Speaker: Business at the speed of trust changes everything

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Stephen M.R. Covey makes connections among trust, speed and costs. As trust increases, so does speed. Costs go down.

“Speed happens when people trust each other. And nothing is as fast as the speed of trust,” said Covey, the former executive of a leadership development company who literally wrote the book on the subject.

Covey presented his case for building trust during an Ethics Week lecture at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction.

Trust improves everything from employee productivity to customer loyalty to business innovation, he said. “Trust changes everything. Not in small, incremental ways, but in profound ways.”

Covey — the son of the late Stephen R. Covey, author of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” — was president and chief executive officer of the Covey Leadership Center. The leadership development company merged with Franklin Quest to become FranklinCovey. Stephen M.R. Covey now serves as global practice leader in helping clients increase performance and influence through leadership that inspires trust. Covey wrote the best-selling book titled “The Speed of Trust — The One Thing That Changes Everything.”

He spoke at CMU as part of a lecture series presented by the Daniels Fund Ethics Initiative. Named after cable television pioneer and philanthropist Bill Daniels, the initiative focuses on strengthening principle-based ethics education and fostering a higher standard of ethics.

Covey said building trust is an important part of building a culture of ethics.  But there’s what he described as a “crisis of trust” in business, government and media. “It’s never been lower than it is today.”

Even as a lack of trust creates a downward spiral, increased trust creates an upward cycle that can lead to change, he said. “I think trust is the ultimate currency, especially in a low-trust world.”

Covey cited as one example the work of Muhammad Yunus, an economics professor in Bangladesh who founded the Grameen Bank to offer small loans to poor entrepreneurs who didn’t have collateral for traditional financing. Those microloans helped lift people out of poverty. In 2006, Yunus was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

In trusting the people who received loans, they reciprocated with a 98 percent payback rate, Covey said. “At the end of the day, the whole thing was based on trust.”

Trust is not only a social virtue, but also an economic driver, Covey said, one that constitutes the leadership competency most needed today. Moreover, trust is a learnable skill. “We can get good at this.”

To illustrate the importance of trust, Covey asked those attending his presentation to think of people they trust and those they don’t — along with the differences in the ease and speed with which they work with those people. “It’s really huge, isn’t it? It’s night and day.”

Trust is earned, he said, through character and competence as well as reciprocity. “If you want to be trusted, you have to give it.”

Savvy business leaders operate from a position in which they trust those with whom they work unless events or behaviors prove otherwise, Covey said. In doing so, they move from an outdated command-and-control mode of leadership to a trust-and-inspire mode that unleashes resources.

Covey described trust as an “inside out” process that begins with individuals and one-on-one relationships and extends to organizations, the market and then society.

The results of increased trust include businesses and organizations that outperform low-trust competitors, he said.

Employees — including members of the millennial generation expected to soon account for half the workforce — are more engaged and productive.

Increased trust also promotes increased tolerance for what Covey described as responsible risks that lead to innovation. In changing marketplaces, agile businesses are more likely to survive, he said. It’s not so much that big fish eat little fish, but fast fish eat slow fish.

At a time when there’s little trust, Covey said that could change. “We can create a renaissance of trust.”