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Stephen M. R. Covey, New York Times best-selling author and founder of FranklinCovey’s Speed of Trust Practice, offers insights on maximizing human performance and transforming teams by leveraging trust.

How can organizations and teams improve productivity by building trust?

When trust goes down in a relationship—or on a team or in a company or between a general contractor and subcontractor—the speed goes down with it. Everything we need to do takes us longer and costs us more. We have to get validation and deal with the politics, bureaucracy and regulations that get put in place when we don’t trust each other. In other words, low trust is a tax.

The good news is that when the trust goes up in a relationship, the speed goes up with it and the costs come down. It’s that predictable. 

In construction, speed and cost are schedule and budget. When there’s low trust, the quality of work goes down, and so does client satisfaction. There’s infighting, blame, poor communication and a lack of collaboration. Just the opposite happens when trust goes up. Projects get done on time and on (or under) budget. 

High trust firms outperform low trust organizations by 286 percent. The economics are real. Trust is our new currency.

What are a few examples of leading in a way that inspires trust?

A good leader focuses on his or her credibility and behavior first. They model integrity, they’re competent and they seek win-win solutions. You need to be a good person and to perform to inspire trust—both are vital.

You can also behave your way into trust: talk straight, be transparent, show loyalty, right wrongs and always deliver results. You confront reality, listen and keep commitments.

The game-changer is extending trust to others. If you don’t trust people, they don’t trust you. If the starting point with a general contractor is distrust, the subcontractor will tend to reciprocate that distrust right back. The same is true with client relationships. 

Yes, there’s a risk in trusting other people because they might violate that trust. But there’s also a risk in not trusting people, especially when you work on teams. You work slower and at best coordinate instead of collaborate and innovate.

How can companies incorporate trust building into their strategic planning processes?

The very act of building trust on a team will help you create a better, more authentic and realistic strategy. People will be more open and transparent, and not just say what the boss wants to hear. They’ll speak up and take a risk, plus be more creative and innovative. 

When there’s lower trust, it’s just the opposite—you end up extrapolating trends and doing what you did last year because people don’t want to be seen as criticizing a plan that’s somebody’s baby. You can end up following a strategic planning process that leaves a lot on the table. 

You also don’t execute the strategy nearly as well without trust. The traditional formula is strategy multiplied by execution equals results. This is fundamentally true, but people often have good strategies on paper and have a high ability to execute with resources and capabilities, yet fall short. Trust is the hidden variable that multiplies or diminishes results. 

If you have a bad strategy, but there’s high trust, people will talk about it, confront it and be real enough to address why the process isn’t working. In a low trust culture, nobody has the courage to say the strategy is dated, obsolete or not inclusive enough.


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