How much do you trust the leaders of Wall Street? How much do you trust the leadership of the banks with the billions of taxpayer dollars they received after registering record losses? How much do you trust the leaders of the auto industry to do the “right thing” with the bailout money?

This growing lack of trust in our leaders is not helping us to reverse the economic meltdown and bring about positive change and growth.

The one thing every business professional should be certain about, regardless of industry, is that the future is all about relationships. And the one thing all relationships need to survive is trust. In fact, trust is the glue that holds our net-enabled knowledge economy together.

By nature, most people are trusting of others. But because trust is assumed, many businesses fail to make trust a conscious part of their strategy and inadvertently implement strategies that undermine trust.

For example, call your phone company today and tell them you’re going to cancel your service and go with a different provider. Chances are that in order to keep you as a customer, they’ll respond by offering you a lower rate. Does that make you trust them more? No: on the contrary, you’ll probably feel that you’ve been getting ripped off all these years and should have gotten that lower price all along. Policies such as these train customers to distrust the company.

But trust mishaps don’t just happen with customers and the public; they also happen internally with team members. A few years ago one major company laid off a few thousand employees. Rather than meeting with people individually, laying them off with dignity and providing support services, the company had their security guards tell those being laid off the bad news, give them their paperwork, watch them clean out their desk, and then escort the former employees out the door. The employees still working there learned a lesson they weren’t about to forget: never trust upper management.

Despite their actions, businesses that violate trust are not evil. They’re simply not thinking about trust when they lay out a course of action or make a change. Therefore, in order to foster trust in your organization, consider the following strategies.

1. Never Assume Trust

Whenever you’re bringing about change, internally or externally, create a “trust meter.” Think of this trust meter as an old-fashioned gas gauge: on the far left is No Trust, and on the far right is Full Trust. Before you implement any change, ask yourself, “Between us and those who will be impacted by this decision, where is trust currently?” Then ask, “If we implement this change in this way, what will happen to that trust?” Mark whether you think trust will decrease, stay the same, or increase.

If trust will go down, find a different way to implement the change. If anyone on your team can come up with a way to get the trust meter to increase while implementing the change, reward that person openly, because you want that behavior repeated. Remember, when you raise the bar on trust, your organization will thrive.

2. Offer More Value to Reward Loyalty

As you decide what changes to implement, think in terms of adding value rather than giving something for nothing. For example, one newspaper publisher sent out a $190 yearly renewal notice to customers. Those customers who didn’t renew by the deadline received a phone call about the renewal. The newspaper offered them a discounted renewal rate of $90. This “something for nothing” offer now causes the customer to see less value in the product and feel ripped off for having paid the higher renewal price in the past.

A better strategy would be to offer a few extra months of subscription at no additional charge. When you think in terms of rewarding loyalty with more value rather than a lower price, people feel appreciated and will want to keep doing business with you. Therefore, pinpoint what your customers will perceive as added value and make that part of your offer.

3. Think in Terms of the Other Person’s Perspective

No matter how hard you try, sometimes mistakes will happen and trust will decrease as a result. But rather than accept that lower level of trust, see this event as an opportunity to raise the bar on trust with those who are feeling less of it. For example, suppose you have a major disagreement with one of your key leaders. You both think the other is wrong. This is when you need to step up and say to your leader, “We’ve had a long and trusting relationship with you and we want to maintain that. What can we do to make you happy?” The answer you’ll hear will likely be more than fair because the conversation has now shifted from a confrontational to a relational one. Everyone will come out a winner.

4. Survey Customers and Associates about Trust

Have business partners and customers rate you on trust. You could even have them fill out the trust meter for you. With this feedback, you will know where you stand and can make adjustments. All too often, when trust is undermined, the company and its leaders are the last to know, and this can be disastrous. If you are the first to know, you can make corrections before it is too late. This also shows everyone that relationships and mutual trust are not just words, they are imperatives.

Trust provides a big advantage in any economy. Too often, customer service and team support are cut back when the economy heads south. Face-to-face meetings and team-building events are canceled. But this is a time to do the opposite. When circumstances are difficult, relationships become more important.

When you increase trust, your relationships will deepen. This will allow you to bring about change faster and more effectively, and to improve your business results.

DANIEL BURRUS is CEO of Burrus Research and author
of six books, including
Technotrends. Over the past two
decades he has established a worldwide reputation for
accurately predicting the future of technological and
social change and its direct impact on the business world.