Trust is an active choice; one which some companies often underestimate as they don’t realize the value of a culture based on trust, and that can have both ethical and commercial consequences.
This year, I spent my summer holiday in Vietnam where I stayed in Hanoi. A few times I experienced some of the locals trying to cheat me. They asked for more dollars than we had agreed on or gave me less change in Vietnamese đồng.
Suddenly, I found myself generalizing and assuming that everyone in Hanoi might be trying to trick me. With that mindset I also assumed that a taxi driver at one point gave me too little change. It turned out that he was right and I was wrong, and at that point I realized that not everyone was out to cheat me. People differ – no matter where you are in the world.
My dad has always been inspired by Warren Buffett and would therefore often quote him. Warren Buffett once said: “Honesty is a very expensive gift. Don’t expect it from cheap people.” Honesty, and hence also trust, are not things you come by easily, nor are they human qualities that should be taken for granted. Trust is fragile. It is built up over time and is something we earn by proving it repeatedly through honest deeds.
Trust can easily be replaced by mistrust and generalizations. It is, however, important to keep in mind that some people are honest and trustworthy, and some are the opposite. Others find themselves somewhere in between, which can lead to mistrust.
Thus, generalizations may affect our ability to notice genuinely honest actions that are those “very expensive gifts” Warren Buffett refers to in his quote.
In management, trust plays a decisive if not paramount role, which should be a personal goal for all leaders. Trust should be a foundational principle of any relation; in your role as a leader, in relation to close colleagues, internal and external business partners and to serve the company’s interests.
Every day you make an active choice as a leader and a company in regards to approaching trust and the dilemmas that naturally follow.
A healthy business culture therefore means deciding on the kind of culture you want and which leaders represent its best; both internally and in relation to future employees as well as existing and potential customers.
Trust is an active choice that companies can support by keeping the promises they make to their employees and customers instead of saying one thing and doing another.
Not all companies are aware of the full spectrum of consequences that a breach of trust can have and therefore don’t realize the value of a culture based on trust. Thus, short-term thinking focused solely on profit risks compromising the trust within an organisation.
It can also have further commercial and ethical consequences for those companies that may end up not knowing which direction to take – especially if they risk losing the employees who master the “expensive gift” that honesty is, as they don’t thrive in companies that breach their trust. This means they may have to be replaced with so-called “cheap people,” who often can’t distinguish between being honest and dishonest.
Founder of the Global Voices project. Belongingness officer and an experienced People Executive.