Building and Repairing Trust

In a Nutshell
        Jack Welch says that it is enormously powerful in an organization, and that people will not do their best without it.1  Management guru, Warren Bennis, calls it the major leadership challenge of today and tomorrow. 2  Why is trust so important?  How can managers build trust?
        Interpersonal trust promotes creativity, conflict management, empowerment, teamwork, and leadership during times of uncertainty and change.  A culture of trust is a valuable asset for the organizations that are able to develop it.
        Characteristics of trustworthy managers include integrity, reliability, fairness, caring, openness, competence and loyalty.  Organizational actions and policies that promote a culture of trust include investing in employees, promoting open communication, behaving in an ethical and socially responsible manner and providing a measure of job security.

In This Issue

About the Photo
        New York Giants' quarterback, Kerry Collins, has made great strides in regaining trust.  He was selected in the first round of the NFL draft in 1995 by the Carolina Panthers.  As a college quarterback at Penn State, he had shown great promise and was highly recommended by his college coach, Joe Paterno.  However, Collins had a number of personal problems that undermined his development and soured his relationships with his teammates.  In 1998, the Panthers let Kerry Collins go.  Things began to improve for Collins when he publicly admitted that he had a substance abuse problem and sought treatment.  He was given a chance to play again by the Giants in 1999.  In 2000, Collins led the New York Giants to the Super Bowl.  (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun, file: e-mailed to me from Yahoo! News;

What Trust Is
        Trust is an expectation that another party will not allow you to be harmed at a time when you are vulnerable.  Your willingness to trust another party is affected by your history with that party and your personality.
        To a large degree, trust is a history-dependent phenomenon.  Obviously, we cannot trust strangers as much as we can trust people we have long-standing relationships with.  As we become more familiar with an individual or a group, we gradually allow ourselves to be vulnerable to them.  We share our personal concerns.  We will do a favor for them because we expect them to be willing to return it one day.  We rely on the information they give us to make decisions that we are held accountable for.  As long as no injury comes from that vulnerability, our trust increases.  However, some individuals and groups violate our trust.  We allow ourselves to be vulnerable, and they take advantage of us or let us down.  The information they provide to us proves to be unreliable or misleading.  They use the information we share with them in a way that harms us.  As a result of our distrust for that party, we are less inclined to cooperate with them, we have to verify what they tell us, and we are careful not to share too much information with them.
        The propensity to trust others is also a personality trait.  Aside from our experiences with other parties, some of us tend to generally be more willing to trust others.  At one extreme, some people are too cynical or controlling and therefore unwilling to trust others.  At the other extreme, some people are naïve or gullible.  Of course, most of us are willing to exhibit some trust of others until given a good reason not to.

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The Benefits of Trust
        As Jack Welch indicates, trust in organizations is enormously powerful.  Individuals who trust the people they work with are self-assured, open and honest, willing to take risks, less resistant to change, and inclined to act in a trustworthy manner.  Trust is empowering.  In contrast, individuals who distrust the people they work with are more wasteful and unproductive, they feel unsupported and alone, they do not believe what they are told and therefore often do not listen, and they must take time to corroborate what they have been told before they can believe it.
        A major advantage to interpersonal trust is information sharing and collaboration.  When people trust that they will be given credit for their ideas and that sensitive information that they share will be kept confidential, they are more inclined to discuss their creative ideas and personal goals and concerns.  Such an open environment is the ideal context for developing innovative ideas and resolving conflicts with "win-win" solutions.  Managers who trust their subordinates are more inclined to delegate tasks to them, and subordinates who trust their managers are more comfortable taking on the additional responsibility even when there is some risk of failure.  Such subordinates know that their mistakes will be treated as learning opportunities rather than threats to their careers.
        Trust is fundamental to leadership during times of change and uncertainty.  Leaders who have established trust among their followers are able to direct them with less resistance.  On the other hand, it is much riskier to follow a leader that you do not trust when you are in unfamiliar circumstances.  Followers go above and beyond the call of duty for leaders they trust.  Followers only do what they have to for leaders they do not trust.
        You can see how valuable it is to have a high level of trust throughout an organization.  Trust is part of an organization's "social capital," and can be a very valuable intangible asset.  Social capital promotes cooperation, commitment, extra effort, continuous improvement and information exchange, which can all help an organization survive and achieve a competitive advantage.  Thus, it is well worth the effort to build a culture of trust.

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How to Build Trust
        Several characteristics of good managers engender trust from the individuals and teams that they lead:

        The policies and actions of organizations as a whole also affect how much organization members trust their organization.  The following are actions and policies organizations can use to promote trust among employees:     back to the top

How to Repair Trust3
        When trust has been violated in an important relationship, it should be repaired.  In short, the process of repairing trust requires the "violator" to apologize, ask for forgiveness, and make reparations.  Not all relationships survive violations of trust.  The "victim" has to believe that the benefits of being in the relationship justify the work required to repair the trust.  Victims often find that it makes more sense to develop entirely new relationships by, for instance, requesting a transfer or leaving the firm.  However, if the victim (a) is willing to put in the time and energy, (b) perceives the potential value derived from the relationship, and (c) does not have better options, the following steps will help violators repair the trust that they have damaged.

Steps to Take

  1. Acknowledge that a violation of trust has occurred.
  2. Determine, from the victim's perspective, the exact nature of the violation and what event caused it.
  3. Admit that the event destroyed trust.
  4. Accept responsibility for the violation.  Debating or denying responsibility impedes repair.
  5. Offer to make reparations.
Possible Victim Reactions

        Even when forgiveness has been granted and reparations have been made, relationships do not always "return to normal" after violations of trust.  The violator often has lingering feelings of guilt, embarrassment and self-consciousness when around the victim.  It may take time for the victim's emotions to wane as well.  The victim may also be hyper-vigilant to the violator in the

In Summary ...
        Trust is too valuable an asset to be taken for granted.  It's very difficult to negotiate organizational change or do collaborative work without it.  While it may take weeks, months or years to develop it, a single violation can damage it.  Fortunately, trust can be repaired if the violator will own up to it and make reparations.

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1.  Anonymous.  (1993).  Jack Welch's lessons for success. Fortune, 127(2): 86-93.
2.  Hodgetts, R. M.  (1996).  A conversation with Warren Bennis on leadership in the midst of downsizing.  Organizational Dynamics, 25(1): 72-78.
3.  Based on Lewicki, R. J. & Bunker, B. B. (1996). Developing and maintaining trust in work relationships. In Trust in organizations: Frontiers in theory and research, R. M. Kramer & T. R. Tyler (Eds.), pp. 114-139. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Additional Sources and References
        Konovsky, M. A., & Pugh, S.  (1994).  Citizenship behavior and social exchange. Academy of Management Journal, 37(3): 656-669.
        Kreitner, R. & Kinicki, A.  (2001).  Organizational behavior, (5th ed.).  New York: Irwin McGraw-Hill.
        Leana, C. R. & Van Buren III, H. J,  (1999).  Organizational social capital and employment practices.  Academy of Management Review, 24(3): 538-555.
        MacKenzie, S. B, Podsakoff, P. M., & Rich, G. A.  (2001).  Transformational and transactional leadership and salesperson performance.  Academy of Marketing Science, 29(2): 115-134.
       Robbins, S. P.  (2001). Organizational behavior, (9th ed.).  Englewood Cliffs, NJ:  Prentice Hall.

About the Newsletter and Subscriptions
        LeaderLetter is written by Dr. Scott Williams, Department of Management, Raj Soin College of Business, Wright State University, Dayton, Ohio.  It is a supplement to my MBA 751 - Managing People in Organizations class.  It is intended to reinforce the course concepts and maintain communication among my former MBA 751 students, but anyone is welcome to subscribe.  In addition, subscribers are welcome to forward this newsletter to anyone who they believe would have an interest in it.  To subscribe, simply send an e-mail message to me requesting subscription.  Of course, subscriptions to the newsletter are free.  To unsubscribe, e-mail a reply indicating that you would like to unsubscribe.

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E-mail Your Comments
        Whether you are one of my former students or not, I invite you to share any insights or concerns you have regarding the topic of this newsletter or any other topic relating to management skills.  Please e-mail them to me.  Our interactions have been invaluable.  Every week, I learn something new from LeaderLetter subscribers!  Let's keep the conversation going.

A Slightly Crude Joke for a Change

If your dictionary doesn't have these terms, you might need to invest in a current edition.

BLAMESTORMING: Sitting around in a group discussing why a deadline was missed or a project failed, and who was responsible.

SEAGULL MANAGER: A manager who flies in, makes a lot of noise, defecates on everything, and then leaves.

CUBE FARM: An office filled with cubicles.

PRAIRIE DOGGING: When someone yells or drops something loudly in a cube farm, and people's heads pop up over the walls to see what's going on.

MOUSE POTATO: The on-line, wired generation's answer to the couch potato.

STRESS PUPPY: A person who seems to thrive on being stressed out and whiney.

SWIPEOUT: An ATM or credit card that has been rendered useless because the magnetic strip is worn away from extensive use.

XEROX SUBSIDY: Euphemism for swiping free photocopies from one's workplace.

IRRITAINMENT: Entertainment and media spectacles that are annoying but you find yourself unable to stop watching them. The O.J. trials were a prime example.

PERCUSSIVE MAINTENANCE: The fine art of whacking an electronic device to get it to work again.

ADMINISPHERE: The rarefied organizational layers beginning just above the rank and file. Decisions that fall from the adminisphere are often profoundly inappropriate or irrelevant to the problems they were designed to solve.

GENERICA: Features of the American landscape that are exactly the same no matter where one is, such as fast food joints, strip malls, and subdivisions.

OHNOSECOND: That minuscule fraction of time in which you realize that you've just made a BIG mistake.

WOOFYS: Well Off Older Folks.

CROP DUSTING: Surreptitiously passing wind while walking through a cube farm, then enjoying the sounds of dismay and disgust; leads to PRAIRIE DOGGING

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