Trust is the most unforgiving, unfair and disruptive phenomenon in the organization. It takes a while to build, it may take seconds to destroy. Trust is not linear: small things create a lot of it, and small things can kill it as well. And viceversa. And what about big things?
It both builds and dies following strong halo effects. When building, for example, after somebody delivering on his promises, trust goes up, and also reputation and other things: Joe has done so much for us, he is a great guy, good leader, can be trusted, not for nothing he was so valued in his previous job, and I heard he is a good member of the community too. We tend to build a story and complete a picture from one single brick. Our artistic mind loves halo effects.
Imagine the same in reverse, when something goes wrong. The whole list of wrong things will be added. Unfair, I said.
In the Volkswagen (VG) case, Lord Browne, ex chairman of BP, has said in one the British papers that ‘VW recovery will be fast because the trust accumulated’.
I am not sure I agree with Mr Browne. I am not sure that the economics of ‘credit in the bank’ (trust accumulated) work here. In fact, my personal view is the opposite, as an hypothesis. The more you have (which is the more you have earned, given to you, let’s not forget), perhaps the more the disappointment, the deception, the betrayal, the downfall. We’ll see.
Trust is a precious, delicate and fragile thing. Any major corporate fiasco, creates a tsunami of trust destruction. See the history of each of the big ones: Bhopal, Libor, Enron, Exxon Valdez, BP Deepwater, old J&J Tylenol and the Toyota accelerators. Each have its own story of ‘recovery’, or lack of.
You can’t treat trust with the same logic and rationality of a predictable machine.
The only predictable thing in trust is that it’s close to glass than to cement. In organizational life, fragile is a word invented for trust. All trust that seems so solid can easily melt in the air.