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The strategic importance of trust in business

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In the world of business today, trust is more important than ever, especially when it comes to relationships with clients, customers, employees and all stakeholders in your business.

But what do we mean by trust? Webster’s dictionary defines trust as the assured reliance on the character, ability, strength or truth of someone or something.

I firmly believe that trust is right at the foundation of the survival and success of any business. Without trust, there can be no sustainable business.

Trust is a strategically critical issue in any type of relationship because a relationship without trust is not really a relationship at all. Over the long term, business success is dependent upon a network of positive relationships.

Trust is invariably the critical component in enhancing business relationships. The moment a person is not trusted by an individual or team, his or her chances for success within that group are dramatically diminished.

Working relationships that have been built on trust are an important sustainable competitive advantage because trust is so valuable and so rare. The level of trust a leader is able to achieve with his or her associates is contingent upon the associate’s perceptions of the leader’s ability, honesty and integrity.

A study was conducted to determine whether trust could be a source of competitive advantage. The study showed that trust is significantly related to sales, profits and turnover.

The study also concluded that the ability of a leader to earn higher trust from his or her employees likely creates a competitive advantage for a firm over its rivals.

There are certain components of trust that every client, customer or other stakeholder in your business looks for in doing business with you. There are several levels of trust, and I have chosen five for this piece.

A first level of trust is trust in technical competence and know-how. Clients and customers are looking for someone whose level of competence inspires trust.

A statement such as “Just trust me!” is woefully inadequate in today’s world. There is an obligation and a duty for you to provide explanations that are clear and concise and not overly simplistic.

A second level of trust is trust in ethical conduct and character. Your reputation is paramount, and your honesty and integrity must be impeccable.

A third level of trust is in your interpersonal skills and relationship. You must ensure that your clients and customers believe that if they tell you something about themselves, their business or any sensitive information, you will handle it with the utmost respect and confidentiality.

A fourth level of trust is being transparent and open in your business relationship. A lack of transparency will make you much more vulnerable to damaging your business relationship.

A fifth level of trust is being a “person of your word” and holding yourself accountable in all actions within your business relationships.

The strategic question we all need to ask is how many levels of trust have we established with our clients, customers and stakeholders in our businesses?

Glenn Ebersole, professional engineer, is strategic vice president, business development/marketing at Hollenbach Construction Inc., an award-winning professional construction management, design/build and general contractor organization in Boyertown.

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