Posted: 08 Jun. 2020 6 min.

Why trust is the glue of society

Topic: Resilient Leadership

America is torn with racial tensions. Economies around the world are suffering because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even in Scandinavia, people are fiercely debating when and how to re-open society. In the midst of all these pressures and opposing views, there are certainly things we can learn about trust.

Trust is very, very close to my heart. For me, trust is not a nice-to-have or something you can apply or not whether it fits your purpose; it is the very foundation of human interaction.

In this time of global crisis and immense tensions, trust is more important than ever.

 

Research shows that the presence of trust brings a wellspring of positive outcomes: Communities with a strong sense of trust are better able to respond to crises. Trust is associated with stronger economic growth, increased innovation, greater stability and better health outcomes. This also means that lack of trust can bring about some dangerous situations: weaker economic growth, social volatility and, as we see now, societies dealing with immense challenge. Trust is the connective tissue that binds together everything that we do. We expect institutions, businesses, and other organizations to deliver on their promises and behave responsibly. We expect that we can move around our communities safely, depend upon our relationships, and rely on certain truths.

The dimensions of trust
Some of my American Deloitte colleagues recently wrote a very interesting article about trust, in which they highlight four different types of trust: physical, digital, emotional and financial. 

Read the entire article here.

Each of these dimensions come with their own set of questions and dilemmas: Can we and our stakeholders trust that physical locations are safe? Can we trust that our economic and financial concerns are being served? Can we trust that our information is secure? And very importantly, can we trust that our emotional and societal needs are being safeguarded by organisations, institutions and society at large?

Bringing all of this back to our everyday lives as business leaders and professionals, there are certainly many things in this crisis we cannot control, but there are also many things that are within our sphere of influence: product and service quality, treating employees and our fellow human beings well, commitment to behaving ethically and transparently and infusing our actions in those areas with purpose and integrity.

Being trustworthy involves approaching stakeholders’ needs and concerns across each of the four dimensions of trust in two ways: with competence and intent. Put simply, competence refers to the need to “do it right”: to follow through on what you say you will do in an effective, meaningful, impactful way. Intent refers to the meaning behind our actions: taking decisive action from a place of genuine empathy, transparency, and true care for the difficulties stakeholders are facing. These actions not only fulfil a company’s promise—they also strengthen relationships across all realms of society.

As we all try to find the best ways to move forward in a manner that instils trust in our stakeholders, we can ask ourselves the following questions:

  • Which dimensions matter most to each of our stakeholders right now? What will likely matter to them as we turn the corner from Recover to Thrive?
  • Are we taking this action with the right intent? Does it fit with our organization’s ethos? Does it fit with our personal ethos?
  • Can we competently deliver on what we are promising to our stakeholders?
  • Are we communicating our intentions clearly and transparently even when we don’t know all the answers?
  • How are we monitoring and measuring our progress in addressing stakeholders’ needs across the four dimensions of trust?

Ultimately, it comes down to good old David Maister’s Trust Equation, which so brilliantly tells us in a simple mathematical equation that if we put ourselves first rather than other people, we are essentially compromising all the parameters of our trustworthiness: our credibility, our reliability and the way we make others feel safe.

What all of this tells us is that besides addressing the immediate and short-term challenges of our business, creating trust should be one of the most important items on our agenda right now. We should do so with a vision and purpose grounded in trust – and deliver it competently, openly, honestly, and with clear intent.

If done well, this approach has the potential to accelerate recovery and enable our companies to thrive and shape the future. Times of crisis present an opportunity to lead with trust. Doing so will better prepare us to maintain business continuity, to learn and emerge stronger and to thrive in the next normal. On a much larger scale, it will also help us promote social justice, equal opportunity, trust in institutions and ultimately a society where everyone can live safely and where everyone matters.

More about the author

Martin Søegaard

Martin Søegaard

Partner

Martin is the manager of Deloitte's Danish and Nordic consulting business and has more than 25 years of experience in advising Danish and international companies. Martin is at the forefront of developing a consulting practice across the Nordic region that can assist Danish and international companies on their most complex transformation journeys. This includes a focus on management, the establishment of ecosystems as well as on diversity in professionalism and competence.