13 ways to build trust

Currently, trust in most levels of our society is as low as it’s ever been. We have to fix this if we’re ever to see the promise that the Rainbow Nation once held for us all.

Managing for profit by Peter Hughes

In The Speed of Trust, Stephen Covey writes: “There’s one thing common to every individual, relationship, team, organisation, nation, economy, and civilisation throughout the world – one thing which, if removed, will destroy the most powerful government, the most successful business, the most thriving economy, the most influential leadership, the greatest friendship, the strongest character, the deepest love. That one thing is trust!”

READ:Ensuring the success of your agritourism business

He’s right. The lack of trust between government and business in South Africa is slowly choking the economy in general and farming in particular. Government seems to see farmers as exploiters of land, resources and labour. And, of course, mistrust from one side begets mistrust from the other. So farmers don’t trust anyone in government.

This is a very serious situation. In addition to the difficulties many farmers are experiencing due to present government policies and hostility towards the sector, there are some major national risks to the future of some of SA’s big agricultural sectors. The citrus industry, for example, is on the brink of a disaster, with the EU, on the basis of a trumped-up phytosanitary risk to its inefficient citrus industries, threatening to stop SA imports.

Citrus farmers and government need to stand side by side and fight this irrational threat. If this battle is not won, we’re in for a very hard time on many other trading fronts. Our poultry industry is also in deep financial trouble. While cheap subsidised chicken imports flow freely into SA, we’re blocked from exporting at every turn by a myriad of reasons by the very countries from which we import.

Poultry farmers need government on their side, and government needs producers to help it deal with these protectionist threats from the developed world. But effective teamwork between government and farmers can never take place without trust. We simply have to build trust between the people on both sides of this divide. But how? What needs to be done?

Building trust
Covey identifies 13 elements he considers essential to building trust between people:

  • Talk straight – Use simple language and don’t spin the truth. Be absolutely honest at all times.
  • Demonstrate respect – Everyone deserves respect.
  • Create transparency – Have no hidden agendas. Always err on the side of disclosure.
  • Right wrongs – Apologise quickly and sincerely. Don’t let pride get in the way of doing the right thing.
  • Show loyalty – Give credit freely and acknowledge the contribution of others. Never bad-mouth people behind their backs.
  • Deliver results – Be on time and within budget. Never over-promise and under-deliver and don’t make excuses when you miss a delivery.
  • Get better – Ask for feedback and thank people for it. Always realise you have more to learn.
  • Confront reality – Address issues head-on, and lead the conversation courageously.
  • Clarify expectations – Don’t assume they’re clear and understood. Discuss them and renegotiate if necessary.
  • Practise accountability – Take responsibility for results – good or bad – and hold others accountable. Never point fingers when things go wrong.
  • Listen first – Listen before you speak. Be an active listener. Understand before trying to be understood.
  • Keep commitments – Say what you’re going to do, then do it.
  • Extend trust – Extend trust freely. Without being reckless, don’t withhold trust, even if there’s a risk involved. Trust extended gets trust in return.

Your own company
While I hope that all agricultural commodity associations and unions are giving deep thought and attention to the challenges of building trust with the agriculture minister and other government leaders, how are you doing in your own organisation? What about your own relationship with your staff, service providers, suppliers and customers?

Are you following all Covey’s 13 elements or are there kinks in your management style and behaviour that damage or even destroy trust? In The Human Side of Enterprise, Douglas Macgregor writes: “If I trust you, I know you will never take unfair advantage of me. I know I can put my status and self-esteem, our relationship, my job, my career, even my life, in your hands with complete confidence.”

Can you imagine the power you would unlock between people, in a team, in an organisation or in a nation, when you have this level of trust? We have to try and get there.

Contact Peter Hughes at [email protected]. Please state “Managing for profit” in the subject line of your email.

This article was originally published in the 12 July 2013 issue of Farmer’s Weekly.