Trust, Transparency and Creating Business Value

To contribute business value, IT has to understand the organization’s mission, vision and strategies. All of that starts with trust and transparency.

The Gift of Trust

When Keithley started at CAA, he was asked to meet with the head of the organization. They talked about the job, expectations and all of the normal stuff. But one small comment trumped the rest of the conversation. His boss simply looked at Keithley and said, “I trust you.” He then told him to just do the best that he could. It was powerful in its simplicity and in how it made Keithley look at his role.

IT executives and managers often lament that “the business doesn’t trust us.” They complain that their decisions are second-guessed and called into question. There is an implied belief that we in IT are the “professionals” and therefore when we make a statement, it should be inherently trusted. I have historically counseled IT leaders that this is wrong. That they must first earn that trust through the consistent and reliable delivery of services. I still believe this to be true, but I now realize that this isn’t where it begins.

Trust begins as a gift.

When Keithley’s boss looked at him and told him that he trusted him, he had almost nothing to base that trust on. The boss didn’t really know him. He offered up his trust before Keithley had earned it. It was a gift. It was a statement that Keithley’s focus should not be on impressing him or living in fear that he wouldn’t measure up, but that he had a positive balance in the “political capital” bank account; therefore, he should go do the job he was hired to do. The psychological effect of that gift is so powerful that you are reading about this story 20 years later.

Most of us have stories just like this one. We remember that moment when someone believed in us when we weren’t even sure that we believed in ourselves, the moment when someone trusted in our abilities, in our integrity, in our character. And that faith and trust propelled us to achieve things that we didn’t know we were capable of achieving. We committed to honoring that trust.

Yet, how often, as IT leaders, do we fail to offer that same kind of trust, as a gift, to others? And then we are shocked that they failed to deliver, which ironically reinforces in our minds that we were correct to withhold that trust to begin with. But when we start by offering up trust as a gift, things change. People have this tendency to live up to the expectations that are set upon them. When you believe that they can do something, more often than not, they will do it.

Trust Creates Transparency

This tale of trust given as a gift, and the culture it creates, is the real story of the WAN acceleration project that wasn’t. While his boss was long gone by this time, his spirit of trust was embedded deep in Michael Keithley and the culture of the organization. When we were talking about this story over lunch, Keithley told me that had he submitted the WAN acceleration request, he knows that it would have been approved. He was trusted, right? But because he knew that, he also knew that he owed it to the organization to make sure that it was the right to submit the budget request.

A true sense of trust, one that is embedded into the culture, creates organizational transparency. I think people tend to think of it in the opposite order—that transparency creates trust. But I believe that transparency simply reinforces trust—a trust that was given freely to begin with. As you trust your management team, your leaders and your entire organization, they will be emboldened and will stop holding back. The truth will begin to flow unvarnished. And in that transparency, trust will be reinforced and deepened. And from that fertile bed, the seeds of deep and lasting relationships are planted. Those seeds eventually sprout into what I call “intimacy” in The Quantum Age of IT

That level of intimacy is the engine behind generating sustained business value. 

This article was originally published on 05-09-2013
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