A key to any business, and its economic success, is building trust with both its employees and its customers. The world financial markets nearly collapsed last fall because people in the financial industry lacked trust. Credit almost stopped flowing. Even the biggest banks refused to lend to each other because they were not sure they would be repaid. This is the way Dov Seidman Dov Seidman, the founder and CEO of LRN, sees it. LRN is a company that helps businesses develop ethical corporate cultures. Seidman is also the author of How: Why How We Do Anything Means Everything . . . in Business (and in Life). Seidman believes we went through a time in which we took trust for granted. But this all changed last year.

Trust is absolutely essential if long-term enduring relationships are to be built in any area of business. It drives risk-taking and this leads to innovation and progress. But how do you gain this trust, especially when it has been lost? Siedman writes, "It doesn't hurt to be honest and ethical." Christians, of all people, should resonate with this observation. But what many will not resonate with is Seidman's observation about how to get trust. He says, "What most managers don't get, though, is that the best way to build trust is to extend it to others."

Read that quote again. If you want trust you have to show trust. Seidman gives a few simple examples when he writes of a donut shop in New York where the owner decided to let customers make their own change from coins left on the counter. The result was he was able to serve customers faster and they appreciated his shop all the more. He won loyal trusting customers and left his competitors behind.

Netflix, the widely known film rental company, allows its employees to take vacation whenever they want to and feel the need. And they have no "x number of vacation days" in a year. (There policy says there is "no policy of tracking.") What they do measure is results. There policy is freedom and responsibility. There policy on entertainment, expenses, travel and gifts is only five words long: "Act in Netflix's best interests." I find this amazing in our modern business climate.

The rock band Radiohead recently released a new album online for free, trusting fans to decide how much to pay. (Anyone remember Keith Green and how the Christian industry reacted when he did the same with free albums?) Radiohead says it has generated more revenue with this new approach than with any previous album they have released.

But the most amazing such story of all is the one about the University of Michigan Health System. It encourages doctors to apologize when they make mistakes, trusting patients to forgive them. They openly risk legal liability in the process. The number of malpractice suits has dwindled, and other providers are now adopting this same approach.

Seidman's own company, LRN, encourages employees to file honest expense reports. To do this they did away with tight oversight and require no pre-approval for airfares, etc. The result has been a decrease in money the company spends.

LRN seeks to inspire trust and high performance. To accomplish this they saw a need to let some people go. They extended this principle of trust to people who were being laid off and the results were rather astounding. People were allowed to have a say in the timing of their leaving and they were encouraged to take their laptops and cell phones with them. No one was asked to sign a waiver so as not to take the company to court. Outside legal counsel told Seidman not to follow this course. When former employees were surveyed 85% said they agreed with the company decision to let them go. The result? LRN is a "far more unified company now."

Seidman says managers have "lots of tools for getting what they want out of their people, most of which fall into two categories: sticks and carrots. But to inspire employees to actually care, managers should judiciously put their own trust to use."

This is an amazing story. But it is precisely what the church ought to be doing in leading the way during these challenging times. As disciples of Jesus we ought to empower people to pursue what God has placed in their hearts and then help them through our support and challenge. If pastors and church leaders really trusted their congregation (and each other) I wonder what would happen? Here's a great idea: Make trust a key element in how you treat people and build a relationship that truly helps you to manage the work of the ministry more effectively. I think I will promote this concept widely in the months ahead.

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  1. jls September 20, 2009 at 6:08 am

    Vishal Mangalwadi makes exactly the same point in his recent book *Truth and Transformation* (2009). As an intellectual Christian from India, he looks at Western culture from the outside and concludes that it was our Christian values — notably, trust — that created a climate where business and community could flourish. This book is a powerful warning against the culture of political and economic corruption that is tearing at the fabric of American society. The book is a rousing call to transform society by building a missional church that demonstrates the core values of the gospel, especially trust.

  2. ColtsFan September 20, 2009 at 11:29 pm

    Personally, I find value in Ronald Reagan’s quote:
    “Trust,……but verify.”

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