers have abandoned any efforts to resolve the issue.
One definition of trust is:
Respect + Relationships = Trust
In the area of respect, major changes have taken place between companies and their staff. The hierarchical model is rapidly becoming inappropriate. Today’s generation challenge the norm of the existing system, citing that managers need to earn respect, not automatically receive it through position or seniority. Relationships between the parties have certainly moved away from the master–servant model towards a fee for service.
Many baby boomers contest this and refuse to adapt to the change, hoping to maintain the status quo.
Where respect is a problem it can undermine the future development of a business and, of course, future leaders.
Today the bonds that once linked people and their companies are far more tenuous than we experienced previously; the once automatic premise that staff care for an organisation only applies after the organisation has clearly demonstrated it cares for the individual.
Once an employer could count on an employee to be flexible in the execution of their duties. The reality is that boundaries and expectations need to be clearly defined to ensure performance is maintained. It is no longer advisable to leave this to chance, as evidence suggests there is no meeting of minds between the two sides.
The issue of honesty and transparency with stakeholders can affect the relationship positively or negatively, depending on the organisation’s particular stance. It would be naive to say that all matters can be disclosed, but it is certain that when fundamental information affecting people’s lives is withheld, it has the potential to do considerable deep-seated and long lasting harm.
Those companies that have developed a sound, regular communication regime will benefit in today’s environment; those who do not can expect serious human relations problems that will inevitably erode their bottom line.
Is it time to face the protestations of the doomsayers and say trust is not significant? Should we drop the pretence that it has a place in the modern business world, or should we be looking for new innovative platforms to achieve the desired result?
Whoever wins the argument, it is clear that the trust model needs to reflect the different working environments we have today and the changes that will certainly occur in the future.
It would be wrong to say that trust is lacking in every organisation. That is clearly not the case, although it is a constant battle to maintain standards.
To test your organisation’s health in terms of trust is a relatively easy task: engage your people in simple conversations on the subject. This can be performed internally or by using the services of a third party. The results should give you a clear picture of where you sit on the trust ladder.
How organisations treat the issue of trust today and in the future, of course, is solely in the hands of their leaders, but the age-old mantra of “people make or break businesses” has never been so poignant in the midst of much that we are now experiencing. It could be said that trust is one of the pillars that defines us and its destruction could have serious implications for us all, not just in commercial terms but also in life.