Performance Lagging? It Could Be A Trust Issue That You Can Fix


As multiple studies continue to show, employee “engagement” is still a challenge in organizations across all industries. Silo mentality impedes collaboration and innovation. Blame and finger-pointing dilute accountability. A dangerously high number of people simply “check out” on the job. They may show up for work, but their hearts are not really invested.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that fragile trust is a primary cause of this disengagement—and fragile trust can be fixed. Moreover, it’s possible to make high trust the key ingredient in any relationship or organizational culture.

That’s the thesis of The 10 Laws of Trust: Building the Bonds That Make a Business Great.

Author Joel Peterson, chairman of JetBlue and a Stanford University business professor, brings decades of experience to the subject of culture-building. He’s worked firsthand with more than 2,300 businesses, hundreds of partners, and thousands of leaders.

Trust, Joel says, develops one conversation, one assignment, one deal at a time.

Rodger Dean Duncan: You say you lack the paranoia gene—that you’re naturally inclined to trust other people. How does extending trust to others influence them to behave in trustworthy ways?

Jacom Stephens

Joel Peterson: When people trust me, I don’t want to let them down. That is the secret to the power of trust. Being trusted often fuels exceptional performance. Most people respond to being trusted by being trustworthy—a reflection of a built-in sense of reciprocity.

Peterson: Character, competence, and authority, you say, are the three conditions of trust. Tell us about the competence part. What specific behaviors help people “get better” at trust?

We trust those who deliver on promises. If competence is lacking, people are simply incapable of delivering, no matter their good intentions. For example, while most mothers have the character to be trustworthy, most don’t have the training to be trustworthy pilots. Therefore we know not to trust (most of) them to fly a plane.

Duncan: What do you tell people who are reluctant to extend trust because they’ve been betrayed by someone they trusted? How can they get comfortable in trusting someone else?

Peterson: First, heal the betrayal right away. If it’s not something that can be healed, move on and don’t look back. Recriminations will diminish both parties, as will wallowing in the betrayal.

When building a high-trust relationship, grant trust incrementally. Start with small and simple assignments. If performed well and on time, grant more trust, give more complex assignments. Built gradually, evaluated and repaired in the moment, trust can be a reliable and powerful currency.

Duncan: It’s been said that organizations get the kind of culture they tolerate. What does that suggest about behaviors that either build or erode trust?


Peterson: If you fail to address breaches of trust, or permit behaviors that erode trust, you’ll naturally develop a low trust organization. It always starts with the “tone at the top,” with the leadership team. Their trustworthiness will radiate to the broader organization. Feedback loops can be a positive or negative—in either case self-reinforcing to build a high-trust culture, or devolving into the politics, recriminations and conflicts that ensure a low-trust culture.

Duncan: Empowering others is a good way to build trust. How can a leader practice “smart trust” when delegating responsibility?

Peterson: Leaders should be attuned to competence, character and authority as the factors that permit the development of trust. The pseudo-trust that omits any one of them is a recipe for betrayal and disappointment.

Not only is well-founded trust the most powerful currency of any leader, but it is also the most fragile. A high-trust brand will take years to develop, but it can be shattered in an instant.

Next: Want High Trust? Tend To The Deposits And Withdrawals