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By 26 June 2020 | Categories: feature articles

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Trust is crucial. As Stephen MR Covey said: “If people can trust each other, it’s like a multiplier effect for everything else that they’re doing.”

Yet how trust works, and how we generate it, is not static. As the world changes, so do how we give trust. It’s a fascinating topic that the keen minds of Andile Solutions tackled in a recent Andile Axiom webinar called The Trust Currency.

The webinar was a virtual fireside conversation between Andile co-founder Andries Brink and Stefan Cronje, Director at BTS (pictured). They both noted that there had been a shift in how we interact with each other as humans. Digital technologies, such as decentralised ledgers, have already changed our interactions, and the COVID-19 pandemic - despite all of its problems and dangers - is accelerating that transition into a digitally decentralised world.

Shift happens

But even before the pandemic there have been notable changes, said Cronje.

“There are three things worth calling out. One is a generational shift, one is an organisational shift, and the last is a personal shift.”

The generational shift is often articulated through millennials and Gen-Z joining the workforce, driven by a search for meaning and not merely being productive from nine to five. It’s a culture that welcomes feedback and assigns trust at a very direct level. The ratings on ride- or house-sharing services reflect this paradigm.

Organisations have also been changing, stepping away from hierarchical command-and-control cultures to pockets of power and autonomy across the company.

“Some leaders are taking back control. But the best leaders are recognising that there are people closer to the key points of impact, and we need to empower them in those moments to respond effectively to everything that’s happening,” explained Cronje.

Personal shifts relate to this and are particularly visible in how some leaders manage the current pandemic. There is a rise in vulnerability and authenticity - people are hungry for these attributes in relationships, even at work. Gone are the days of the business superhero CEOs who just keep going.

Cultivating trust

But how do we cultivate trust in this new world? Answering that starts with defining trust in the modern context. Brink and Cronje agreed that trust can be defined as the combination of character and competence.

“We need to stay interconnected, and the mechanism to stay interconnected is through trust,” said Brink. “You cannot trust a team where you know the competence level is too low. Competence is not only the ability to execute, but also to create original solutions. Character is a consistent execution of inner constitution. It’s about being true to self. It’s the internal constitution that shines through. The optimal functioning of any group is down to the optimal functioning of the self.”

During the conversation, which incorporated regular polls from the webinar audience, it became clear that trust today incorporates all three shifts articulated earlier.

Generational, organisational and personal changes around trust work hand-in-hand with each other. This evolution has been happening for a while, but digital technology and, now, the pandemic is accelerating the change.

Heading for a fall

The pandemic is also straining older trust mechanisms, particularly in financial and economic contexts, which Brink predicts will cause big problems down the line.

“Companies shouldn’t be given this amount of trust through central mechanisms. And that’s the problem with central mechanisms - they are blunt tools. They only have certain things they can do, certain levers they can pull, and right now they are just pushing cash. I’m convinced this will be problematic, because credit-worthiness will suffer. Can we trust people to pay back the value?”

We shouldn’t ignore that the new era of trust is supported by a new wave of technologies and innovative thinking. Decentralised systems such as Uber ratings or blockchain ledgers are hallmarks of recognising that trust is an individual perception of competency and character. It’s not about removing the old way of doing things, but empowering the new avenues by which more people can participate and excel in the world.

“When you are in a distributed organisation, it’s harder for your value to be unknown,” said Brink. “You could once sit in an office, and people left it at that. But these days we’re more integrated. No room for hiding.”

Trust and the future

This is why trust currency from a personal and organisational view is even more important. We are in an age when trust can become a truly individual quality as well as improve how any group performs. Trust has always been important but, said Cronje, it’s never been more personal and impactful.

“The value of our currency will determine what we are entrusted with. It’s about being aware of what I say and do, how that breaks or builds trust.”

Trust can have a multiplier effect on everything we do, particularly in the integrated and flat world we are building. If we can build and maintain trust currency as societies, organisations and individuals, that world will be at our feet.

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