What value can be placed on trust?

Two incidents in the past few weeks have caused me to ask the question: Is trust earned or is it lost?

The first of these was the reaction I encountered amongst a host of South Africans to the news that former President Nelson Mandela, was “in a critical but stable condition” according to official statements made by the Office of the Presidency in Pretoria.

This statement came at exactly the same time that certain members of Madiba’s family had approached the court for permission to have the remains of other family members exhumed and returned to Qunu.

The main argument for the urgency requested by the family members was the fact that Nelson Mandela was in a “vegetative” state and the implication was that he had reached a point of non-recovery. What astonished me about the reaction I witnessed was the almost unanimous scepticism about the truthfulness of the Presidency’s statement, couched in words like “what are they hiding?”; “why don’t they just come out with the truth?” and so forth, based on a general acceptance that the family was finally giving the public the truth.

It was also clear to me was that this reaction spoke volumes of a breakdown of trust in anything that the Office of the Presidency sends out, from the state of Madiba’s health, to the warranted costs involved in the upgrade of Nkandla, to the “of course it’s already flawed…” assumptions behind the probe into the Arms deal.

Is this reaction a case of what should be the most trustworthy of offices in the country having lost the trust of its citizens, through regularly leaving that citizenry wondering what the real story is, as opposed to that which it is expected to believe and accept? Or, is it that the office has inherited the distrust of the public from previous occupants’ behaviour and having to earn the trust of its citizens right from the start?

Closer to home, I had a technician in my home attend to a noisy telephone line. After he had inspected everything, he announced that I needed to replace my actual phone and proudly told me that it wasn’t a problem with the line.

He then went on to tell me that if I should be contacted by his company, I should tell them that there was definitely something wrong with the line and that he had sorted it out. This means  that I would then not owe the company anything as a call out fee.

My protesting that this was a lie had no effect on him and he drove off, totally unashamed or perturbed that he could cost the very company that pays him, a legitimate fee. Just to add insult to injury, he was wrong and it was the fault of the line, which now makes me distrust the word of the very technicians the company sends out to fix my problem.  In this case, the company of whom I am a consumer, has lost the trust I had in it!

Stephen Covey lists the following benefits to a business, when the levels of trust are high on the part of both employees and customers:

–          Increased value

–          Accelerated growth

–          Enhanced innovation

–          Improved collaboration

–          Stronger partnering

–          Better execution

–          Heightened loyalty

It seems to me that there’s a lesson here for both the office of the Presidency and for the leadership of the company whose representative was the “face” of the company and its values, when he rendered a service in my home.

That lesson is that the payoff of gaining and KEEPING the trust of the public is worth every ounce of effort it takes to do so because, once it’s lost, it’s very costly to regain.

To quote Covey one last time: Nothing is as fast as the speed of trust. Nothing is as profitable as the economics of trust. Nothing is as central to leadership as relationships of trust. It truly is the one thing that changes everything.


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