This is a Guest Blog by Jonathan Løw.
Trust has been named as the currency of the future, and for good reason. Without trust, we cannot create and develop sustainable economies and societies. Without trust, our democratic systems, cannot function. And neither can businesses.
According to the PwC insight report from 2018, consumers shop increasingly with brands they trust, requiring that businesses to create new ways to build trust with their customers through transparency, consistency and active engagement. But trust is not something you can buy – it is based on an individual evaluation and feeling: As you read these words, you automatically evaluate whether you feel like you trust the author or this blog as a source? Both answers will influence how you perceive this article’s contents.
In the following you will learn how trust works and how to build trust within your team and with your customers.
How does trust work?
Trust is mutually affirmative: if I show you that I trust you, you will in turn trust me more. Trust can thus be said to be ‘contagious’, and something that ‘is shared’. This fact explains in part why the sharing economy is working so well these days: Airbnb and Uber, for example, are both businesses based on trust.
Through Airbnb a property owner shows trust in me, by inviting me into their home. And this in turn influences my trust perception of them, as shown by Joe Gebbia in their TED talk through a small social experiment:
As shown by AirBnB and Uber both, the success of sharing economy, is dependent on their businesses’ ability to make strangers trust each other. This is supported by what has been called ‘social proximity’. In practice this means that the more close social contact I have with, say, the Uber driver in San Fransisco, the more I will trust him when I climb into the car. Or the more alike I feel the AirBnB host is with myself, the more likely I am to rent out their place.
How to build trust at the workplace?
German sociologist Niklas Luhmann called trust ‘a mechanism for reducing social complexity’ . One practical implication of this is that good management is fundamentally about trust. If your employees don’t trust you, they won’t follow your guidance and instructions. And if your employees don’t trust each other, they will be simply groups, rather than teams.
As humans, we have a fundamental need to feel safe. Even among those of us with an adventurous spirit, you will also find the urge to be a part of something bigger. This could be the family and fellowship at home, or in the workplace and in relation to work colleagues.
British leadership expert Simon Sinek has conducted a number of interesting studies into why some organisations are top performers, while others disintegrate. One of the main conclusions he draws is that it depends very much on the leaders’ ability to build a circle of trust. Sinek calls it the ‘circle of safety’:
Simon Senik’s ‘circle of safety’ refers to the social circle, in which we will fight for each other and for the company. Within this circle we dare to think innovatively, and loyalty is built up, along with the desire to make an extra effort. The circle of trust is paramount, and it is built up over time through actions that underscore a culture in which the sense of community and interdependence is very high.
The circle of trust does not mean that we go around feeling invulnerable and infallible. We are fully aware that there are risks all around us – often in the form of competitors who are trying to take our market share, customers and most talented colleagues. These risks can be substantial and constant. But once the circle has been established and employees find their place in it, we stand together against these competitors and create a much stronger company than we would if each person was simply fighting for their own survival.
This organisational – and in many ways biological – principle thus creates a highly efficient and functional organisation that is able to withstand the constant threats of competitors:
How to develop and inspire trust as leaders?
It is important to remember that on an individual level trust is a feeling. Trust is something that you have to earn, and that develops over time. It can also be broken down again, and requires continual action to be constantly supported and developed. It takes time to build up, and cannot be dictated. But once it exists, it supports behaviour, actions, environment and methods in an extremely beneficial way.
I would therefore like to ask you three questions that you can reflect on to become better at building trust in your team as a leader. It’s my personal experience that when building a company culture and growing your team, these questions become crucial:
- Do you have such a circle of trust in your startup?
- Are all your employees included in it?
- Do you have a culture in which you make sacrifices for each other, or a culture in which you would sacrifice a colleague if it benefits yourself?
You can also explore trust further and grow trust within your team through these resources and readings:
- For listening – The TED Radio Hour on Building and Restoring Trust.
- For gaming – The Evolution of Trust explaining Trust with Game Theory.
- For reading – The Quickest Way to Establish Trust at Your Workplace.