Trust or Bust


Have you ever encountered a situation where individuals or teams “wait” for others to deliver on a commitment or on a portion of a project, before they themselves start working on their own part?

Has this happened to you?

Unfortunately, this dynamic occurs far too frequently in organizational life: we either don’t trust others to deliver by agreed-upon dates, or we expect poor results.

Consequently, we refrain from doing our work in parallel to theirs because we don’t trust that our parts will mesh correctly at the end. We justify this by saying: “Why should I get started now when they’re going to be late anyway? I may even have to do their work!”

The productivity hit to companies worldwide, resulting from insufficient trust, probably numbers in the millions of dollars. What is it costing you and your company?

Author Stephen M.R. Covey, in his book The Speed of Trust, suggests that a direct relationship exists between speed and trust, and an inverse relationship between cost and trust. When trust decreases, the speed of execution also decreases, while cost increases. When trust increases, however, the speed of execution also shoots up, while costs go down. There are huge economic and emotional advantages to building greater trust within organizations.

There are three important components that govern the amount of trust that we’re willing to grant to another person: sincerity, competence, and reliability.

When someone makes a promise to us, we typically tune in first to their sincerity: are they sincere in their commitment, or are they just wanting us to go away? Next, we evaluate their skills, experience, and resources to get the job done. Lastly, we examine our history with that person: have they kept their promises in the past? Can I count on them? We unconsciously assign people a “trust score” based on those three components. When you multiply the various trust scores across the multitude of commitments that take place daily in an organization, the impact has a direct consequence to your bottom line.

What can we do to build greater trust with others?

In my experience, the simplest and most effective way to build trust is to only make promises and commitments that we intend to keep, and then to deliver on those promises/commitments per agreed-upon conditions of satisfaction (e.g., delivery date, content, format, etc.). You may counter, however, that circumstances outside of our control may prevent us from delivering on some commitments. Although there is truth in that statement, our experience also shows that we can build trust under those circumstances by quickly informing, offering restitution, and negotiating a new commitment.

Incidentally, what happens when we make promises to ourselves that we intend to keep, and we then deliver on those promises? We build greater trust with ourselves! In other words, we increase ourself-confidence.

I invite you to begin noticing well-run organizations where trust-building has been incorporated into their cultural fabric, beginning with the top executive team. Notice their profitability, market share, brand loyalty, reputation, and employee turnover. Now, look at yourself and your company.

Where can you take concrete steps to begin increasing individual and organizational trust scores over the next 6 months?

L2L Contributing Author


  1. Gordon Taras on February 25, 2009 at 1:03 pm

    There is also a social component: did this person keep their promises to others in the past? Do I trust the others who are providing me this information?

  2. David Vittoria on February 25, 2009 at 7:09 pm


    Great feedback.. Thank you for the response…


  3. Ben Simonton on February 28, 2009 at 11:58 am

    Creating trust in any organization is as simple as 1-2-3. Removing anything that can be distrusted is the fastest way to do it.

    This is done by asking employees what they need to do a better job and then giving it to them. At least weekly group meetings to receive and respectfully respond to their complaints, suggestions and questions is the mechanism. The key is not only to listen with 100% of your faculties, but to generate responses which meet the highest standards of common values such as honesty, integrity, openness, compassion, knowledge, quality, safety, fairness, courtesy, respect, etc, etc.

    Don’t try to be the font of all knowledge. Rather try to get the required knowledge and solutions to problems from your people at these meetings. But you must be the one to support what they decide to do, support with tools, money, parts, material, information, etc.

    There is a lot more to this, but the above is the essence of creating trust. To learn more read articles at

    Best regards, Ben

  4. Charles H. Green on March 2, 2009 at 9:37 pm

    Good thoughts, David, and important ones too.

    The components you describe track closely with my own model, the Trust Equation: (Credibility + Reliability + Intimacy) / (Self-orientation).

    That gives a 3x factor to who one cares about–himself, or the Other.

    The reason I didn’t put sincerity in as its own factor is because of the frequency of self-delusion. There are zillions of sincere incompetents out there, and while sincerity seems to me to be a necessary condition, I don’t think alone it’s on the top list.

    But hey, models are only as good as they are useful. They all add something.

    A couple of other thoughts: it is not the same thing to trust as to be trusted. Therefore “trust”–unlike, say, love–is not an equilateral relationship. For example, the one who trusts is the one who takes the larger risk. People often think “trust” is risky, but it doesn’t have to be risky to be more trustworthy.

    On the other hand, it’s also true that someone willing to trust has a great impact. It is said, “the fastest way to make someone trustworthy is to trust them,” and that seems to be true. Most people most of the time will live up, or down, to our expectations of them.

    Covey is right about speed and cost and trust, and it’s a powerful point. Trust is not wussy, it’s the best profit model out there.

    More about the Trust Equation and my two other models (the Trust Creation Process, and Trust Principles) in a short article called Trust: the Basics at

    Thanks for raising such a powerful topic!

  5. David Vittoria on March 3, 2009 at 6:34 am


    Thank you for your fantastic comments, and for the experience, strength, and wisdom you shared here! Trust is not wussy!!

    Looking forward to staying connected…