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When trust breaks down

In a recent blog I described trust as a form of currency essential in any relationship. In particular, I considered trust in a business relationship contributing to wealth overall. If you followed that blog, then you might recall that I wrote of wealth as being properly understood as far more than money or material riches. In the light of this understanding of trust at work as a currency contributing to well-being, to wealth you will understand my disquiet on being at the wrong end of some very doubtful behaviour.

To be honest, I want to rise above the incident and not to rant. Instead, I would like to simply offer a considered reflection on trust and to invite your own thoughts. Before I do, let me explain a little of the values of the business I run, Innovation People.

As a business, we have three core values. The first is maybe predictable. Lots of businesses proclaim this value. It is, integrity. Essentially what we mean by it is: we say what we mean and we mean what we say; not only that but we will live out what we mean. Our second value is this: we are committed to honesty. What we mean by this is: we will not deal with people in an underhanded fashion or speak falsely, including by willfully dissembling, or distorting a message. Our third value is tricky in business, for we are committed to generosity. By this we mean we will cut some slack and seek to support and give people the opportunity to give account of themselves where we possibly can. We will also give directly in time and money if we are able and we think that is right.

So we have these three values: integrity, honesty and generosity. I am proud to run the business based on these values. We have done so for 8 years and that’s OK. I am not going to claim we get it right every time but we are committed to trying. I guess fundamental to these values is a really simple principle that is dear to me. It is summed up in the saying “Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and let your ‘no’ be ‘no’.” Personally, I feel really clear about this principle. I reckon that the deposit of trust builds up more quickly the more others can see this simple principle at work. Yet something happened recently that disappointed me and made me reflect.

Sometimes we work with very large organisations many times larger than Innovation People. In the instance I am relating one such organisation was the lead in a major tender and Innovation People was the smallest. We were included because of our specialist expertise in strategic decision-making. Another partner was a medium-sized consulting firm claiming an expertise in business support. - I have no idea if the claims are warranted or not. - Anyway the partnership formed and then I became aware that the agenda had changed and the very large organisation had pulled out of leading the tender, passing that role on to the medium-sized consulting firm and, as you have probably guessed, without reference to us, Innovation People was cut out. - In fairness to the medium-sized consulting firm, why would they include us when we might see to duplicate or even diminish their offering.

The purpose of this blog is not to moan about what happened but to raise questions.

I am pretty sure that in reading this blog you might either think, “that’s tough, but its life.” or maybe something like, “Its dog eat dog. What do you expect.” Well I guess, I can accept either one. I am a pragmatist. I can even accept the chide some might offer, “You don’t have to like it, but its life.” Or whatever. Really. I am not complaining. I am questioning.

Fundamentally, my question is this: If we know trust is the currency of well-being, how can well-being be promoted when the large and, I suppose powerful and their self-interest disregard the small.

From the point of view of innovation and entrepreneurship, we know there is a direct correlation between the level of connectedness between people and the level of both innovation and entrepreneurship. In other words, increase the level of connectedness – which requires trust – and you increase the potential for innovation and entrepreneurship. Thus for large organisations to misuse smaller ones is to inhibit innovation and entrepreneurship and the trust that is required.

Now here is a conundrum for it is not in the interests of the medium-sized consulting firm to include Innovation People in the tender. In fact it runs counter to their immediate interests, yet to act in this way also inhibits the potential for innovation and is a contradiction of the principle, “let your ‘yes be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’.” I don’t blame the medium-sized consulting firm. Innovation People is not going to be taken down by their actions. In fact we grow stronger and more resilient.

Strength and resilience are the product of a cocktail informing our integrity which is found in the balance between a sense of security and stability balanced with a commitment to develop and grow into new possibilities. It is in this balancing of the need for stability with the need to embrace possibility that is the stuff of development.

A long time ago I grew an organisation from nothing that became a significant and independent voice in the regeneration of communities. It did not grab at short-term cash rich tenders. It looked to longer-term development and flourished when other, larger organisations faltered and failed.

Now we are growing Innovation People with a longer-term vision to find new solutions. We love to work with partners, large and small. We want to live our values of integrity, honesty and generosity because that is what we do and the way we are. It is our experience that organisations are weakened and trust diminished when they are not true to their word letting their ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and their ‘no’ be ‘no’.

What do you think?