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Trust is not a 'soft' basis for business

November 5 2011 - In these uncertain times no word is used more often than 'trust'. This creates some beautiful discussions but all the more misunderstandings. Trust and its derivatives in business are frequently seen as 'soft' and impossible to explain in concrete terms. The outcome is that organizations find it is easier to talk about financial results, good or bad percentages and other information in figures than to talk about the most important subject in the relationship between people and organizations and that is trust.

This is logical because the general argument remains that figures do not lie, but there are - in these times - enough examples that prove the opposite. We can ask if trust really is that soft and what the consequences are when we give it insufficient attention. Richard van der Lee, Manager Retail Clients at Rabobank in the Netherlands, has a clear view about this.

Organizations say it but don’t act.

Van der Lee says: "From my point of view organizations cannot achieve long-term success without paying attention to the dimension of trust. This also is, besides the importance of context, the main topic that arises from the research which I carried out as part of my dissertation on Vision on Talent. Trust is not only important for the development of talent but also for all other relevant business issues. One of the conclusions of my research was that organizations say a lot about trust but, in reality, they don’t act. As far as I am concerned, trust in organizationational relationships and hard results can be split into three dimensions. These are specified below. The dimensions of trust are based on an outside view into an organization, meaning that the process starts with the relationships customers have with organizations."

Reliability

Van der Lee: "Customers are particularly looking for a reliable partner. When your organization does not act in accordance with this principle, customers will tend to go to another supplier who can offer them proper service as far as reliability is concerned. Many organizations are creating a distinct profile for themselves in which it is stated that they are reliable partners, but customers frequently do not share that opinion. A simple example: When an organization cancels an appointment, which was previously confirmed by phone or this appointment does not take place at the arranged time (too late mostly), then this will result in damaging the image of reliability of the organization. This causes a risk factor because the competition is allowed the opportunity to step in and take over. To harden this part of how to understand 'reliability' is very simple. Just by using the right questions during a customer survey, continuously monitoring the customers' loyalty and complying with customers' answers, organizations can make use of the feedback that it is really important and learn from their mistakes. Also the competition will then have less chance to step in. By right questions I do not refer to the impersonal inquiry form with too many non-related questions but to a well founded survey with goal oriented questions."

Trust

Van der Lee: "How beautiful it is to see that many organizations use reliability for their image but the disappointment is often that internally it often has no follow-up. Ask yourself, within the framework of command and control, how many checks and structures were created in the past year within your organization. All to make sure that everything runs without mistakes with the customer as starting point. The result, however, is that extra checks take extra time and the costs for 'just in time delivery' to the customer will increase. All this as a result of not using and developing the talents of employees and letting them actually do what they are good at, this in relation to the needs of the customer. To put it briefly, there is not enough trust in the available qualities and talents of employees and managers. Lenin (1870-1924) stated that 'trust is good, control is better'. This point of view still applies to many organizations. For the recruitment of current and future employees it is a demotivating approach, which eventually will affect the productivity and effectiveness of employees within many organizations. It will also involve extra costs and organizations do not want that to happen. In spite of all that, it is relatively easy to make the effects of trust in organizations perfectly clear. Goal-oriented questions in employee satisfaction surveys can clarify certain issues by phrasing the questions about quantity and quality that matter. Also, regular checks on the extra steps added to primary processes and what the intention was of these steps will certainly help. This will provide clarity."

Self-confidence

How can organizations operate better when their employees do not obtain the opportunity to utilize and develop their talents and do not get responsibility? In his dissertation Van der Lee states that these topics are very important for the efficiency and motivation of all employees in an organization (including managers). In this case working in an organization based on trust is required and imperative. This certainly is a hot business-issue when you look at all the technological and social developments inside and outside organizations which lead to more self control and responsibility. Leadership needs to be reshaped. Less controlling and more facilitating leadership will, depending on the situation and the context, provide added value with real attention instead of pretended attention as an addition. All this will contribute to the self-confidence of employees.

Trust: there is nothing soft about it

Van der Lee: "The conclusion is that trust entails a rock-solid understanding and that consequences certainly will be measurable. The point is that this is not often seen as such, and probably will not be aimed at. Of course financial results and all kinds of key performance indicators are very important but everything that takes place within organizations depend on the mutual interaction between customers and employees. Without this interaction and the utilization of the individual talent present - in relation to the right employee being in the right place at the right time - organizations will not achieve long-term success. No single organizational structure, process-redesign or software related instrument will deliver the solution for this issue. It is about time that the tempting words organizations use about trust get the right attention and also that 'hard' output will be used as a foundation to develop a Vision on Talent. All this for the benefit of customers, employees and organizations. I would like to conclude this article with a statement by Dr. Martin Luther King (1929-1968) which is so apt in this framework: When you have trust, you don’t have to see the whole staircase to set the first step.

About the author

Richard van der Lee is working as a Manager at Rabobank in the Netherlands. Besides that Richard is Talent Entrepreneur at his own company ‘Vision on Talent Consultancy’. He published several articles/blogs which have been published on several HRM-sites and a website for managers and directors in the Netherlands and Belgium). He gives advice to individuals/organizations about talentdevelopment-issues and is also asked to give presentations about his vision on HRM-issues in seminars. As part of an Executive MBA he researched the development of individual talent in organizations. This resulted in a specific ideology for organizations, and a corresponding model on how to build a ‘vision on talent’. The main component of the model is the strong relationship between relevant market perspectives and organizational perspectives. Email Richard for questions or suggestions to visieoptalent@gmail.com, or find him on twitter under the name @visieoptalent or visit his website Visieoptalent. A version of this article was earlier published in the Netherlands on several websites and is translated from Dutch into English by Joop van der Lee.



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