Is your business oxygenated by trust?

Do you have a best friend at work? This is one of the more unusual questions listed in Gallup’s famous Q12, a 12-question survey which identifies employee attitudes that correlate with higher profitability. It’s a question that has always struck me as an anomaly, something I am more likely to inquire of my teenage son than of a work colleague. After all, work is serious stuff: about focus, performance, deadlines, deliverables. Friends? Wasn’t that a TV series?

In another part of my brain I have been musing about the significance of trust and trust relationships as a value creating competitive advantage. MBA speak I know, but it’s true. A world without trust precipitated the global financial crisis; and the dominoes that followed, Ponzi schemes, Lehman Brothers, and numerous other scandals. Warren Buffett, master of moneymaking as well as the pithy sound bite says: “Trust is like the air/oxygen we breathe…we don’t notice it until it’s gone.”

It all came together for me in a “thinkspirational moment” recently: best friend = trust. Trust = best friend!

Gallup has proved it via the Q12. For those who want more proof that trust is the new value creation currency, there’s research which correlates the corruption perception index with per capita GDP per country. Guess what? It’s a perfect correlation: the lower the corruption perception the higher the GDP. Then there’s the famous case study of Muhammad Yunis who started Grameen Bank and who is known as the ‘banker to the poor’. He has demonstrated that even in the most desperate circumstances if you extend trust – people show that they are trustworthy.

Who would have thought Denmark would be the happiest nation on earth? (According to Gallup they are!). They are also the nation who trust each other the most.

Just like oxygen, we can’t see trust but we can feel its effects: is there energy, purpose, joy, fulfilment in your working environment? Does your work culture periodically suffer from sporadic ‘coughing fits’ or spirals of negativity and burnout? Which necessitate ‘ventilators’ to pump high quality oxygen (usually in the form of incentives and rewards)… after which  people amazingly “feel better?” Or is your workplace culture just dying slowly – a sad, demoralised and often politicised place where blame and game-playing fester?

Before you bring out the sharp knives, consider the opportunity: how smooth, how fast, how well things go when you work with people you trust. And when you trust the people you work with. Less reworking, no double-checking. Costs come down. Joy, energy and fulfilment go up.

Sounds good. Yet we avoid it because we don’t know how to do it. We feel vulnerable, afraid, and powerless. However, unless it dawns on us that trust is not just a “nice-to-have” but the very oxygen of productivity and value creation – we won’t even have a hope of figuring it out.

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