Maintaining Trust in Uncertain Times

How do you maintain trust in uncertain times? Trust has been an important concept since the beginning of our country. On our dollar bills, we have said In God We Trust. Yet today it’s hard for us to trust people—particularly our business leaders, whose greed and self serving leadership seem to have been a major cause of our economic crisis. Yet, if we are going to pull out of this present situation, we have to realize that none of us is as smart as all of us. There are companies that realize this simple truth and have maintained trust before, during, and I’m sure after this economic downturn. All these companies seem to have two characteristics in common.

First of all, they have a higher purpose than making money. As an example, Southwest Airlines, from its beginning, has been convinced that it is in the freedom business. The freedom of all Americans to be with friends and relatives during good times and bad times—thus their low price structure. Chick-fil-A’s purpose is to glorify God by having a positive influence on everyone who comes in contact with Chick-fil-A. They aren’t open on Sundays, even though that is often the busiest day in the fast food industry.

Secondly, they value both people and results. The way that plays out is that their leaders and their people respect and trust each other by celebrating good times together and working out tough times together.

I first realized the importance of trust and respect going together by listening to Ichak Adizes, a long-time consultant and professor at UCLA. He argues that respect and trust have both nonverbal and verbal messages. If you respect someone, you face them, because you are interested and want to hear their opinions. If you don’t respect someone, you turn your back on them, because you couldn’t care less what they think. If you trust people, you will turn your back on them because you are convinced they mean you no harm. If you don’t trust them, you watch their every move. How does that work at Chick-fil-A and Southwest Airlines?  In both cases, they respect their people and therefore share information with them about the performance of the company in both good times and bad times. In good times, they celebrate together, and in bad times, they are problem-solving partners. Does that work? You’d better believe it. Unlike many companies today where the top managers are locked behind closed doors, cutting costs and having everybody’s fate in their hands, these two great companies open their books to everyone so they know what’s happening and immediately go to work to cut costs as well as increase revenue.

This is exactly what our company, The Ken Blanchard Companies, did after 9/11 when we lost $1.5 million in sales that month, and what we are doing today with sales and operating income going down. We believe that none of us is as smart as all of us, and we are convinced we will pull out of this together.

What are you doing? Are you betting on the brain power of your top managers or on the brain power of everyone in your organization?  What’s at stake? The future of your company, trust, and respect.