Home » Articles written by experts » Trust: It Can’t be Restored if it Never Existed


“I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.” 
― Friedrich Nietzsche


Today’s blog topic jumped right out of the headlines from the past 24 hours:

Football Must Regain the Public’s Trust

Trust Vital Between Officers & The Community

State Audit of Fayette Schools Shows Need to Restore Public Trust

Restore Public Trust

These headlines rarely change. Everyday we hear about the need to restore trust in education, communities, sports, business and government. The story is the same, only the names of the violators change. I can’t think of a single headline that ever read something like this ” We are Embracing Trust as a Business Imperative and Building it Into Our Foundation.”

There is enormous societal confusion swirling around the term “trust” that stems from this “restoration” approach. It is based on the assumption that trust was present before the crisis. In almost every case it wasn’t. Building a foundation of trust is a proactive decision made by the leaders of an organization, and it is built in incremental steps. In every one of the headlines above, I will venture to guess that trust was never a component of the leadership agenda, nor its Board of Directors.

Unfortunately, trust is taken for granted. It is assumed that it just “exists” when, in reality, it rarely does. Some leaders might argue, “Why bother? Maybe we’ll get lucky and never face a crisis.” I would respond that it’s much less expensive to build a foundation of trust, than it is to “manage” a crisis and attempt to build trust after the crisis. Building a foundation of trust also brings tangible and intangible benefits. These are just a few:

  • Improved collaboration driving decision-making speed, efficiency and innovation
  • Greater personal effectiveness for all involved, improving team projects and the odds of their coming to fruition
  • Increased employee responsibility and competence
  • Improved morale
  • Faster/more efficient new business development
  • Win/win opportunities both internally and externally

These are some pretty good reasons for building a foundation of trust. Don’t you agree? And remember, you CANNOT regain or restore something that never existed.

Barbara Brooks Kimmel is the Executive Director of Trust Across America-Trust Around the World whose mission is to help organizations build trust. She is also the editor of the award winning TRUST INC. book series. In 2012 Barbara was named “One of 25 Women Changing the World” by Good Business International.

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Should you wish to communicate directly with Barbara, drop her a note at Barbara@trustacrossamerica.com

Copyright © 2014, Next Decade, Inc.

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7 Responses to “Trust: It Can’t be Restored if it Never Existed”

  1. September 21st, 2014 at 12:42 | #1

    Right on, Barbara.
    Organizations need to put trust on the agenda for frequent discussion. They can’t just assume it is there.
    How do you put trust on the agenda? Ask questions of your key leaders: Do we have the trust of our stakeholders? Why is the trust of our stakeholders important to our success? What can we do to build trust with our stakeholders? If trust has been broken with our stakeholders, how can we rebuild it?
    Organizations spend days developing strategic plans, marketing plans, brand and reputation plans. How many days do they spend developing trust-building plans? Maybe trust building should be an agenda topic in the strategic planning work as well as the marketing and brand-building work?
    Decades ago people, perhaps naively, trusted organizations: their employers, business, religious institutions, and governments. Then trust began to breakdown as people learned how their leaders had often deceived them.
    Trust in an organization is a legacy of the behavior of the leadership.
    Don’t just assume trust is there; put trust on the agenda of your organization.

  2. September 21st, 2014 at 20:01 | #2

    Hi Barbara, this quote from you in your blog is sheer gold

    “it’s much less expensive to build a foundation of trust, than it is to “manage” a crisis and attempt to build trust after the crisis.”

    On almost every occasion the risks and costs of dis-trust (disengaged trust) are only considered as a reaction to a particular negative event or situation, rather than taking the proactive stance and putting intentional trust and ‘how are we going with intentions, promises, actions and results in building trust’ squarely on the agenda of every Board and executive management meeting, right through to front line staff meetings.

    I once again congratulate you in all you’re doing.

    Warmly, David

  3. September 22nd, 2014 at 07:06 | #3

    Thank you for your comments Bob and David. Trust should be an agenda topic across all silos. In fact, every functional unit should send a “trust” ambassador to regularly scheduled trust sessions.

    Thank you both for the work you do.


  4. September 23rd, 2014 at 06:58 | #4

    That is so true. I was thrilled to read your thoughts about the agenda and restoring approach. I am giving thoughts to these top issues; also in what I sent to you. Having thought trust (distrust) in the board room, and more and more the need to highlight the role of trust within TMTs and their strategic agenda especially.
    Good for you, your promotion efforts are invaluable 🙂

  5. September 23rd, 2014 at 07:52 | #5

    Taina- your insights and research help me every day.

  6. October 8th, 2014 at 16:53 | #6

    I am happy to hear that and likewise, in my Trust class these practical ideas are very useful 🙂

  7. Heidi De Wolf
    October 25th, 2014 at 12:10 | #7

    What a sad world we live in wherein trust between human being has to be earned rather than being a gift from one person to the next. Being trusting of others does not mean having your eyes closed or being gullible, it means having a better understanding of your own and other people’s humanity and circumstances without assumption or judgement.

    Everyone needs a commitment to banishing Blame Culture (aka a culture of distrust), both in the workplace and in society by making trust a gift from the heart that everyone we meet deserves without conditions. This thinking is the founding force of activities such as Pay It Forward etc where you gift a total stranger a small gift of kindness.

    This is not rocket science , yet so hard to achieve?!

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