Don’t waste time saying you can be trusted, be trustworthy

How many times have you seen people make the promise “most trusted” or something similar? Trust assertions of one ilk or another litter organisational identities and positioning statements.

Whether trust squats in the purpose statement, lurks in the list of values or makes an appearance on the website’s home page, I can’t seem to escape it. And my first response is usually “if you’ve got to say it…”.

As William McDonough, architect, designer and author of the book Cradle to Cradle noted in his 2005 TED talk, “we can’t exchange value for very long if we don’t trust each other”.

I agree. The whole system of commerce (and civil society, but that’s a more significant discussion) is predicated on trust. It’s so fundamental to all interactions I often refer to it as a universal value because it’s usually present in some degree. Just watch how quickly those things break down when trust and its bedfellows, honesty and integrity, are wholly absent.

To learn more about universal values and how to find your own click here.

So setting aside proclamations of trust, how do organisations become trustworthy? While they are quick to say they can be trusted, the things they need to do for that to be true can be neglected or not even understood.

In his book The Truth about Trust David Desteno reveals:

Two key traits help to determine trustworthiness: competence, whether a person appears informed and experienced, and reliability, whether a person will remain honest and dependable over time.”

Although Desteno is talking about individuals, the traits are also what people, and the organisations they run, need to do to be trustworthy. And if I go back to McDonough’s point about value exchange, what’s important about competence and reliability becomes more readily apparent.

Both of these attributes show up in the exchange between the promises you keep and the experience of your employees, partners or customers. There should be no surprise trustworthiness comes from what you do and how you do them, rather than what you say you will.

Competence, broadly stated, is ensuring you’ve got the necessary things in place (capability, systems, processes, etc.) to keep your promises. Reliability means doing them again and again so people can come to count on you.

A quick glance at business and social media and it feels like there is an epidemic of untrustworthiness. That’s not what I see. I see people and organisations coming in every day and trying to make it work.

This is where ideas like trust become insidious. Not because it’s a bad idea, but because it’s not helpful to becoming more trustworthy. So stop for a moment and consider abandoning the fuzzy “trust” conversation for one laid in the more concrete questions of competence and reliability.

What would change?

See you next week.

Never miss a story: sign up to SmartCompany’s free daily newsletter and find our best stories on TwitterFacebookLinkedIn and Instagram.


Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments