My previous blog stressed the importance of trust in family business relationships. Trust is displayed not simply by being honest or holding information confidential. It’s also displayed in every day actions that build others’ confidence in our abilities and performance.
In The Speed of Trust, Stephen M.R. Covey offers 13 behaviors that build trust. Here are a few I find most relevant among farm families:
Talk Straight. We tend to avoid uncomfortable conversations. Talking straight takes honesty to a new level. It’s not just telling the truth; it’s discussing hard truths. It is not having a hidden agenda. For example, if you’re concerned your nephew is not putting in enough hours, talking straight means telling him yourself—not hoping your wife will talk to his mom who will put a bug in his ear. Talking straight doesn’t mean be rude or blunt or inflammatory; use emotional intelligence and communication skills to have tough conversations in a setting and tone that’s productive. Often times the need to talk straight is related to the next behavior…
Clarify Expectations. When we’re disappointed in another person’s performance, this is the single most common reason why. We didn’t have the same understanding of what/when/where/how/why. This works both way. If you’re trying to restore someone else’s trust in you, make sure you understand what specifically will convince them you’ve done the job right. If you’re extending trust to another, set them up to succeed with clear goals. And then, after you clarify expectations…
Deliver Results. Nothing builds confidence in each other like getting the job done. Maybe that is busting tail to prove your new organic venture is profitable and wasn’t an unwise wild risk like your partners thought. Maybe that is showing up for work 10 minutes early every day to disprove the perception that you’re a slacker. Actions speak louder than words in many cases.
Finally, Create Transparency. If your partners suspect you’re losing money hedging, show them regular status reports. And if you did make a bad decision, help them understand why you did so at the time and what you learned.
If your next generation wants to join the farm but is worried about whether it’s feasible, show them the books and let them do their own analysis. If the partners are giving conflicting marching orders to employees, have a weekly meeting to get on the same page about priorities. “In the absence of a story, people make one up.” If you are not communicating relevant information, you’re leaving people no choice but to make assumptions that may or may not be correct.
I encourage you to read the book; it has practical examples of how behaviors build or erode trust every day.