Can You Be Trusted?

All of us aspire to a higher level of trust in our relationships, our companies, and our lives. Yet, high trust levels frequently elude most organizations.

When moderately explored, trust suggests a certain comfort level that allows people to feel safe in their professional surroundings. Jon Luther, CEO of Dunkin Donuts (Brands) states “People earn their way out of trust”. When explored more deeply, the impact of a trust-oriented environment can set a new bar for innovation and productivity.

Trust Defined

When trust is established, it reduces or eliminates the anxiety one might have about adverse reactions to one’s actions. The reduction of anxiety introduces a fertile ground for people exploring new lines of thought which can ultimately make them more productive, more balanced and genuinely engaged in their work. Given the significant influence of our misplaced trust on the current economic crisis, the restoration of trust is critical to the rebuilding process and the resulting economic turnaround.


Business leaders must ensure that environments of trust are authentically established where people can speak up and experiment.

Trust is not a term to be wrapped up in a mission statement.

Instead, it must be mechanically and diligently nurtured in the organization and when performed properly, it will be adopted in a meaningful manner.

However, while the modeling of trust behaviors needs to be driven from the top, the front-line workers must engage as well. They must be willing to take managed risks and if trust is absent, little progress will be made. Employees should not have a blank check for experimentation due to an unending level of trust.

No, high trust environments stem from a culture of accountability and results and if these are absent, the business cannot thrive.

Trust In Action

At Microsoft, there are an extensive number of pockets within the company that not only have a trusting environment, but actively and passionately evolve the trust relationships across the company.

One team in particular, the QA folks in the Windows Security division, led by long-time Microsoft leader Ross Smith and wing-man, Mark Hanson, have landed squarely in the center of trust-based research and real-world applications. Are Ross and Mark responsible for Microsoft’s global research on trust? No. They have their day jobs - which is to lead the team that helps to ensure a high quality experience using Windows Security features; an important and very high profile endeavor. The team is comprised of highly educated and experienced team members as well as the Generation Yers who are coming to the team from a number of highly reputed universities.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to chat with Ross, Mark and former colleague and now consultant, Robin Moeur.

They are collectively a very passionate group around the importance of trust in a professional environment. In fact, there has been so much interest in their efforts that they’ve actually spawned a public website dedicated to their cause titled The name emanates from “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”,written by Douglas Adams where the number “42” is ultimately defined as the universal truth. And while the initiative is oddly named, it has captured the spirit of the entire division as they all focus on building more trust within the company.

Their division is an impressive one in that they are individually and collectively very productive and really are a great representation of expertise and professionalism that you don’t always find elsewhere. This is with intent as they hire the best of the best and focus on the issues of trust to improve the overall work experience. Smith cites the work of University of British Columbia researchers Helliwell and Wang “that a 10% increase in trust can lead to a 36% increase in job satisfaction.” Measurable increases such as this are substantive and certainly piqued my interest.

With a conscious effort being focused on trust, the team is employing different techniques to put the theory to practice. One of the most innovative techniques being used is the inclusion of “productivity games” to solve a problem.

For example, a team member wanted to learn a new development technology by creating a prototype of a customer feedback game.

He connected with a fellow co-worker who was developing an idea for native language speakers which would help supplement the verification of international versions of Windows.

The two jointly worked together to build a mechanism where people can play games to help assess the accuracy of localized text strings in the numerous languages available in Windows international versions.

Additional examples included “bug bash” parties that go late into the night where the engineer who finds the most bugs gets a prize and an Olympic-themed work event held last year. Hanson commented, “Our culture is competitive. People by nature love to compete and play games and want to see themselves at the top of the leader board.”

After discussing the importance of trust, Robin Moeur introduced some insightful work produced by Jonathan Winter, founder of Career Innovation. She spoke about his theory on “Conversation Gaps”. The basic premise of Conversation Gaps is that a breakdown in communications often takes place when too much information gets left unsaid. The correlation with trust and the 42projects team is that if a higher level of trust is introduced, those gaps may lessen and this may accelerate more productive dialog. This issue of Conversation Gaps is a concern for all people; however, it is especially problematic for the overly nice guys.

Nice Guys And Trust

Nice Guys Can Get the Corner Office - by Russ Edelman
Nice Guys Can Get the Corner Office - by Russ Edelman

For the overly nice guys, Conversation Gaps are more frequent as they are overly concerned about hurting other people’s feelings.

In my book, "Nice Guys Can Get The Corner Office,"we speak specifically about establishing a “Speak-Up” Environment. The underlying premise behind the concept is simply that an environment of trust must be established for people to speak up in meaningful and substantive ways. When this happens, people are more comfortable in expressing themselves and pursuing new ideas which can bolster their careers as well as their organization’s success.

The problem with the overly nice guy is that if he/she feels that speaking up will adversely impact someone or something; they will typically avoid that line of thought as their concern for pleasing others will subsume their interest in pursuing new ideas. An environment of genuine trust where one can speak up without fear of reprisal is what can break down some of these barriers and help lead the Nice Guy to the corner office.


Russ Edelman is President & CEO of Corridor Consulting and founder of Nice Guy Strategies, LLC (NGS) and the author of “Nice Guys Can Get The Corner Office: Eight Strategies for Winning in Business Without Being a Jerk.”
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