What makes really good communication?

What is the most important ingredient for a super corporate culture that makes a first impression as soon as you enter the office or shop floor?

Or, to put it the other way around: What is the core problem when an organisation has got the “hacking and back-stabbing” to the point of perfection, territories have been staked out, information is not passed on, new ideas or proposals are stifled, where it is more important to sell one’s – supposed or actual – services with a big hullabaloo than to actually do good work, and where other “little games” are played, which we all know well enough. The list is endless.

Often it is blamed on “poor communication” or “those are just power games” or “this place is ruled by a culture of fear” or something similar. This may all be true, but exactly what is behind it all? I have often asked myself this when I have been called in by organisations to improve their internal communication, to build a state-of-the-art communication culture or to support change processes with effective communication.

The problem with the problem

After intensive research and countless conversations with executives and employees at all hierarchical levels, I have finally come to the realisation that there is a basic ingredient without which nothing happens or where everything goes only badly. Something that is at the core of all evil. On the other hand, this ingredient can regulate (almost) everything and bring it back into balance. This ingredient is trust.

A soft factor that provides for hard facts

For many trust is a guarantee for productivity, good personnel, good standing, contacts, customer loyalty, creativity and profit. Employees feel connected where they are trusted and have trust – in the perception and appreciation of their achievements, in transparent communication, in the competence of the top management and, last but not least, in the confident attitude of their immediate boss. This ensures that, in the event of errors and setbacks, despite all other losses no trust is lost. So, if you feel confident about your company, you are motivated and ready to perform, you corroborate the good reputation of your employer and keep faith with him. Trust is “worth its weight in gold”.

What exactly is trust?

In workshops on the subject, however, I have found again and again how difficult it is for some executives to define trust as such. I am always astonished at how many patterns of behaviour in a company restrict the willingness to trust.

Lack of trust costs real money

Lack of trust affects the entire company: Weak structures, a lack of interdisciplinary thinking, and power-driven, individual interests not only weaken productivity and motivation. The list of damages caused by a loss or lack of trust is long and affects companies at sensitive points: Information is held back or forwarded (deliberately) distorted, mistakes glossed over, statistics manipulated and innovations nipped in the bud. Those who have installed control measures and duplicate work steps as a result of lack of trust in the skills of their employees, who severely criticise mistakes and who create elitist circles, create a base on which fear and passivity grow instead of trust and commitment. As if that were not enough, in the end employees retreat into an internal emigration or even leave the company.

As a result, up to 99 billion Euros of turnover are lost, according to an annual Gallup poll. A high level of employee fluctuation causes considerable costs, as well as the loss of knowledge. Not to mention the fact that the working environment suffers and with it the well-being of individuals.

Trust is a currency

Trust is a currency that can help companies to gain new values in a time that is characterised by change and flexibility, efficiency and performance. Diplomats act with exactly this currency. They know how much of the gain of trust and building credibility is worthwhile negotiating. The tool they use is communication. With a glance at the “big picture”, they are aware of the different interests of all parties involved. But this glance does not just fall out of the sky; it meets the other person at eye-level, and that awakens a willingness to trust.

Trust determines productivity

For work processes in a company, trust is the key to the scales of productivity: Where there is little trust the rate of work is reduced, thereby increasing the costs. If, on the other hand, there is a high level of trust between the players, processes are sped up and costs are reduced. In a distrustful climate, decision-making processes take longer the less the persons involved trust each other. The amount of hedging that each individual operates is considerable and expensive: Executives control each and every work process and want to be involved in a countless number of decisions. Because trust in the other person’s ability is lacking, work is not sufficiently delegated or is even duplicated. And in daring decision-making, the tendency for all players to say “no” is much more pronounced than to risk a courageous “yes”. in a word: Mistrust weakens the ability to act, productivity and ultimately competitiveness.

Trust as an ingredient for economic success

Companies for whom trust is more than an empty phrase in the image brochure are usually very successful. They benefit from the commitment and loyalty of the workforce. Flat hierarchies, high self-responsibility of the individual, interdisciplinary pro-action and transparency pay off. Valuable resources such as time, money and nerves are spared.

Trust is, then, a precious asset. We often presuppose it, sometimes risk it unnecessarily, always demand it of others, and sometimes make it difficult for us to practise it ourselves. The seeds of trust provide a rich harvest: Commitment, loyalty, interdisciplinary and independent action, quick decision-making and innovation. Recognition is as simple as it is far-reaching: Trust is essential if cooperation is to be viable and successful.