Why Does Trust Matter?

April 16, 2019 Evan Theys

First published on LinkedIn, on April 12th.

What can take years to build, but only seconds to tear down? While it sounds like a child’s riddle, the answer is trust, one of the most basic human instincts -- a “gut” instinct if you will. But how do you know if you can actually trust someone?

It turns out there’s a whole science behind identifying who is trustworthy - and who is not.

In my experience, trustworthiness and integrity go hand in hand. We really look at this from a two-pronged approach: the first being around impulse control, and the second around ethical awareness. Those two together fill that spectrum of trustworthiness.

Did you know!
Impulse Control is the ability to resist temptation to engage in counterproductive behaviors that will have negative downstream consequences, despite being immediately gratifying
Ethical Awareness is the ability to analyze situations and weigh the consequences of their actions in terms of their effects on other people, their morality, and their consistency with what one has promised to do.

Being successful in business involves trust on many levels. According to PwC’s 21st Global CEO Survey, 65 percent of CEOs are concerned about declining trust in business, even though less than 20 percent think it’s a problem for their own organization.

But all organizations and their leaders should be concerned about trust and how to assess and infuse trust across your workforce. In Rachel Botsman’s “Who Can You Trust?” she writes: “Most businesses that we interact with are built around money, and money only goes so far. Money is the currency of transactions. Trust is the currency of interactions.”

Trust currency shows up in several places in any organization, but as we blur the lines with the Fourth Industrial Revolution, trust around data security, workplace collaboration and trusting our leaders becomes especially important.

Data Security

Employees have enormous amounts of data and information at their fingertips. Data must be protected and secured with protocols that fit each organization’s mission. The potential detriment of sharing the wrong information outwardly can harm a company and its trustworthiness for decades.

In addition to protecting data, companies also need to be aware of the ethical handling of data. Data can be used for good in the world, but often we only hear about are the inappropriate uses of data. The Data for Good movement, for example, “encourages using data in meaningful ways to solve humanitarian issues around poverty, health, human rights, education and the environment. From preventing life-threatening illnesses to protecting endangered species to rebuilding after natural disasters, organizations across the globe are harnessing data to make a difference,” according to its website.

Forming and building strong partnerships and relationships in business also is key to trust in the workplace. Without trust between the two parties, really strong relationships are nearly impossible to build.

More than ever, cross-functional collaboration is required for successful businesses to operate. That collaboration requires a strong foundation, and trust is one of those building blocks.

As a leader, your behavior can influence others. If you understand how your behavior impacts others, you can ensure that your behavior resonates with the people around you. You can get people to buy into a broader message.

Modeling positive behavior can push those around you to change their behavior, which allows you to start to define some ethical principles that your team wants to embody. Some organizations, however, have a flat structure, and as a leader, you need to work with people across the broad spectrum of the organization. The more trustworthy you are, the easier it is for you to form the necessary relationships for your team to be successful as well.

How You Can Assess Trustworthiness

So how do we assess trustworthiness? Many companies use assessments which attempt to directly measure one’s trustworthiness. However, these traditional measurements can be problematic because candidates can easily fake the “correct” answers.

Instead, companies should look to assess personality traits that typically lead someone to be perceived as being trustworthy. By indirectly evaluating a socially desirable construct, such as trustworthiness, you can get a clearer measurement and insight into candidates’ true capabilities or capacity as faking can be reduced/mitigated. Aon leverages a two-pronged trustworthiness or integrity model that centers on the higher order facets of impulse control and ethical awareness. For example, we talk about the importance of empathy or being empathic (e.g., kind and gentle person; can see others’ perspectives; cooperates well), which is a sub-facet of ethical awareness within Aon’s trustworthiness model.

In addition, reviewing a candidate’s underlying personality traits, such as humility, cooperativeness, sensitivity and liveliness will help you assess trustworthiness. The combination of those traits ensure that you as an individual are compassionate and considerate of others’ perspectives and needs as well as sincere in your words and actions. Then ultimately, you behave accordingly because you've been able to gain that foundation.

Find out more about assessing integrity and trustworthiness in the workplace.

About the Author

Evan Theys

Evan serves as the leader for Aon's Assessment Solutions Product Development team in North America. In this role, he manages and supports the development of innovative, forward-thinking assessment solutions, and partners with leaders across Aon to develop the strategy for the global products portfolio as well as bringing new products to market.

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