Rockville, MD – Trust is the operating system of every organizational culture, and it’s especially important for people who regulate and lead in industries where safety and accountability are the primary values. That was the keynote message by Dr. Rodger Dean Duncan at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Duncan, a leading authority in organizational effectiveness, said trust is much more than a nice-to-have social virtue. It’s a competency that can be taught, learned, and improved.
“A big idea here is that low trust is a tax and high trust is a dividend,” Duncan told NRC leaders in an organization-wide meeting that was televised live to the NRC’s regional offices across the U.S.
“When trust is low, you pay a tax because everything requires more time to accomplish and everything costs more. When trust is high, you receive a dividend because you’re able to get things done faster and at a lower cost.”
Duncan discussed the behaviors of high trust leaders outlined in the bestselling book The Speed of Trust by his colleague Stephen M.R. Covey.
He also made a business case for trust:
- A Watson Wyatt study shows that high trust organizations outperform low trust organizations by 286% in terms of total return to shareholders.
- The high trust organizations in Fortune magazine’s list of “The 100 Best Companies to Work for in America” outperform the S&P 500 by 416% in terms of their economic return.
- The Gallup organization reports that 96% of engaged employees trust their leaders, while only 46% of disengaged employees trust their leaders. Gallup puts a conservative price tag of more than $300 billion per year on disengagement in the U.S. alone.
Low Trust Can Have a High Cost
Duncan illustrated the cost of low trust by relating an incident he observed at a nuclear power plant. During a maintenance outage a crew began dismantling some equipment. The first crew finished its 12-hour shift and a second crew continued the work. When the third crew reported for duty a worker said “Hey, guys, this is the wrong project. We’re not scheduled to work on this equipment until the next outage six months from now.”
Duncan said a couple of workers on the first crew knew it was the wrong project. But their supervisor was “a hard-charging, high testosterone guy who told his people to just follow orders and not ask questions.” So they didn’t dare speak up. There was a similar low trust environment on the second crew.
“But the third crew was led by a supervisor who understood both the importance of trust and the behaviors of trust,” Duncan said. “The high trust environment he fostered made it easy for one of his workers to say, ‘Hey, guys, this is the wrong project.’”
How much did the low trust behavior cost? More than $2 million. It took 36 hours to reassemble the equipment and begin working on the correct project. Because the plant was not generating electricity during those extra 36 hours, the missed opportunity amounted to $1.8 million in lost income. Added to that was the related cost of hundreds of supplemental workers on site during the outage.
Duncan discussed 13 behaviors of high trust leaders. Some of the behaviors, like Talk Straight and Demonstrate Respect, are character-based. Some of the behaviors, like Deliver Results and Clarify Expectations, are competency-based. And some behaviors, like Listen First and Keep Commitments, include both character and competency components.
Counterfeit Behaviors Damage Trust
Most of the trust behaviors seem self-evident, Duncan said. But what many people fail to realize is that while each behavior has an opposite, it also has a counterfeit that is sometimes subtle. For example, the obvious opposite of clarifying expectations is to leave expectations undefined or fail to disclose them at all. Not-so-obvious counterfeit behaviors might include being vague and ambiguous, or failing to provide appropriate specifics on commitments around things like results, deadlines, dollars, and deliverables.
As part of his presentation, Duncan involved his NRC audience in a series of “scenarios” that required use of trust behaviors.
“People in high trust organizations learn to see the world through ‘trust lenses,’” Duncan said. “They learn to speak the language of trust. Then they learn to use trust behaviors more deliberately and more consistently. When trust becomes a more explicit expectation, it becomes the default behavior in a culture. Then the organization and its stakeholders enjoy the dividends of high trust.”
The NRC meeting Duncan keynoted, attended by the chairman and commissioners and several hundred NRC employees, promoted the agency’s emphasis on an Open and Collaborative Work Environment, or OCWE. The title of Duncan’s presentation was “Trust: How to Put the WE in OCWE.”
Established in 1972, Duncan Worldwide helps individuals and organizations close the gap between good intentions and great performance. With proprietary diagnostic tools and best-of-breed training programs, Duncan Worldwide helps people make results, not excuses. Satisfied clients include leaders in many industries as well as cabinet officials in two White House administrations.