Trust – A personal view by Bob Mason

I read with interest Rosie Miller’s excellent Soundbite ‘Trust’ in the July edition of this newsletter.  Rosie puts her finger on what is, I believe, one of the critical issues for both business and society today. According to a recent paper by DDI entitled ‘Trust in the Workplace’, wherever you look “... the levels of employee trust in their organisations and their senior leaders is at an all-time low.” Consider not only the obvious high-profile examples such as Enron and WorldCom but also more recently, and closer to home, RBS, banks in general and most recently of all the under-hand and callous phone-hacking which has come to light at the ‘News of the World’. As a result, News International is now being tested against the criterion of being ‘a fit and proper person’ to hold a media licence to operate – a test which to a large extent is based on a judgement as to whether or not they can be trusted!

As businesses and other organisations have suffered in the recession, leaders in both the private and public sectors have resorted to large-scale lay-offs in a bid to reduce costs. In addition to the job losses, retirement investments have suffered and pension arrangements are being redefined across the board. Employees, investors, pensioners, customers – indeed everyone is beginning to wonder who and what can they trust anymore.

In wider society, the appalling behaviour of politicians (MPs and Peers) with regard to their expenses, scandals in the world of sport, the diminishing credibility of doctors and lawyers, cover-ups and scandals in churches – have all further eroded trust in many institutions and beliefs that people held dear.

Building on the points that Rosie makes in her article, it should be remembered that gaining trust introduces the variable of the second part to the trust relationship - the truster who can actively decide whether to trust you or not. This is not (unlike fitness) entirely in one’s own control. You can do all the right things but still not be trusted. This may be due to the actions of other people who are seen to belong to the same group that you do – Management, for example, the actions of one’s associates, or some particular and individual lens through which people view your actions.

And finally, in addition to: one, Trusting Others and two, Being Trusted, I believe that there is a significant and equally important third dimension to trust which is the ability to: Trust oneself.

As long-held beliefs and values come under strain, people begin to hesitate when it comes to trusting their own skills, capabilities and judgements ... and, if you find it difficult to trust yourself, how are you going to find the confidence to trust others?

So, taking actions in each of the three dimensions (Trust Others, Be Trusted and Trust Oneself) are all necessary in my view if today’s faltering levels of trust in organisations and institutions are to be improved.
Recognising that there is a problem and that, dare I say, you might even be part of the problem, is a good start!

About the Author
Bob Mason was formerly HD Director at BT and has worked as an interim HR Director in several significant UK businesses. He has held a number of transformational roles in both public and private sector organisations and now works as a consultant and executive coach. He is a founding partner of Semar Practitioners who specialise in the issue of Trust in business. He can be contacted at bob.mason@hawkswoodresources.co.uk