Stephen M.R. Covey
Chief executive of consulting firm CoveyLink
Don’t tell Stephen M.R. Covey that trust within an organization is an admirable but ultimately soft, fuzzy and less-than-critical attribute. He just co-wrote a book, The Speed of Trust, which argues that trust is a crucial factor affecting the cost of business and how fast things happen. Covey is the son of author Stephen R. Covey and for years ran his father’s leadership development firm. He recently spoke with Workforce Management staff writer Ed Frauenheim.
Workforce Management: How important is trust within organizations?
Stephen M.R. Covey: I think it’s absolutely vital, and not just as a "nice to have" social virtue. Trust is a hard-edged economic driver. Companies that engender this with their own people, as well as engender this with their other stakeholders, have a decided advantage. When trust goes down, speed will go down and cost will go up. That’s a tax. When trust goes up, speed goes up, cost goes down. That’s a dividend.
WM: Can you give an example?
Covey: Herb Kelleher a few years ago had a direct report of his, Gary Barron, who oversaw the maintenance organization at Southwest Airlines. Baron comes up to Kelleher in the hallway and hands him a memo in which he outlines a major restructuring of his organization. Kelleher reads the memo on the spot—this is the first time he’s getting this data—and asks a question of Barron about the proposal. Barron answers the question, and Kelleher literally approves the proposal on the spot in the hallway. The whole thing takes four minutes. And it’s fundamentally because Kelleher trusted Barron.
WM: It seems many people don’t care about trust. They just want a paycheck.
Covey: Yes, there’s cynicism out there. But there’s also a renaissance of trust. Some individuals and some companies are saying, "No, there’s a better way to operate." Not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s the economic thing to do. This will become more and more evident.
WM: Are you making a simple concept too complicated?
Covey: Trust is, at one level, very simple. But too many people, too many companies don’t know what to do about it. Too many people think trust is only character. I’m saying, "No, it’s character and competence." You don’t trust someone who’s honest but can’t get the job done. I’m trying to give us a language to help us describe it and a process to help us improve it. You can do a lot about this. You can establish trust. You can grow it. You can restore it.
WM: What’s the first thing to do to restore trust in an organization?
Covey: You confront reality. You right wrongs. If need be, you apologize. If need be, you make restitution. And then you behave in ways that will help you behave your way out of the problem. My father likes to say you can’t talk your way out of a problem you behaved your way into. Make commitments and then keep them. You can restore trust faster than you might think. It doesn’t necessarily have to be something that takes years and years.
Workforce Management, November 20, 2006, p. 7 -- Subscribe Now!