Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Trust Isn't About Keeping Score

Image courtesy of Pixabay
How is low trust impacting your organization? Your business results?

I've written about trust at least a dozen times in the past. In response to my recent post, A Culture of Distrust, Richard Fagerlin reached out to me about his book Trustology: The Art and Science of Leading High-Trust Teams. He wanted to get my thoughts on his stance on trust.

The book is about employee engagement through trust relationships, or in a nutshell, building a culture of trust. It's a fast read, but make no mistake, it's packed with a lot of practical ideas that you can put to work today.

A few things resonated with me, but this was probably one of my favorites: Trust isn't what we "do" - it's what results from what we do.

I've written that trust is earned and that it's a two-way street: you choose to trust the other party, and they choose to trust you back. And vice versa. And I've said to trust until you have a reason not to trust (or to be trusted).

Richard takes an interesting approach and says that trust cannot be earned; it can only be given - that it is the responsibility of the person who wants to be trusted. He likens earning trust to keeping score; you get points for certain behaviors and lose points for other, less desirable actions. Earning trust is about control and constantly being evaluated. That doesn't sound like a trust or trusting relationship, does it?

Instead, trust keeps no record of wrongs. Richard says to stop keeping score, stop tracking the good and the bad. Trust is not risk-free, but its strength is based on mutual vulnerability. That statement is powerful, and I agree that that mutual vulnerability is the basis of trust.

So let me step back a minute and look at how Richard defines trust: confidence in others. In his chapter on The Trust Model, he further defines trust as confidence in the other person...
  • doing what they say they will do (integrity)
  • having the knowledge and skills to perform the job (competence)
  • having your best interests at heart (compassion)
Trust is strong when confidence in all three exists. He says that confidence equals predictability. And predictability is so important.

In those previous posts I'd written about trust, I attributed things like integrity, consistency, honesty, and predictability to trust and as drivers of trust. I have said in the past that predictability begets trust. So it sounds like we might just be in agreement.

In the book, Richard provides two trust assessments: one for teams and another for individuals. He then follows those up with tips and guidelines on how to fill the trust gap, which is defined as: the difference between where you would like to be as a team and where you are right now; the root problems that keep you from functioning as a high-trust, high-performance team. Here are a few examples of gaps he identifies in his three components of trust.

Gaps in integrity include:
Gaps in competence include:
  • unwillingness to share information or expertise with associates
  • a skill and knowledge gap that slows down the rest of the team
  • frequently failing to meet goals and objectives
Gaps in compassion include:
Once the gaps have been identified, the team must agree on them and then own them. As Richard says, the gaps are OK; it's doing nothing about them that is not OK.

As you can see, there are a lot of great nuggets in this book to help you develop high-trust, high-performing teams. I've only scraped the surface with this post, but it's definitely worth reading to get some ideas on how to identify and resolve trust gaps within your organization.

The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them. -Ernest Hemingway


  1. Hi Annette,
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on trust and Richard's book.

    Two things occurred to me when I read your post:
    1. Could we replace the word 'trust' with 'respect' in this context and do the same rules apply? and
    2. Whilst I know that Richard's ideas are focused on teams and leadership, I wonder how these ideas apply to how firms approach and deal with their customers.


    1. Hmmm, good questions. For #1, yes, I believe so. For #2, I think there's absolutely value in applying his principles to customer experience, too.

    2. Adrian you pose two great questions. First off, I think that Annette has done a fantastic job of summarizing my book, especially as it applies to the customer experience. The quick answer to your first question is yes. Trust and respect have a great connection. Especially if you look at both as outcomes or even as actions. I don't know that they are synonymous but certainly you can't have one without the other. If you filter Trust as your confidence then respect is also a measure of confidence. Think of your customers confidence in the integrity, competence or compassion of your firm. Great respect in each of these areas or great confidence in these areas is going to equal to trust.

  2. Interesting post Annette. It reminds me of the quote:

    Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted ~ Albert Einstein

    Can you measure trust?

    1. Yup, great quote. I think you can measure trust... although it seems like an all or nothing metric. If you half trust someone, that's not really trusting them, is it?

    2. I'm no Einstein - but I agree with him here. Trust in a sort can in fact be measured but it's a measure that you must have a high degree of "trust" in those measuring it. Instead of looking at measuring trust (either you have it or you don't) look at measuring the degree of your confidence. Confidence in another's integrity, competence and compassion. If you see these as intersecting circles on a venn diagram, where they overlap, is your TRUST FACTOR. If I am having a hard time trusting someone it may not be that I don't trust them but that I have low confidence in their integrity. I may not see that they have high competence or that they lack compassion. If you look at trust through this filter, you will have a better time identifying areas of low confidence and therefore focus on improving or addressing these areas.

      It's a mindset shift and one that requires you to exercise ownership for your role in the relationship. I like to say that you can only be responsible for the side of the relationship that you are on.

      I hope this helps.