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Trust - why every founder should care about it

Aktualisiert: 21. Sept. 2020

Be it when working with start-ups on high-achieving teams or in founder coachings: one topic regularly coming up is trust

At the same time, this topic is not really present in founders' minds and feels a bit fuzzy. So we want to lend you a guiding hand in digging deeper into this topic and to understand why and how this can help you to bring your start-up further.

Trust can be one of the main drivers of your start-up’s success. The lack of it can slow down growth significantly and cause you to plateau. Why? Because when building and scaling your company, you as a founder or leader neither can nor should stay involved in all the tasks and projects. As a consequence, others have to do parts of the work. This is where trust enters the scene.

5 reasons why trust matters

There are many reasons for the importance of trust. For now let us focus on 5 of them, as from our experience they are especially important in start-ups.

1. Trust is the foundation and catalyst for mastering conflicts and having efficient discussions. Two key requirements for better ideas and solutions. Why? Because people who trust each other are willing to share and listen to controversial ideas and opinions and are not afraid of giving hard feedback to each other. Having this conflict ability strongly contributes to creating commitment. This helps you to keep the speed in your start-up high.

2. Trusting others to contribute their share of what needs to be done allows you to let go and fully focus on what you need to contribute. By spreading yourself to thin or spending your time on the wrong tasks, you rather harm your start-up than bringing it forward. Focus, especially when growing fast with limited resources, is critical. And if you focus on everything, you don’t focus at all.

3. Two key motivational drivers for people are the degree of freedom (autonomy) and how much they can learn and grow (mastery). Trusting people will allow you to give them a higher level of autonomy. At the same time, you have now more time to help them to learn and grow, contributing to the human desire for mastery. A lack of trust instead often comes with micro-management and by this little chances to learn and grow.

4. The way you behave as a founder strongly influences your company culture, as people will mimic you. Depending on if you work in an environment of trust or the lack of it, the behaviour will be quite different. Typical behaviours in a low trust environment are political games, not addressing the elephant in the room, hiding mistakes…. In a high trust environment instead: Failures, struggles and the according learnings are shared, feedback is honest and direct, people take ownership….

5. Last but not least, working in a team with people you trust simply allows you to switch off and sleep better and by this to perform better. If you don’t trust people you are working with, worrying about things they might do/ not do, hidden agendas… can easily keep your mind running day and night. And independently of what you tell yourself: if you can’t switch off and don’t sleep well you don’t perform well.

3 sources of trust

To be able to talk about ‘how to build trust’, let’s have first a look at where trust actually comes from. There are plenty of models out there. We prefer the following one to talk about sources of trust:

Trust in competence is based on observable proof. Most importantly track record/ success stories, but also degrees, training, certificates, role…. This can be further divided into expert, leadership and social competence.

Trust in integrity is based on expectations, previous experiences and how somebody meets expectations. This comes with a strong reliability part: how promises are kept and results are delivered.

Trust in the relationship is based on goodwill and emotions. They root in personal interests, preferences, prejudices and projections. 

How to deal with trust in your daily work

After looking into ‘why trust matters’ and ‘where trust comes from’ let us now get to ‘how to deal with trust in your daily work’.

1. The work already starts before somebody joins your company: in the hiring process. Focus already in the interviews on the competence and integrity/ reliability part by using behavioural questions. When it comes to the relationship part, I would suggest the following: Get first aware of your personal biases, as they might get in your way of hiring some great people. When the candidate meets all requirements, but your gut tells you rather not to hire them, don’t do so. Of course, it can still turn out well. However, we have seen all too often the opposite happening.

2. When you have hired somebody, give them and yourself time to build trust. It is not unusual that trust doesn’t just happen, but has to be worked for. This is especially true when the new hire shall take over tasks you as a founder previously did. Get clear about your expectations and challenge yourself about how realistic they are. Ensure to be in close contact with the new hire, especially in the first 8 weeks, both in formal and informal conversations and settings. When you already say to yourself in the first weeks ‘I don’t trust this person’, we are sorry to tell you that most likely you made a mistake in hiring them.

3. When it comes to existing team members, think about relationships which make you worry a lot. Have a look at those relationships through the lens of trust. Use the ‘three sources of trust’ to reflect for yourself why it might be difficult for you to trust this person or vice versa. Do you actually doubt the expert competences of the person? Do you often think about situations the person failed to keep their promises/ achieve goals? Or do you have contrary personal preferences? If your answer is yes to any of those question: go and talk with the person. Offer them a helping hand (when it is e.g. about a lack of skills) or give them the chance to (re-)gain trust based on clear goals. Without addressing it and actively working on it nothing will happen.

4. Last but not least: The key element to build trust is courage. The courage to be vulnerable. We know that this is still not a popular word in the world of 10x growth and high-achievement. However, if you want to build trust in your team, you have to start with being honest about yourself and to be human. If you messed something up, don’t hide it but rather pro-actively address it and share your learnings. Be honest about what keeps you awake at night and what you worry about, but also what excites you and what you are proud of. Share the stories about your struggles and successes. If you are not willing to do this, please also don’t expect your team to do it.

Now it’s your turn to decide if trust is something that can help you to bring your company to the next level. We are also looking forward to hearing about your stories on trust and what became possible by it or was caused by the lack of it.

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