Developing trust in any environment is key for success. Trust is so central to our lives that we take it for granted, like breathing air. We may see ourselves as trustworthy, but that does not count. We have to be seen to be trustworthy by all partners, colleagues, and executives. Being in a position of authority does not automatically mean that we will be trusted. Some people in authority are trusted, others are not, as can be seen from public attitudes to diﬀerent professions. Within the workplace, trust is essential. Policy manuals and management methodologies cannot legislate for trust. The most inﬂuential managers tend to be the most trusted: people are prepared to work with people they trust, not with people they don't trust.
Building trust in relationships with customers, team members, and stakeholders is an essential skill for all members of a team. Trust is earned primarily by doing what you say you will do. Follow-through is absolutely critical to building relationships. Trust has to be earned, not claimed. A short example shows how untrustworthy we sound when we claim to be trustworthy. If you heard someone saying this, how much would you trust them?: "Look, Emily, I'm a great manager, I'm the best… Of course I'm very honest and I'm not lying, I always manage my team members very well…"
Are you superhero? Probably not. You can hear trust and credibility evaporating like dew in the desert as these words are said. Trust is something every manager can acquire, with eﬀort. Trust is the function of four elements:
- Sharing common values
- Risk and opportunity
Trust is built one person at a time. To build trust we need to know how to manage those elements.
Sharing Common Values
The more we share common values, perceptions, and priorities with someone else, the more we are likely to trust them. If two people share the same pastimes, faith, political outlook, education, or experiences, then they are more likely to trust each other. Most managers prefer to work with people with whom there is the minimum chance of misunderstanding. The ﬁrst step in building values alignment is to listen. Listening sympathetically allows the speaker to believe that you respect their worldview. It also allows you to discover what that worldview is. Even if there is much you dislike or disagree with, you should be able to ﬁnd some areas of common ground.
Focus the conversation on areas of agreement, not disagreement. Even if the only area of agreement is about your favorite ﬁlms or sports, that is a start in the right direction. Let me share with you the following story: Some months ago a professional proposed a business collaboration. I had a very small company and he was a freelancer. Initially I was interested because I have the trend of listening to anybody's proposal. However, as soon as we progressed in our conversations I felt like he valued himself much more than my company and me. I had two more face-to-face meetings with him, but at the end he sent me a draft contract with very uncomfortable clauses for me and my company. His values were diﬀerent. We were not able to ﬁnd any common value between us.
Not everybody has the same values. But if we want to be a person of inﬂuence we need to, at least, respect other people's values. Showing interest and even admiration for someone else's values is always helpful to build trust. Respect shows that you are not going to attack or belittle someone for who they are and what they do. And there is always something good to ﬁnd in anyone. If you can share the same values, or show respect for other people's values, you have made a start in building trust.
Every manager must cultivate not only hard but also soft skills to be successful. Most soft skills are linked to people's attitudes and behaviors. One of the lessons I learned is that organizations need managers who are honest and competent and can also inspire people. For example: Recently I was involved in a project whose objective was to move one organization from functional to project oriented. I found many resistors from the customer organization and only a few believers. I tried to act honestly with all of them and in many meetings I said, "This change is diﬃcult but not impossible." Today is a good day is my principle. Everything can be changed in the project environment. Also I was very disciplined and always did what I promised. I agreed with my customer to present a project status report every Friday at 10:00 a.m. and I did. If I planned to meet somebody at a determined date, I did. I promised to escalate an issue to top management and I did. I needed to keep on my credibility.
Credibility is built through a set of little details achieved during the project. We must learn from the results and reﬁne our actions. That means credibility. Project management credibility has to do with reputation. Credibility is something that is earned over time. It does not come automatically with the job or the title. It begins early in our lives and careers. A credibility foundation is built step by step during our professional career path. And as each step is achieved, the foundation of the future is gradually built. Credibility can be deﬁned as the behavioral evidence that is used to judge whether a leader is believable. The most frequent should be they do what they say they will do or they practice what they preach; they walk the talk (Randall L. Englund, "Demonstrating Authenticity and Integrity," PM Network). The credible manager learns how to discover and communicate the shared values and visions that can form a common ground on which all can stand. Credible leaders ﬁnd harmony among the diverse interests, points of view, and beliefs. Upon a strong, uniﬁed foundation, leaders and teams can act consistently with spirit and drive to build viable projects.
As a manager practitioner I suggest some ideas to strengthen your credibility:
- Exploring yourselfExplore your inner territory. Look into the mirror and ask yourself questions like: Who are you? What do you believe in? What do you stand for? To be credible as a manager, you must clarify your own values and beliefs. Once clear on your own values, translate them into a set of guiding principles that you communicate to the team you want to lead.
- Be sensitive with team membersUnderstand that your own leadership philosophy is only the beginning. To be a leader, you must also develop a deep understanding of the values and desires of your team members. Listen to them. Leadership is a relationship and you will only be able to build that relationship on mutual understanding and respect. Team members come to believe in their leaders, to see them as worthy of their trust, when they believe that the leaders have their best interests at heart.
- Conﬁrming shared valueCredible leaders honor the diversity of team members. They also ﬁnd a common ground for agreement on which everyone can stand. They bring people together and join them for a cause. Leaders show others how everyone's individual values and interests can be served by coming to consensus on a set of common values. Conﬁrm a core of shared values passionately and speak enthusiastically on behalf of the project.
- Developing capacityIt is essential for managers to develop continuously the capacity of their members to keep their commitments. Assure that educational opportunities exist for individuals to build their knowledge and skill.
- Serving a purposeLeadership is a service. Project leaders serve a purpose for their people who have made it possible for them to lead: their teams.
- Sustaining hopeCredible leaders keep hope alive. Teams need a positive attitude from their leaders in troubling times of transition. Optimists are proactive and behave in ways that promote health and combat illness. People with high hope are also high achievers.
Team members expect their leaders to have the courage of their convictions. They expect them to stand up for their beliefs. If leaders are not clear about what they believe in, they are much more likely to change positions with every fad or opinion poll. Without core beliefs and with only shifting positions leaders would be judged as inconsistent and be derided for being political in their behavior.
Managers are expected to be successful and achieve good results. Credibility is a condition for success that must be earned day by day. Walk the talk.
Risk and Opportunity
Risk is the rust in trust. It is corrosive of our ability to trust people. The higher the risk, the less inclined we are to trust strangers. Unless we wish to achieve great poverty, we are unlikely to trust a stranger with our life savings.
Risks abound and managers must make decisions every day where the outcome matters but where the conditions surrounding the decision are more or less uncertain. Faced with these circumstances, most managers have developed habits and strategies to deal with risk for much of the time. It is only in the presence of an unusual risk that people may be conscious of the need to make a choice.
The management of these uncertain situations that matter, also known as risk management, is a discipline in its own right. It has an
established role in business, and is applied at a wide range of levels, including management of strategic risk; corporate governance; operational risk; project risk; and health, safety, and the environment. However, risk management is not just important for projects and business. There is increasing interest in the application of eﬀective risk management in society at large, and there is a urgent need for people to embrace appropriate risk taking, both individually and in their working and social groups, supported by government and wider society.
By deﬁning risk simply as uncertainty that matters, it is clear that knowing how to take appropriate risks in any particular situation requires an understanding of two things: the sources and nature of uncertainty, and the degree to which something matters. It is also clear that diﬀerent things matter to diﬀerent people to a diﬀerent extent in diﬀerent circumstances. As a result, a risk perceived by one person or group as requiring urgent attention may be perceived by others as normal and not worthy of their time.
The perception of risk is not absolute, either present or absent, but is situational and highly dependent on a number of contextual factors. It is this situational aspect of risk that makes the subject of decision making in uncertain situations both fascinating and important.
Taking appropriate risks requires an underlying understanding of the nature of the challenge. On one hand, managing risk can be seen as a rational and logical process requiring a grasp of factual historical evidence combined with mathematical assessments of the likelihood of the uncertain event occurring. It is, however, equally true that managing risk involves the deepest workings of the human brain, as the decisions people make are inﬂuenced by a complex interplay of conscious and subconscious factors. This is why one essential component of appropriate risk taking is an understanding of risk attitude as it applies to individuals and to decision-making groups.
Talking about risk leads many people to think only about threats, that is, those uncertainties that should they occur would result in an undesirable outcome. However, contemporary management thinking and practice treats risk in a more balanced way. An uncertain set of circumstances could equally lead to positive outcomes, allowing the deﬁnition of risk to encompass both opportunities and threats. This double-sided concept of risk is particularly important in the context of
eﬀective decision making, because most decisions need to balance the exploitation or enhancement of hoped-for positive outcomes with the avoidance or mitigation of unwelcome negative ones.
Deciding whether to seize a business opportunity to launch a new product onto the market before the competition needs to be balanced against the threats to the company's reputation if the new product is not trouble free. Although each decision is unique, there are no risk-free options. Moreover, zero risk is not only unachievable, it is also undesirable. Failing to take risk would stiﬂe growth and limit improvement. Appropriate risk-taking promotes competitive advantage and stimulates innovation and creativity. Decision making in a world that is full of "uncertainty that matters" needs to ﬁnd an optimal balance of threats and opportunities.
The inﬂuential manager will learn to separate rational from emotional responses. Truly logical risks have a pattern all their own:
- They will not be a surpriseThe more creative and unexpected the challenge, the more likely it is to be a rational objection hiding an emotional fear.
- They will be presented positively"How do we deal with …" rather than "It's impossible because …"
- They lead to a discussion of solutions.
- They come in small doses rather than vast set of objections.
Logical risks can be dealt with logically. Emotional risks need to be dealt with emotionally.
The opposite of values of intimacy and credibility is distance. The greater the distance is between two people, the less likely they are to trust each other. I found several types of distance:
- Distance between what we say and what we mean
- Distance between what we say and what is heard
- Distance between your interests and my interests
- Distance between my background, experience, and values and yours
What We Say and What We Mean
The business world uses words to avoid saying it straight. I would like to share with you some of the most diﬃcult words in business:
- JustThis is used to make a huge request or error seem trivial as in: "Could you just do a complete project report (all lessons learned from a two-years-long project) by Monday?" It is a request best made late on a Friday evening.
- ButRemember, whatever is said before but. "That was a great presentation, but …" or "I would like to help, but …"
- FromMuch used by advertisers, as in "Internet broadband connection from $15 per month for six months before the price jumps …" When you hear from be worried for your wallet.
- MightIt is used to achieve two things: ﬁrst it sets up a negotiating position as in, "I might be able to do that if …" Second, it lays the groundwork for excusing failure later on: "I would have done it, if only …"
- OnlyClosely related to just, it is an attempt to make a big request or problem seems small. "It was only a small error…" "We only dropped one nuclear bomb over New York …"
- Important (and urgent)Used to puﬀ up any presentation: "This important new project …" Important to whom?
- StrategicImportant, with bells on. Alternately used to justify something that has no ﬁnancial justiﬁcation at all.
- Right size, downsize, best shore, oﬀshore, outsource, optimizeDiﬀerent forms of saying that there are going to be layoﬀs.
- Thank youThis is positive, except for automated voices from call centers.
- InterestingFear this word. "The recession is certainly interesting."
- OpportunityIn business, all problems have become opportunities.
- InvestmentSpending is bad, but investment is good. .
There is some good news in this. The more that jargon and weasel words become endemic, the less managers are trusted. This creates space for managers who used plain words and say what they mean to stand out from the rest of the pack. Sometimes, the art of inﬂuence is not too sophisticated. Do the basics right and you will see the diﬀerence.
What We Say and What Is Heard
Most of us do not set out to be dishonest. But we can inadvertently set expectations that we cannot meet, as shown in the section on credibility. The problem is not what we say; it is what our colleagues decide to hear. If in doubt, over communicate. Based on my experience as a manager implementing methodologies in organizations, I developed the following rules to cope with that problem. My rationale is as follows:
- First timeStatement not heard amid the noise of other messages.
- Second timeStatement heard but ignored.
- Third timeStatement heard but not really believed.
- Fourth timeStatement heard, believed, and not acted on.
- Fifth timeSomething might actually be done.
Besides repetition, consistency and accuracy are essential. Assume that people hear what they want to hear. They will misinterpret what you say to minimize the downside and maximize the upside. If you say something diﬀerently ﬁve times, they will hear whichever version they want to hear. If you are consistent, there is only one message they can hear.
My Interests and Your Interests
We need to show that we understand, respect, and if necessary adapt to the needs of other people. If all we ever do is to chase our own interests, then few people will feel the need to trust us. Organizations are designed around competing and conﬂicting interests. Each function and department has a diﬀerent set of priorities and perspectives.
My Background and Your Background
I ﬁnd it far easier to deal with managers, because I think I understand such people. Diversity sounds good in politicians' speeches, but even they do not practice it. The vast majority chooses to live in single-race marriages: daytime diversity leads to sunset segregation.
Even in organizations with a strong conformist culture, diﬀerent people are … diﬀerent. Age alone is a great diversiﬁer in everything from personal priorities, experience, and taste in music. Asking a 60-year-old and a 20-year-old to listen to each other's music is normally a recipe for pain and disbelief.
The easiest way to reduce the background gap is to listen actively. Even if you do not share their worldview, by listening you show you respect them. You also learn about them and can ﬁnd a few areas in common: build on what is common, not on what is diﬀerent.
Trust is invisible. Trust needs to be earned, not claimed. It is the invisible force behind the invisible hand of inﬂuence. It has to be invisible. The more you openly talk about trust, the less trustworthy you seem. Some people carry the aura of trust around them; others do not. But there is no mystery to this aura. Sharing common values is essential to trust one another. Every manager needs to develop credibility. Credibility is built through a set of little details. Team members expect their leaders to have the courage of their convictions. Values, intimacy, and credibility build trust; risk and distance weaken trust. Trust is an absolute vital part of management. Trust is something that takes conscious eﬀort to nurture and grow with your professional relationships. Why is it so important? Following are a few reasons.
- People do business with people they trustYou are not going to do business with somebody you do not like or trust. The reverse is true as well. You will do business with someone you like and trust. This principle applies whether it's an internal colleague at your company or a potential client. People must have conﬁdence that you will deliver on your commitments. Recently, I experienced the power of trust in a relationship. I needed to outsource some information technology work for our company. It wasn't a complicated job, but I wanted it to be done right. I knew exactly who to hire, someone I had known for a number of years. I liked their style, knew what they had done for others, and had complete trust in what they would do for me. There was only one catch: Their company policy required up-front payment; undoubtedly a result of having been burned multiple times in the past. It goes against every ﬁber of my being to pay for work up front, but in this case it didn't seem to matter. I knew the reason for the policy and that they would do the work. It was this high level of trust that enabled them to get my business, and do an outstanding job, by the way. That's the type of trust you need to apply in your relationships. A high level of trust will allow you to move seemingly unmovable mountains.
- Builds bridges between now and laterHow many times have you asked someone to trust you? It may be an individual concerned about his or her future with the company. Or, it may be an entire team uncertain of the future of the project it has been assigned. You may have a vision of the future that they do not. Bridging that gap is another area where the application of trust can come into play. You need people to have enough conﬁdence and trust in you that they can bridge the gap between current and future circumstances. Your goal as a manager is to have your team follow you wherever you go. They may not totally understand the direction you are taking, and may even question it. But they will ultimately follow even if they are not quite sure where you are going.
- Gives you a sense of prideHaving trust across your team also gives you a sense of pride. It's a good feeling to look in the mirror and know that you make the right, albeit tough, decisions that are for the greater good of everyone. Actions speak louder than words and your team will pick up on your ability to make trustworthy decisions no matter how big or how small they may be. Trust breeds loyalty within the team and engenders respect for you. Being trusted is one of the most valuable attributes you can have as a manager, so do not take it for granted.
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