Trust in Motion

Posted on: September 25, 2009 by Abbas Shahim

Trust has been a word used quite a lot recently. First we had the lack of trust in the global financial system. Now in the UK we have a lack of trust in politicians and their expenses. Stephen M. R. Covey has recently written an excellent book all about it called 'The Speed of Trust - the one thing that changes everything'.

In the perfect storm with trust, recent events have also put the spotlight firmly on agility again, and the ability to react to events and more to the point unanticipated events has moved back up the most-pressing chart of the chief officer top ten.

Agility is one of those wonderful words where one can spend the first part of any conversation simply discussing what it means to the organisation before even getting on to how one might achieve it. Speed to market? Speed of reaction? Foresight? Adaptability? Ability to change the rules of the game yourself? Often in these situations it can be helpful to get the dictionary out, and for the purpose of the post I'd like to go with agility as being 'quickness of motion'. But how to achieve it?

In many cultures we have a tendency to convey machine like qualities on our large-scale structures and institutions (the machinery of government, the levers of the organisation, changing up a gear etc) - and agility as a characteristic of an organisation does not escape unscathed from such a mechanistic perspective.

Often, the human aspects that can deliver quickness of motion are placed secondary to the mechanistic aspects. And where agility is concerned the executive agenda will often tend towards focusing on more complex rules for dynamic processes as opposed to human collaboration.

So where do trust and agility meet?

There are quite a few formulae for trust. I happen to like the one I came across at Gemini Consulting about 10 years ago which goes along the lines of: Trust = (intimacy * credibility) / risk. This provides a helpful perspective on the mass of trust relationships between businesses and customers, staff in different business units, governments and citizens and of course our social networks.

If one looks at the social networks of the business - the social-enterprise - in contrast to the typical control organisational view, not only may you discover what's really going on but you'll also see the dynamic enterprise trust networks in action. It's in the enterprise social networks where trust and agility live the most. In unusual situations - times of increased risk - we tend to rely more than ever on the people we know most to get things done. If we want to be agile, engaging networks through the right trust relationships is going to win-out over engaging through the wrong ones.

But there is a twist here. As Richard Foster writes in his book 'Innovation: The Attacker's Advantage', rare indeed is the organisation which relentlessly abandons the products, services and skills that have brought it success. And rarer still the individual. Advantage goes to the new attacker without the legacy. Or to put it in perhaps the most famous way of all - we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them. When we really need to react fast - to have quickness of motion - perhaps it is more in the speed of establishing trust between new people, new networks and new cultures where the agility is really going to come from.

Perhaps it is in the question - 'how can I help the people in my business to form new trust networks?' - where a management focus might lie for agility in the connected age over the more known (and ironically enough, trusted) approaches of looking for agility in the processes. The business case to embrace mass-collaboration - or to borrow a phrase from a new acquaintance yesterday 'to unleash Web 2.0 in the enterprise' - is starting to look pretty compelling on a number of fronts, not least of which is a step toward speed of trust.

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About Abbas Shahim
Business & Management Consultant
Abbas Shahim is partner at Atos Consulting where he heads the international GRC practice. He is also full professor of IT Auditing and GRC at the VU University Amsterdam.

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