META Group Report: Five Fundamental Steps to Build Trust

Jun 8, 2001

Jonathan Poe

META Trend: By 2004/05, 40% of Global 2000 enterprises (vs. 7% currently) will have transformed into information-driven businesses. During 2001/02, leading CIOs managing the transition to information service provider will concentrate on increasing the business perception of information dependence, while developing repeatable processes for sustaining information delivery capabilities.

Many executives and executives-in-training wonder: How can I get more access to decision makers? How do I avoid being stereotyped? And how do I gain a corporate officer's confidence? To break through the barriers of uncertainty, loud noise, and reduced executive availability, experienced leaders cultivate relationships and relationship networks. We believe five key skills/actions are required to build trust:

  • 1) engaging purposefully
  • 2) listening proficiently
  • 3) framing perceptively
  • 4) envisioning prudently;and
  • 5) committing passionately.

A key characteristic of relationship management is trust. To build collaborative teams, more than 25% of world-class firms will incorporate trust-building practices into their leadership programs by 2004. As these leadership programs succeed and gain notoriety, Global 2000 firms will start including team-building, communication, and relationship management in their cultural education curricula. By 2006, more than 50% of program management and leadership academies within G2000 firms will contain advanced trust-building classes.

Trust rarely develops instantaneously. Instead, it must be developed over time, requiring effort and accumulated interactions. Moreover, trust has both rational and emotional components. To create enduring business partnerships, trust must be based on the customer's experience of expertise applied to solve specific customer issues (the rational part of partnerships) and the perceived business value of the solution, its provider, and their relationship (the emotional part). Trust results from a two-way relationship created in tandem. Because trust is bilateral, involves emotion and logic, is complex, and requires time, experienced leaders minimize risk through sequential methodology. Through practice, building trust becomes a process that produces great change, gathers critical mass, and has an exponential impact.

Building trust requires five essential elements:

  • 1. Engaging Purposefully. Connecting with the customer starts the trust-building process. Because the customer must invest time and energy into the relationship, smart trust builders start with small commitments of time and energy (short meetings, brief e-mails, crisp conversations). As their successful experiences build, customers will risk and trust more. Continuing engagements require customers to believe the IT organization (ITO) has something to offer (speed, scalability, solutions). Smart CIOs use their "honeymoon" period to transfer personal trust (trust of the person) to organizational trust (trust of the ITO). If that opportunity is missed, "turnaround" CIOs establish goodwill in specific line-of-business advocates (individuals) to build critical mass (many partners) toward a trusting set of relationships. Because the ITO needs customer trust to be successful, ITOs should take initiative and meet with customers.

  • 2. Listening Proficiently. Good listening builds trust. Effective problem solving requires skillful listening to understand customer issues, scout for hot buttons, and vigorously clarify ambiguous areas. When CIOs take time to listen to customers, absorb concerns, and leverage IT resources to build relationships, they display levels of empathy necessary to succeed. Good listening, like any skill, is an active undertaking - a continual back-and-forth acknowledgment that every party in the conversation is being heard and understood.

  • 3. Framing Perceptively. Successful trust building requires that the listener summarize, encapsulate the customer's complex objectives and issues, demonstrate empathy, and reveal understanding. Framing is complex in that it involves identifying and enunciating the essence of a problem. While the logical framing can be done in a straightforward manner, emotionally framing a customer's perceptions is more intricate to gain a listener's confidence and remove any fear, anxiety, or doubt (emotional barriers to success).

  • 4. Envisioning Prudently.Too often, IT practitioners try to solve a problem immediately. Experienced managers know that problems can have many solutions, including doing nothing. The customer may determine that the benefits of the future state are not worth the effort or that they can live with the problem. Visualizing a common future between two parties builds trust. Another best trust practice is to give away ideas, where successful CIOs assist their business customers to "unexpectedly" find new ideas.

  • 5. Committing Passionately. The rational part of commitment requires an agreement for future action; the emotional part requires an obligation from the customer. Good trust builders manage both sets of expectations by discussing "who, what, where, when, and how," so that customers understand the details of the implementation, what risks lie ahead, and what (new) behaviors are needed. Because customers may be unfamiliar with proposed changes, experienced CIOs share their personal experiences in an open and candid manner. During this final phase of the trust-building process, commitment is both joint and personal to strengthen the relationship between the two involved parties. A joint implementation plan builds trust.

The current economy is not just about the exchange of data and information; it is about the exchange of relationships and trust. While relationship management is nothing new, it is more important than ever, especially in working with executives. Building trust is risky business. Without trust, however, teams fail and people resign. This skill requires credibility to engage, empathy to listen, insight to frame, creativity to visualize, leadership to commit, and finesse to manage customer expectations. As businesses globalize, organizations decentralize, and ITOs engage partners, trust becomes a business necessity. Courageous CIOs seek collaboration and actively build trust among their executive peers and within their ITOs.

Business Impact: When the basics of trust building are learned and applied, corporations have more effective teams and managers - prerequisites for high-performing organizations.

Bottom Line: To escape micromanagement prison, CIOs must build trust with their executive peers and within their IT organizations. Successful transformation and performance require leadership and collaboration - both of which require trust.

Copyright 2001 META Group Inc. 208 Harbor Drive, P.O. Box 1200061, Stamford, CT 06912-0061. Web: Telephone: (203) 973-6700. Fax: (203) 359-8066.


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