Trust

Culture  Leadership
26 January, 2015

Put turf wars aside and kickstart the cycle of trust

Today we are celebrating Republic Day in India. For our colleagues in other geographies, this is the anniversary when the Constitution of India was officially adopted, making India a democratic and secular country.

Godrej, as you know, has a rich history, closely intertwined with the evolution of India. And through this 117-year journey, what hasn’t changed is the fact that in India, Godrej is synonymous with ‘trust’. This is, by far, what we hold most dear to us as a company. We take much pride in saying that over 600 million Indian consumers use at least one Godrej product on a daily basis – a reflection of the great trust that our consumers place in us. This is what inspires us to keep innovating, to be able to offer more superior quality, world class products; a drive that we have taken to our businesses outside India as well.

And so, drawing on this, I want to write today about trust. As leaders, what can each of us do better to inspire and foster greater trust with our teams and among each other?

If I were to ask you about how much your team members or your peers trust you, I would probably get a nonplussed look. Chances are that you say – of course they trust me. But think honestly about it – have you really thought about how trustworthy you actually are? My guess is that since this an uncomfortable area, you have not really introspected on it. Reflect on your recent 360 degree feedback. How have your peers rated you? What is the feedback on how well you foster collaboration? How often do people in the organisation seek your input? What is the feedback on how you are viewed as a mentor? Do people feel that you give honest and clear feedback regularly? Are you viewed as someone who shares credit willingly? Your ratings on some of these behaviours will give you pointers on how trustworthy you may be or allude to areas where there may be a trust deficit.

What complicates the issue of trust is that most of us assume that just because we have a certain title or that we are in a position of authority, that people automatically trust us. That is a dangerous assumption. Your team members may do what they are asked to do because they report to you; but that does not mean that they fully trust you. And if there is not complete trust, then they won’t give their best.

Therefore, nurturing a strong culture of trust is imperative for our success as a company. If each of us can become more trustworthy, it will reflect in our team members feeling more valued, engaged and inspired.

We will be able to build and support an environment which encourages collaboration. Trust can be a huge differentiator for us; a real competitive advantage. But that is only if we, as a leadership team, can inspire and foster this. Trust truly is the foundation of what you do as a leader.

To borrow from Stephen Covey, “Leadership is about getting results in a way that inspires trust”.

Why is this so?

1. It starts with trust

Trust is the base of every relationship. At the heart of it, our leadership journeys are also the journeys of relationships. And you simply have to invest in building trust in order to make them work.

2. You can’t do it on your own

As you grow as a leader, you will need to find ways to expand your span of control. While you may have been able to get by in the past by figuring out how to pull it off on your own, in order to navigate and manage scale, you need to be able to let go. Take our own company for example – we now have close to half our revenues coming from our businesses outside India and over two-thirds of our team members are based in these geographies. If we are to deliver a successful performance, then we will need to come together and work across boundaries, to make it happen.

3. The cycle

The tricky part about earning trust is that you won’t be trusted unless you start trusting and showing it. Is it a risk? Yes, of course, because it means letting go and believing that the other person will trust you in return. But if it works, you will be able to kickstart a cycle of trust.

Here is the worrying part. Distrust works in exactly the same way. If you show a lack of trust in someone, it will inspire the same response in them. Think about it. How often have you seen this happen? When you or your team members aren’t willing to let go and trust each other enough to share ideas, information or even feedback? Distrust can only fuel more reservations and lead to a no-win situation. Everyone is so busy protecting their own turf and priorities, that we all lose out. At an individual level, it breaks morale and hampers performance, both for you and the other people involved. It also impacts what we hope to achieve as a collective whole for our company.

Covey has an interesting take on this. He says that when trust is low, in a company or in a relationship, it places a hidden ‘tax’ on every transaction: every communication, every interaction, every strategy, every decision is taxed, bringing speed down and sending costs up. Significant distrust doubles the cost of doing business and triples the time it takes to get things done.

In contrast, individuals and companies that have earned and operate with high trust, experience the opposite of a tax; a ‘dividend’ of sorts, acts like a performance multiplier, enabling them to succeed in their communications, interactions, and decisions, and to move with incredible speed. Many studies have shown that high trust companies clearly outperform low trust companies.

4. We go first

As a leadership team, one of our most important objectives is to build, foster and inspire trust. And walk the talk on it. Our behaviour sends very strong signals to our team members on what is and isn’t acceptable, and we need to take complete ownership of this.

To inspire trust, you have to consciously and actively work on being more trustworthy. You need to keep on doing the right things to earn the trust of your team and to build trust with your colleagues.

How do you ensure that others trust you more and how can you get better at trusting others?

You have to ask yourself the uncomfortable questions – Why should others trust you? Why do you deserve their trust? And how will you sustain it?

Remember that you have to EARN the trust of your team members. Just because you may be the boss, don’t assume that people will trust you. Don’t confuse authority with trust. Your team needs to believe that you are doing the right things in the best interests – of the company and for your team members. If people view you as a self-optimiser, then they are not going to trust you. You need to be viewed as trustworthy – someone they can truly believe in.

With your colleagues, too, remember that if you want to influence others, then they should be willing to be influenced by you. And this willingness stems from trust. You have create the right climate for this to happen. You have to BUILD trust.

In my previous company, trust was expressed simply as “A Bain partner never lets a fellow partner down”. And that meant that if a colleague needed something, we would prioritise that over anything else. This simple concept guided everyone’s behaviour and actions.

Here are 10 tips to consider on how you can become more trustworthy:

  1. Be credible. People are not going to trust you just because you have a certain title. You have to add value and be competent. You have to live up to what you commit. Trust starts with delivering what you promise and being 100/0.
  2. Be open, transparent and fair. Explain the rationale of your decisions. Don’t sugarcoat tough messages.
  3. Understand the needs and motivations of others. Spend time getting to know them. Build genuine connections and relationships. Show that you really care. You need to create the right environment for people to trust you.
  4. Be consistent. Don’t say one thing and do another.
  5. Be authentic. Walk the talk. Keep your word.
  6. Don’t micromanage. Learn to let go. Be clear about accountabilities and deliverables.
  7. Watch your team members’ backs. Don’t throw them under the bus when the going gets tough.
  8. Don’t badmouth people. Don’t play blame games. Take responsibility for your actions. Have the courage to acknowledge your mistakes and learn from them.
  9. Don’t hog credit. Acknowledge the contributions of others.
  10. Share information. Don’t withhold things from your colleagues.

When you get the chance, do watch this great talk by ethnographer and leadership expert, Simon Sinek. It has some great insights on how to inspire trust:

If we really are to champion trust at Godrej, then we need to make it non-negotiable, especially when it comes to the culture that we foster. It is imperative for us as senior leaders to make a serious commitment to being role models, inspiring trust in our teams and across our company.

I strongly urge you to take this up seriously and let’s make a real change. If you have any ideas on what we could do to make this more effective, do share them.

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