Why Trust Matters

Why Trust Matters

Image credit: http://brokenrearviewmirror.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/glass-10179216.jpg
Image credit: http://brokenrearviewmirror.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/glass-10179216.jpg

Trust is foundational to every human interaction.

So why is it, that a great many leaders don’t understand the importance of building and keeping trust?

A few years back, I was working with a team on a new software release, involving a web backend component, a new database schema, and set of new native mobile applications across multiple platforms. It was a highly visible release, and the heat was definitely on to deliver on time.

The boss unexpectedly moved the release date up a couple of weeks. Naturally, this threw everything into turmoil, and near panic. But, to the team’s credit, they dug in and did their level best to meet this new – and unwelcome – deadline.

One of my team members was getting married the day after release date – so needless to say, stress levels were high, above and beyond the need to deliver.

Release day came.

The boss came in, announced that the deadline was artificial, and that it had moved it up a couple of weeks because “he knew developers, and developers always say it will take longer than it really does.”

It wrecked the morale of team. And they never believed a word the boss – or I – ever said again.

Maintaining trust is more than just “doing what you say you’re going to be doing” or “keeping your word.” It is also about valuing the person on the other end of the relationship, and showing that we value them, through our actions.

And once lost, trust can never truly be regained. It’s a one shot deal.

Building Trust and Authenticity – While You Sleep!

Building Trust and Authenticity – While You Sleep!

When we watch a television show regularly, or listen to a favorite radio personality, we internalize a connection. We come to know these people superficially, perhaps even a little about their background and families. But over time, even though we may never meet them in person, we do believe we know them on some level. Stalkers of course take this internal dialogue to a dangerous level but that’s not what I’m talking about here.

What comes to happen over time as we have these internal dialogues about the people we see and hear all the time is that we begin to form a picture of how trustworthy they are, how authentic or true is the picture we have of them versus the works and deeds that we are able to see them do when they are not in front of a mic or camera.

For example, this week we got to see Michael Phelps smoking a bong. Not quite the narrative that all of us have been fed by the media since China this summer. Trust has been broken and more than a few people now question how authentic the story line about Michael really reflects the person behind the image.

In out interactions on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter we have similar interactions with our online communities – though we may not consciously know it or even think about it. Fred Wilson had a post today about how important it is to have a consistently identifiable avatar across your online presences.  Why is it important?  Because it helps people construct that internal image of who you are (or at least, appear to be) over time, using a familar and easily recognizable touchstone.  It helps build your virtual bank of trusty personal capital.

Online, it’s much harder than in real life to verify how authentic the image projected by a person or company is versus the real entity behind the image.  Ultimately, it comes down to performance – how consistent are the messages coming from you online, do you do what you say you will do when you say you will do it, is your work consistently high quality, can you work a process to a successful conclusion.

You have to do something – positive or negative – in order to give others something to compare their internal dialogue of who you say you are to something more approximating who you really are by how you perform or what you do.  Whatever that happens to be.

But the operative word is “Do.”

I am a noisy friend to have online.  It’s on purpose, and has a reason.

The reason is this – my clamor will help someone visualize what my thought processes are, how I go about conducting business, and what my reputation is online.

And their internalization will either incent them to make a real personal connection with me at some future point – personally or professionally – in a way that has more impact than some schticky spiel about getting rich while you sleep.

No Where to Hide

No Where to Hide

One of the side-affects of the transparency required when making meaningful social media connections is that when one makes a serious misstep, or faux pas, or fails to deliver in a very high profile way… it is now visible in a way that it never was in the past.

There are consequences of this new phenomena. In the past, if you made a serious career misstep, more likely than not you could pick up stakes, move to the next gig, and start anew without too many lasting emotional scars or after affects.

Now, a career misstep can follow one for a significantly long time. And everyone knows about it. Or can Google it.

Thankfully, people have short memories. Still, transparency on the web is going to have longer lasting implications than most people are realizing at the moment.

I came across a great example this morning on LinkedIn of just this very thing. A person had posted in their LinkedIn profile that they were “Unemployable because of career interference.”

Now, whether this is true or not, whether it was the wisest thing to expose your plight to the network of connections who were either the cause or the cure for your plight is not really the point.

The point is that this person perceives that their employability has been hindered, they are perpetuating some Google-Juice now with their negative perceptions of the new reality, and may even be contributing to a self-fulfilling prophecy. And it is all out there for everyone to see, each and every time that they do a background check for a new position.

This is of course just one example. The failed high profile project, the vocal disgruntled ex-employee / ex-customer, the unexpected change in market conditions that turned you into a buggy whip manufacturer in the new world of the automobile. All of these types of situations will be forced multiplied by social media and personal transparency.

Be warned – there is now no where to hide.

Engagement: I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means

Engagement: I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means

Vizzini: Inconceivable!

Inigo Montoya: You keep using that word. I do not think it means, what you think it means.

– The Princess Bride

Anyone who has seen the movie The Princess Bride understands the humor in Vizzini the Sicilian’s exclamation; he has uttered “Inconceivable!” a dozen times in the movie, only to have what he deems to be “Inconceivable” become not only the possible but reality.

Social Media mavens /pundits / gurus /strategists are a bit like Vizzini in that they tend to think words means things they actually do not.

For example: Engagement. To most of the world, the word engagement entails a reciprical arrangement where something is expected of both sides. However, in the context of social media, what engagement usually means is that people are merely exposed to each other in some way, but very little is expected of any given social contact. I can Twitter til my fingers fall off, you may be following me, you may think we’re engaged, when in fact you may never respond to me. Some consider that engagement. It most definitely is not.

Another example: Friend. In most of the world, a friend is a person who will do most anything for you, regardless of personal consequence, because of amity, love, and dedication. There is prevenient trust implied. In the context of social networking, a friend is at best what one would call an acquaintance in the real world and implies only that a person known as a friend in any given nexus of the social graph is simply allowed access to you and your personal information with no expectation whatsoever of reciprocity or even fair treatment.

In short, social networking uses many real world words to imply the concept of trust and relationship, when in fact nothing of the sort exists online. You can no more “trust” someone you don’t know online without context, contact, and prevenient /pre-existing relationships. Yet, each social networking silo tries to mask this weakness by following, friending, trusting, joining, inviting.

Just because we call something by a name does not make it that name.

Social networking tends to amplify and force multipy our baser and better natures, but what it cannot do is short circuit the building of meaningful relationships.

That still takes time and active reciprocity.