Building trust in our organisations and how this links to the law

We recently spent a day with members of the Ethical Business HR Forum exploring trust: what it means, why it’s important and how we might build more of it in our organisations. An interesting and thought-provoking discussion led by Sarah King of Loafspark.

For us, ‘start with trust’ is one of our core values – we built our business on it, our client relationships are founded on it and we continue to believe it’s the starting point of any new relationship.

But as lawyers, when we’re advising on a potentially contentious situation, what role does trust play? Should our focus be on tactics to achieve a ‘win’ for our client or on building trust? We’re clear that building trust is an essential element of any solution and usually leads to the best results.

In our recent Forum session, we discussed the author Stephen MR Covey’s suggestion that trust comprises four elements:

integrity – the absence of a gap between our intent and behaviour
intent – our motives, agendas and resulting behaviour
capabilities – our talents, attitude, skills, knowledge and style
results – our track record and performance

This made us think about what role these elements play when we advise clients. We always start with identifying the true purpose of what they’re proposing to do. This doesn’t just mean ‘this person has to go!’ It’s about the real purpose of what they’re proposing in relation to the organisation as a whole. Sometimes it takes careful questioning to unpick this.

Once we’re clear about the true intent, we set about finding a way forward that sits comfortably with their ethos and values and still works within a legal framework.

Applying Stephen MR Covey’s trust elements, we are ensuring that whatever is done is done with clear intent and integrity. In other words, the behaviour is consistent with the purpose. In our experience, this usually enables an employer to take an employee on the journey with them, wherever that may be leading, and brings the best outcomes (both for the people concerned and for the organisation).

Our recent session on trust was a reminder that the principles of trust run through all good relationships and are essential for resolving disputes. At an early stage, identifying clear ‘intent’ and acting with ‘integrity’ helps minimise the risk of an issue escalating. If you have to deal with dispute resolution, ensuring clear intent and integrity as you engage with the mediation or restorative practice you choose, and/or in the court process, is essential to a good outcome.

‘The first steps to building trust are simple: be clear about your intent and act with integrity’

We encourage everyone to consider how they might take positive steps to build trust in the workplace. The first steps to building trust are simple: be clear about your intent and act with integrity. It’s powerful, compelling and will almost certainly bring the best outcome with the least stress. If you truly build trust in the organisation, there will be so many other benefits (beyond just managing legal risk!).

Our comment

How much more refreshing to focus on building trust (within a legal framework), to get the best outcome, rather than just focussing on the law to provide a solution.