In order to be successful in the world of consultancy, regardless of your chosen field, there’s is no substitute for trust. You can be the most highly informed technical visionary but without trust you have very little to build upon and certainly no influence. This speaks to us as a species on a base level, we are naturally suspicious, cynical and untrusting – it helps with survival – so if I want to advise you, my first battle, and it truly is a battle, is to gain your trust.
In my original career, at PwC in expat tax, I was given, in fact we all were, a book to read in our early years: The Trusted Advisor by Maister, Green and Galford. I’m not sure everyone in my cohort read it, but I did. Well, I read most of it...it rang true with me on a number of levels. Some of it went above my head, but one thing that stuck with me was how difficult it was perceived to be, to become trusted.
Earning trust amid negative perceptions
Trust is not reserved purely for individuals. Trust can be found, can be imparted, at an industry level; we tend, in the main, to trust doctors and teachers for example. Sadly the reverse is true for the recruiter. Earning trust as a recruitment consultant starts from a fairly negative basis point. I used to joke (well, sort of joke) that we recruitment consultants were lower on the dinner party invite list than any other profession (of course this could have had something to do with my jokes). There were those who used to stand up for our honour, suggesting that certain parts of the legal profession, politicians and estate agents might beat us to that title, but I knew they were only trying not to hurt my feelings.
So how do you earn trust? For earn is the right verb in this case. In my experience trust is an investment made by a heady mix of honesty, delivering on your promises and integrity coupled with keeping confidences, transparency and consistency. It comes for shared experiences and shared goals and it comes over time, there’s very little substitute for time.
Once earned the next big challenge is keeping it. As with many things of value, trust is spectacularly fragile and dangerous when broken, like that delicate antique glass Christmas bauble you should have banished when the kids became old enough to ‘help’ you decorate the tree, but is now laying in pieces on the sitting room floor while you apply multiple Peppa Pig plasters to your eldest’s fingers; years of effort can go into to building trust but, one careless move and it’s A&E time.
It’s an almost universal truth that people represent a business’s greatest asset. The relationship between the employer and the employee, therefore, is something of exceptional value, something that needs to be nurtured and treasured…so how is it that so many organisations are willing to outsource the procurement of those assets entirely to third parties?
From my perspective there are two distinct routes to this relationship; one is as described above, time spent with the building blocks of honesty and integrity, a personal bond that has genuine value, the other, I fear, attacks the fabric of trust and replaces it with a thin veil of saving cost. If your business outsources the recruitment of your colleagues to an organisation who hasn’t invested in you – personally – then the likelihood is that the decision to do so is based on cost and not value.
Is trust an outdated concept?
Maybe I’m being old fashioned, maybe trust is only valued by those who think they need it to perform their duties, a crutch for the generation that absorbed Maister, Green and Galford too absolutely. Perhaps trust is actually an outdated ideal in itself. And maybe I’m wrong, and there is a substitute for trust and time that can lead to success? The global political landscape suggests that there may well be. And perhaps the business world trumps that and is already a few steps ahead.
In my heart of hearts I don’t think so, and certainly hope not. I perceive real financial long-term value in a trust-based relationship. Cost can be manipulated, calculations are open to interpretation and transactional relationships are paper thin and in regular need of sticking plaster…but trust nurtures long term value. Focus purely on cost and repent at leisure…in A&E. Trust, in the end, survives.