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Book Review: Smart Trust

September 16, 2012

If you read only one book on trust-building, this should be it. It’s timely, practical and compelling .- me

trust book    I don’t say that lightly, I’ve read a ton of articles about trust. You’ve also read my review of Onwards so you know I don’t sugar coat it. I also don’t receive any compensation for my opinions. I’m coming from a place of integrity and authenticity.

Smart Trust by Stephen M. R. Covey and Greg Link  was published in January of this year so the  trust statistics are all very recent as are the varied and plentiful examples.  For organizations ranging from PepsiCo, Zappos, Berkshire Hathaway and Costco to the Honesty Coffee Shop     in Batan, coaches and political leaders in Columbia, Smart Trust principles can apply to any size organization in any industry.

Perhaps I liked the book so much because I am a fervent believer that “trust is a performance multiplier” for societies, organizations and people and I am concerned by the costs that lack of trust entail and believe in its many benefits.

As the authors put it “Low trust creates a tax-a wasted tax – that penalizes interactions and diminishes prosperity.” (p.17) “There’s a cost to excessive rules and regulations in terms of both administration and also creative energy.” (p.46)

Within organizations these taxes include redundancy, bureaucracy, politics, disengagement, turnover, churn and fraud. We don’t want to work in places like this or live in societies like these.

Smart Trust also concords with my view that trust can build quickly and that it builds upon itself. This is quite different than what psychology scholars have been telling us for some time. In their view, trust had to begin at an interpersonal level and evolve slowly as people judge each interaction. Here, we’re talking about a multiplier effect that is much faster.

The Covey-Link approach is also very empowering and gives responsibility to individuals from the CEO to the shop floor to:

  1. Choose to believe in trust
  2. Start with yourself
  3. Declare your intent and assume positive intent
  4. Do what you say
  5. Lead out in extending trust

The book is also a lot of fun to read. From the Dilbert cartoons that sometimes hit a little close to home to really vivid stories. My favourite story involves the CEO of Continental Airlines who “took stacks of company policy manuals that were filled with minutia-controlling regulations out to the parking lot and had employees set fire to them. He told them that from now on, instead of following some rigid manual, they were to use their own judgment in solving problems.” (p.199)

Psychologists call that changing a cognitive post. Holy Hannah, I guess so! In a dramatic gesture, Gordon Bethune showed his employees that he trusted them to use their judgement and to do their work. Under his leadership (and no doubt, the employees’ followership) Continental went from being ranked worst in every performance category to winning more J.D. Power awards for customer satisfaction than any other airline in the world.

“A boss’ job- a leader’s job – is to facilitate, not to control. You have to trust people to do their jobs. That’s the strongest leadership there is. Trusting your employees.” – Gordon Bethune, Former CEO, Continental Airlines

Ultimately, this is a business book. It sets out a solid case for the benefits of trust and the costs of distrust. It identifies and addresses how to avoid blind trust and a number of ‘fake trust’ approaches which are not helpful. It also encourages swift action in the event of a breach of trust. While it gives tons of practical ideas on how leaders can build trust, it also empowers individuals at any place in society or an organization to “lift where you stand” because collectively the trust-building efforts are all important.

Have you read Smart Trust? If so, what did you find most compelling? Did your copy end up looking like this? Definitely, my copy is going to get much worse as it will be re-read and referenced extensively.

smart trust business book   

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