Anyone who has heard me speak or worked with me in a consulting capacity knows how much I talk about the transformational impact of technology and how it’s advancing at an exponentially faster rate than ever before.

That’s certainly true. But there’s another theme I always address: All the technology in the world is secondary to good relationships between people. And positive, constructive, collaborative relationships boil down to a single common denominator—trust.

Here’s how to elevate trust—from both the inside-out and the outside-in.

The Importance of Trust

Trust isn’t some sort of feel-good idea that exists somewhere in the ether. Research has actually documented how important trust is to the effective functioning of any group or organization. Researchers at Michigan State University have categorized trust as a “transactional” dynamic that provides a broad foundation for effective relationships and work results. To that end, many companies cite trust on their list of important organizational values.

The value of trust becomes particularly obvious when it’s been compromised in some manner. Let’s say a company cuts back on a terrific health insurance program it’s offered for years. As a result, many employees feel that leadership has reneged on a key promise. Morale plummets. The same can hold true externally, such as a company that alienates customers by changing its privacy policy.

Just as important, it’s hard to regain trust once it’s been compromised. Suppose the organization we’re talking about reinstates its health care program or discontinues the sale of customer information. Even though things are back to the way they were, a seed of mistrust has nonetheless been planted.

Every brand has a brand promise, even if it is not stated in writing. In a way, the brand promise is the brand. I know what to expect from McDonald’s, Hyatt and Amazon. If you undermine trust, you undermine your brand.

The Value of Anticipatory Thinking and Elevating Trust

In my latest book, The Anticipatory Organization, I illustrate the importance of anticipatory thinking and actions that go beyond reacting \ after a problem occurs (agility) and helps solve problems before they have a chance to occur. Nowhere might that strategy be more valuable than in anticipating the effect of certain actions and decisions on the level of trust.

It’s a fairly straightforward process. Prior to making any sort of significant change or implementing a new policy, first, consider the level of trust you have with the people who stand to be affected by those decisions. Then, think about the ramifications on trust—will the trust level be enhanced by that change, will it be compromised or will it remain roughly the same?

If trust stands to improve, that’s a powerful rationale for moving forward. Even if trust stays where it is, that is sufficient evidence that the decision makes sense. On the other hand, if trust stands to suffer, you should give serious thought to how you implement any changes so that trust remains constant, or better yet, is elevated.

Elevating Trust: Its Value Cannot Be Overstated

Any core organizational value or policy that’s of genuine, long-lasting benefit takes time to put into place and maintain. The same holds true for trust.

Trust doesn’t just appear out of thin air. It has to be earned. That means conscious, ongoing attention to the three core components that build trust: honesty, integrity and delivering on the promises you make to both those within your organization and those on the outside.

To that end, here are a few final thoughts that can help build a pervasive environment of trust:

  • Be as Transparent as Possible. An environment of trust that exists within the confines of secretive leadership is a contradiction in terms. Understand what employees need to know and keep them informed. Trust is undermined when you are impacted by a change that you didn’t see coming. The majority of those changes that seemed to come out of the blue could have been anticipated ahead of time.
  • Understand that Mistakes Will Happen. With innovation comes the inevitably of mistakes and outright failure. Rather than criticizing mistakes or treating them as counterproductive missteps, accept them as a constructive part of the innovation process. That strengthens the sense that an organization’s leadership trusts its people to learn from mistakes and continue to move forward.
  • Be Consistent. Trust that’s here today only to be compromised tomorrow can hardly be called trust. To that end, make it clear in your mind what trust means to you and your organization and, from there, act on it as consistently as possible every day.

In another blog I wrote several years back, I made the point that trust

will shape your company’s future. If anything, I’m more convinced of that than ever. An environment of trust forms the basis for everything you and your organization wish to achieve, be that financial, social or some other objective. Without trust, progress toward important objectives will become hindered, if not impossible.

Does your organization have a problem with trust? If so, did you know there are business strategies for improving it?