Trust Is a Must

Company Ambassadors

OK, so you're confident that you've addressed all these personal blind spots. But how do your employees act? Hartman recalls consulting for one CEO. "He ran the business in a paternalistic way. He said everyone knew the values. I said, 'Let's test it,'" she says. Hartman's survey indicated that the CEO was wrong: The employees had widely different ideas about the company's values.

She suggests entrepreneurs conduct a simple ethics audit. Ask yourself whether a subordinate asking about an ethical dilemma would get the exact same response from each of your managers. If not, you've got some work to get the message out.

Learn More
Create an ethical business by inspiring your employees. Read "Missed Mission" and "Actions Speak Loudest" for your own inspiration.

According to Eric Douglas, CEO of Sacramento, California, management consulting firm Leading Resources Inc., you need three documents to clarify these issues for your employees. Separate values, purpose and vision statements help define how you operate, what you do, and where you're headed.

Hartman suggests making sure employees can apply such statements to their daily activities. She praises Harley-Davidson's value statement: "Tell the truth, keep your promises, be fair, respect the individual, and encourage intellectual curiosity."

It's important to post these mantras around the company, says Steve Walker, whose Indianapolis-based Walker Information Inc. conducts market research on customer loyalty and corporate reputation. Cisco, he notes, prints its corporate culture statement on each employee's electronic security access card. No one can deny knowledge of such an omnipresent message.

Your employees will inevitably run into conflicts trying to square the corporate values with their daily work. This is exactly why you've established these principles. "Ethics only exists because of conflicts," says Hartman. It's your job to ensure an open channel of communications so they feel comfortable talking about it.

By taking time to explain how you believe they should act, your employees will eventually learn to think through ethical dilemmas on their own. "You need that because employees are going to be making decisions for your company, for you and for your customers that you can't make for them," says Hoffman. This ongoing dialogue also allows you to disarm other trust-zapping scenarios. One of the worst is the brooding of worrywarts.

"Trust and fear are opposites," Oestreich says. "When there's a high level of trust in an environment, people can talk about what's bothering them. When they can't do that, they worry about what might happen to them. They might develop stories about what's going on." You can stop that rumor mill in its tracks by sharing information about the state of your business, says Leading Resources' Douglas.

Your employees will follow your lead when integrating these values into business life. Reward a salesperson that wins business with tactics undermining the company values? Other employees will note the hypocrisy of your corporate values. Didn't punish someone who fibbed to a customer? Expect to detect more lying in the future. To help your trust-building values thrive in your organization, you've got to live up to them yourself.

A Growing Credibility Gap
PERCENTAGE OF PEOPLE who think the Enron scandal is representative of many or most American companies:

SOURCE: Wall Street Journal/NBC News

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This article was originally published in the October 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Trust Is a Must.

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