Trust has been on my radar screen for a long time, but that is because I come from the field of conflict resolution (here’s the article I wrote about it). In the business world, trust hasn’t captured much attention. There are a few books about trust that relate to workplace issues, although I found them to be a little too academic. But Covey’s book is different. I think it zeroes in on not only what trust really is, but how to apply the concepts to actually getting better business results.

His main argument is that high-trust workplaces receive two simple but powerful benefits: they get things done faster, and they do it at a lower cost. He calls this the “trust dividend” (and yes, if you have a low-trust environment you pay the “trust tax”). His evidence is convincing.

Trust is then discussed in terms of five “waves”:

  • Personal
  • Relationship
  • Organizational
  • Market
  • Society

I like that he starts with personal—there is an element of trust that is ONLY about you and how you behave. We often first think of trust in terms of someone else: can we trust them, how do I know if I can count on them? Those are in the “relationship” level (and they are relevant), but it’s not where it starts. When we want to build an entire system that is more trusting, we sometimes forget that we can start that by not telling white lies, by actually saying what we are thinking, and by standing up for our values.

Relationship trust is probably where most people experience the issue of trust, and Covey provides guidelines for thirteen “behaviors” for building trust. As he said in a speech that I heard: you can’t talk your way out of a situation you behaved your way into. Straight talk, transparency, holding yourself accountable, actually delivering results—these are all things we can do in building a high-trust environment. For each behavior he has specific tips, which are helpful.

The third, fourth, and fifth waves are lumped together under the term “stakeholder trust.” You have internal stakeholders (organizational), and here the issue is creating alignment. For the external stakeholders (the market), the issue is in maintaining reputation. Societal trust is about contribution and global citizenship, which should be on everyone’s radar screen these days.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough. It’s the kind you can come back to in a specific circumstance and find something that you can use. It would also be a great discussion book for leaders, managers, and employees within an organization. Wouldn’t it be nice if you and your people read something, talked about it, and then did something about it? This book lends itself to that model.

Jamie Notter