I talked with an old friend the other day and we got to reminiscing about a job we worked on together years ago. Because of some badly handled acquisitions where the cultures of the companies were not particularly considered before merging them together, this company had what we called “relationship issues.”

When I think about relationships, I think in terms of the qualities necessary to keep them healthy. After 23 years in this business I’m able to clearly see that by evaluating and improving five relationship qualities an organization can make great strides towards good health. And, as luck would have it have, they form an acronym my clients are familiar with – TRACK. It stands for trust, respect, appreciation, communication and kindness. When all these qualities are practiced well relationships thrive and prosper.

For a variety of reasons the client we were discussing had lost the trust of its people and trust is the kingpin when it comes to relationships.

There is a high price for distrust. It destroys morale and productivity. It costs in so many ways — poor performance, absenteeism, bad-mouthing to customers, politics, even theft. In low trust organizations, energy is often diverted from the job at hand to “CYA” activities, gossip, frustration and anger. The worst part, I think, is losing the employee’s full engagement in the company’s mission. A disengaged employee can’t possibly engage and excite customers to come back.

It takes a long time to rebuild trust, it’s a slow but cumulative process. It’s about deliberately rebuilding an emotional bank account a little at a time.

It’s not for the faint of heart since it takes the discipline of scrutinizing your own actions and creating a safe enough environment where you can “call” people on theirs in such a way that they don’t become defensive or shut down.

When it comes to rebuilding trust, it’s important to let people know what is going on. This means good as well as bad news. This means news that reflects well and not well on the leadership team. It’s a time to talk openly and honestly about the health and vitality of the company and the real challenges it faces and how you feel about it.

As my friend and I were talking I found myself jotting down some notes about the advice we gave to the leadership team back then. Here are some of the highlights of what we counseled them to do.

  • Know that it’s okay not to know all the answers right now. Leadership today is more about good questions than good answers.
  • Communicate frequently about what you are doing as a leadership team to create a vision of the future – the big picture.
  • Ask for input on the vision of the future and allow people to help create it.
  • Connect the big picture to the changes you are making in their every day world. People want to know where they are going and they want to know why they do things and the contribution they make to the whole. (This is even more important today then it was when we gave this advice.)
  • Avoid judgments, blame, cynicism and criticisms. Be really cautious about sarcasm – avoid it unless you really understand the person you are sharing it with – and the context in which its contained.
  • Listen actively. Be sincere. Learn from and admit your mistakes.
  • Tell the truth, kindly, not “brutally.”
  • Give feedback that is specific and useful.
  • Make good on promises, do what you say you are going to do.
  • Be as consistent as you can be in your behavior.
  • Put aside your self-interest for the good of the group. A person that is always self-serving is difficult to trust.
  • Create an environment where people’s feelings count. When a company values people’s feelings, health, self-image, ideas and personal values, they feel safe. When people are not afraid of being put down or laughed at in front of others, they are more apt to share their ideas and thoughts. When someone believes his or her input is appreciated they are more apt to participate and contribute. Actively encourage participation and reinforce it positively.

Perhaps the trust level in your company is already high – practicing this “daily dozen” will keep it that way. Perhaps the level of trust in your company is not quite where it needs to be, in that case, using these ideas as a practice will help you rebuild it over time.

Trust is essential to healthy, happy relationships.

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