Category Archives: Trust

Building Success by Building Trust

By Cindy Vallance

What do surveys about asset management firms and the NHS have to do with the topic of trust?

As outlined in an April 2012 Harvard Business Review blog, more than 100 asset management firms around the world were surveyed for the strength of their cultures and for the effectiveness of their leadership teams. One of the top success factors was that “There is a high level of trust among team members. ”

Those conducting the survey stated “Over time, the team must develop trust by having clear rules of engagement and accountabilities. This trust then allows the team members to move beyond “politically correct” conversation or “politically incorrect” confrontation to fruitful debate and dialogue…leaders show an unusual commitment to getting the trust factor right. Our interpretation of this is that it relates to other surveys of investment professionals which indicate that their top desire for improvement in their firms is to achieve more open communication and debate…these cannot occur in environments with low trust.”

On the other hand, a March 2012 People Management blog reported on the results of a recent NHS survey. Here the results highlighted that “the survey identifies a lack of trust in managers’ abilities which undermines trust and could stall change.”

The comparison of these two surveys reinforce the importance of trust for organisational success. If we reflect on the four aspects of trust highlighted in my last blog: ability, benevolence, integrity and predictability, how can we improve on any that are lacking?

Ability – this aspect of trust is perhaps the most straight forward to rectify, although not necessarily easy. Providing or taking advantage of training and guidance and then identifying specific goals and working towards these over time should improve ability.

Benevolence – to increase benevolence it is critical to get rid of any sense that either party has a hidden agenda and instead highlight areas of common interest and mutual benefit.

Integrity – increasing integrity requires a willingness to engage in open discussion to arrive at common principles and to set boundaries for mutual expectations.

Predictability – only the repeated demonstration of positive behaviours will help others to be confident that what they have seen in the past will be repeated in the present and future.

The reality is that trust and distrust are not opposite ends of the spectrum. The same person can be trusted or distrusted in different areas. I may trust my accountant to get me a good tax rebate but I certainly wouldn’t trust her to perform brain surgery on me. In my next blog, I will discuss different types of trust.

In the meantime, are you currently facing any situations where you could work to improve some aspect of trust?


This post is part of the HBR Insight Center on The Secrets of Great Teams. Do take a look at their other posts for practical team building ideas.




When I say I trust someone, what I mean is…

By Cindy Vallance

While by no means definitive, here are a few possible responses to the question  I asked in my last blog: “When I say I trust someone, what I mean is…”

“I feel that I will not be taken advantage of.”

“I will find in someone’s behaviour what I expect, not what I fear.”

“I believe that the individual I am trusting will consider my interests and my welfare.”

“I know I can rely on their opinions, actions, and integrity.”

How do these answers define the meaning of trust? What they share is the expectation that the other individual’s behaviour, in relation to the respondent, will be positive.

A more formal definition for trust would be be “a willingness to accept vulnerability based on positive expectations of the behaviour or intentions of another individual, irrespective of the ability to monitor or control that other person.”

Coming back to the concept of risk-taking that I mentioned last week, we can see why trust is critical. If we take a risk, we expose our vulnerability because there is always the possibility of failure with risk. Why would we willingly expose our vulnerability to anyone we didn’t consider trust-worthy? When we are dealing with someone we don’t trust, we rightly wonder “If I fail, what will happen to me?”

But when we consider that someone is trust-worthy, what qualities are we looking for? Research* identifies four key characteristics:

ABILITY – competence in meeting our expectations

BENEVOLENCE – positive orientation towards us

INTEGRITY – commitment to commonly accepted principles and  behavioural standards

PREDICTABILITY – consistency of positive behaviours demonstrated over time

It is easy to consider these qualities when we are evaluating others’ behaviour  – and perhaps find them wanting. However, there is much more we can do by starting with ourselves.

Reflect on the four qualities. Ask – Am I demonstrating these qualities so that others will trust me? What evidence do I have that others trust me? What is the basis of that trust?

And what can I do if I believe I could improve in the demonstration of any of these components of trust? I will come back to that next week.

*In addition to research by A.R. Elangovan, also see Hope-Hailey, Veronica, Ros Searle and Graham Dietz. Organisational Effectiveness: How Trust Helps. People Management, March 2012.

Trust and Consequences

By Cindy Vallance

I have been interested in the subject of trust for some time but have struggled to find the best way to discuss it. Who would come to a meeting to discuss trust? Yet trust is in short supply in nearly every strata of society and in nearly every organisation and institution.

Why is trust so important?

In the absence of trust, what do we get? Cynicism – especially towards change, low motivation and commitment, lack of confidence in the organisation, a reluctance to take risks, and an enormous cost in untapped potential and possibility.

It can actually be easier to trust than to distrust, since in practice no one can constantly monitor another’s behaviour. Trust therefore can act as a substitute for control. The trouble is that at this level trust is really no more than indifference.

However, there are many more positive and important reasons to consider the value of trust. In a group or team situation, the presence of trust will improve the group’s cohesion , errors and failures will be better tolerated and ideas, opportunities and problems will all be more readily shared.

Language is important and we all attach different meanings to the same words. Next time I will share some responses to the question below and will discuss some meanings of trust. In the meantime, think about your own response to this question or consider using the Comments section below and share your thoughts.

“When I trust someone, what I mean is … (fill in the blanks) …”

I would like to acknowledge that this series on trust is based very much on my own learning from Professor A.R. Elangovan, Associate Dean and Director, Peter B. Gustavson School of Business, University of Victoria, Canada who generously shared his research interests on this topic when I was a student there and who truly walks the talk of what he teaches.


Betrayal of Trust in Organizations, A. R. Elangovan and Debra L. Shapiro The Academy of Management Review, Vol. 23, No. 3 (Jul., 1998), pp. 547-566 Published by: Academy of Management.


Trust – A Foundation for Change

By Cindy Vallance

Recently in our Change Academy blogs we have discussed principles that inform a thinking environment to foster change, overcoming myths about change, and have shared a range of perspectives on change.

For instance our 26 March blog on management with facts emphasises the importance of  trust which enables us to look at facts together to inform productive discussions.

The reality is that there can be no change without risk. And there can be no appetite for risk-taking without a strong foundation of trust.

Trust has something in common with the weather and motherhood…it is widely talked about and widely assumed to be good for organisations. ” Parke & Miller, 2000.

In the next few blogs, I will discuss why we trust, how we define trust, strategies we can use to build trust, and what we can do if trust has been eroded or broken.

“You must trust and believe in people or life becomes impossible. ” Anton Chekhov