Let’s reboot work – building trust in an age of uncertainty

What’s the most important ingredient in a successful company? Is it the people, the culture, or the product? My view is it’s something deeper.

It’s a factor fundamental to making all of those things function: trust.

Good decision making needs trust

Trust is the catalyst for almost everything a business needs to do to adapt and thrive in a world of uncertainty, where the old-fashioned, hierarchical way of running companies no longer holds water. It can no longer be the case that edicts get passed down from the boardroom and put into action by the business as a whole.

Instead you need a company that’s decentralised, experiment-driven and reliant on having people make decisions at all levels. It has to be the people closest to customers that create change and decide what happens next, within the framework set at a strategic level by the leadership.

But it’s no good trying to run a company on this basis unless you have trust. You can’t micromanage a culture of experimentation and empowerment. People need to be trusted to make the right decisions (and if you don’t trust someone, then you probably need to ask whether they were the right hire in the first place).

So trust needs to flow downwards from a company’s leadership, but it also needs to exist laterally, between people and teams within the business. One of the worst problems you can have as a leader is when people in a business don’t trust each other.

Often this won’t be raised directly, but through a proxy issue like working hours. But the net effect is just as corrosive. People who don’t trust each other can never work together.

Leaders should take the time to build trust

For any leader or manager, one of the most important things you can do is make a conscious effort to build trust. This doesn’t have to be about jumping out of aeroplanes and sky-diving together. It can be relatively simple things, like showing it’s alright to admit fault, and that the business will be supportive and not critical.

At Simply Business, we have meetings where most of the team will get together to discuss the progress of on-going projects. Often the most important part of these is when someone steps forward to admit that a problem has arisen, or that they got something wrong. That’s important, because it means we can get everyone focused on solving the problem. And you only get to that point if there’s enough trust for people to feel comfortable in admitting fault.

Trust equips us to handle problems

People can have an antipathy to showing vulnerability in the work environment, but when they are willing to do so, you know a culture of mutual trust and support is there. So while I always like to hear that things are going well, I’m equally happy to be told that mistakes have been made and experiments have failed, as long as it’s accompanied by an assessment of what we’ve learned and decided to do as a result.

Problems arise all the time in any business, however well run. The important thing is how you respond to them collectively. And that’s where trust is the difference between a company that falls over hurdles, and one that vaults them by involving the right people.

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