Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan has said that investing in the future of South Africa’s next generation called for partnerships between businesses, labour, the government and other sectors - but that this required “building trust, a spirit of co-operation, and above, all recognising that besides business interest, it’s about looking after today and investing in tomorrow”.

A high trust environment is a performance multiplier and the opposite is true of a low trust environment. These cultures cost businesses and governments money, whether in the form of office politics and employee disengagement, employee turnover, customer churn, redundancy, bureaucracy or fraud. Staff are more likely to miss deadlines, deliver poor service and pass the proverbial buck. If any business and government leaders can relate to these challenges, then the task is clear: trust needs to be a top-down organisational imperative that is framed against the economics of your operating environment.

This is only possible by creating and building a culture of trust that is led by credible leadership and maintained by every person within the organisation.

Imagine a company in which each employee brought their full selves to work and focussed on achieving the highest priorities of the business every day - irrespective of their position, pay grade or daily tasks. Imagine a company in which employees were enthusiastic rather than apathetic, were driven rather than complacent, and, dare I say, happy rather than prone to complain at every instance.

A “high trust” environment offers business leaders increased efficiency and innovation, reduced costs, better execution, improved collaboration and heightened loyalty. It is the stimulus needed to accelerate growth regardless of the prevailing economic climate.

In a world where workers have more choices than ever before, finding what motivates workers to choose to do better, be better and follow you in your vision is not as easy as proposing competitive salaries and extra leave days. In reality, it starts with leadership that earns trust through their behaviour.

Trust is the confidence born out of two dimensions: character and competence. Character includes your integrity, motives and intent with people, and competence includes your capabilities, skills, results and track record. Leaders should first measure their behaviour against integrity, intent, capabilities and a track record of good results. They will earn the trust of their employees once they can demonstrate credible results in all of these aspects - and if they continue to re-evaluate their performance on an ongoing basis. Only once this process of personal transformation in leaders has begun, can leaders hope to be trusted by their employees and significantly alter the trajectory of their organisation.

We saw this clearly in the Provo City government in Utah, which approached us for help to overcome challenges that were a direct consequence of low levels of trust. Change started at the top, with mayor John Curtis being committed to real, sustainable behaviour change. Introducing a system of accountability over the long term - rather than attempts at quick-fix solutions - created a sustainable culture of high trust that will survive beyond electoral changes in leadership.

Weak collaboration

We also worked with a multinational snack company that struggled with employee engagement. Collaboration between the sales and marketing departments was weak, impacting sales already threatened by stormy economic conditions.

Adopting behaviours that engendered organisation trust saw staff turnover drop by 70 percent in one division, while employee engagement scores grew by 6 percent across the organisation. Building trust between the sales and marketing teams saw double digit sales growth for the first time in a decade.

The best leaders recognise that trust underpins and affects the quality of every relationship, every communication, every work project, and every business venture. These leaders focus on making the creation of a high trust culture an explicit business objective. It becomes a goal that is focused on, measured and improved. When an organisation recognises that it has low levels of trust, it also knows that huge economic consequences can be expected.

There are 13 common behaviours of trusted leaders around the world that build - and allow you to maintain trust. When you adopt these ways of behaving, it’s like making deposits into the other party’s “trust account”.

These are: Listen first; talk straight; demonstrate respect; create transparency; right wrongs; show loyalty; deliver results; get better; confront reality; clarify expectations; practice accountability; keep commitments and extend trust.

Remember those 13 behaviours always need to be balanced by each other. For example talk straight needs to be balanced with demonstrating respect and that any behaviour pushed to the extreme can become a weakness.

In my experience from the work that I have done both locally and globally, I am convinced that nothing is as fast as the speed of trust.

* Marlinie Ramsamy is the chief executive of FranklinCovey South Africa.

* The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Independent Media.

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