Hire for Trustingness, Train for Trustworthiness

You may know the HR saying, ‘Hire for attitude, train for skills.’ Our own Sandy Styer reminded me of that the other day.

The reminder came at an opportune time, as I was reading Eric Uslaner’s  excellent 2002 book The Moral Foundations of Trust, a book I’m embarrassed to say I haven’t read until now.

I’ve written before that trust is an asymmetrical relationship between one who trusts, and one who is trusted. (Most recently, in Why Trust is Assymmetrical, and What that Means for Trust Strategies).

Since 2000, when The Trusted Advisor came out, I have autographed my books with the simple phrase, “May you trust—and be trusted.” They are not the same thing.

Trust, Trustworthiness, and Trusting

Uslaner writes mainly about trust. Steven Covey Jr writes mainly about trusting. I have tended to write mainly about trustworthiness, and something about the interplay between the two (see The Dance of Trust.)

But I have to confess, the insight expressed in the title of this blog didn’t really come to me until I connected the HR insight and Uslaner’s work.

Uslaner eloquently makes the point that there are two kinds of trust. There is the kind you read about every day in surveys and headlines about ‘trust in Wall Street down last month,’ or ‘most trusted brands decline compared to internet,’ or ‘Obama’s trust rating down 10 points in 3 weeks.’   That kind of trust is pretty short-term, situational, and closely resembles things like reputation, brand image and customer loyalty.

There is another kind of trust: what the academics call social trust. That kind of trust is literally learned at home in our childhood. It doesn’t change rapidly or easily, is maintained in the face of specific events; it is, as Uslaner so correctly claims, in my humble opinion, a moral value. And it is that kind of trust–or its absence–that undergirds civil society. 

Hire for Trustingness, and Train for Trustworthiness

How does one become trusted as an advisor, a salesperson, and internal advisor, a consultant? The short answer is: be trustworthy. How do you do that? Read my blogs and articles for the last 2-3 years, or buy my books.

But how do you create an organization that lives on trust? How do you create a trustworthy people-creating organization? How do you lead and manage a business that runs itself on trust principles

There are a number of answers, but it may be that number one in that list is: hire people who learned that deeper attitudinal moral value of trust at the age of 3 or 4. Hire trusting people. Hire people who know how to trust, and are not afraid to do so.

Hire people who treat trustingness as a moral value. Because that is hard to teach.

Get an organization full of high-trusting people, and you have amazing potential. Such people can quickly ‘get’ the skills of trustworthiness. By being surrounded by others they trust and who trust them, they get a lot done.

By contrast, high-trusting people may not be changed by low-trust organizations—but they’ll leave.  And low-trust people likewise may not be changed by high-trust organizations; but they’ll be a drag on things.

I’ll be writing much more on this. For now, the catch-phrase is:

Hire for trustingness, train for trustworthiness.

3 replies
  1. Andrea Howe
    Andrea Howe says:

    This is an interesting take on trust, Charlie. It of course begs the question: how do you screen for people who

    learned that deeper attitudinal moral value of trust at the age of 3 or 4. I’ll look forward to future posts!

  2. barbara garabedian
    barbara garabedian says:

    Charlie:Andrea took the words right out of my mouth. Not only how do we screen the people but how do we find the hiring mgrs who "get it" and will be able to conduct the screen! I’m looking forward to future posts on this.

  3. deborah nixon
    deborah nixon says:

    Charlie: Late to the game. Just stumbled on your blog on my way somewhere else:). One of my favourite academics, Putnam, talks about social trust as it relates to institutional trust.  Social trust is the fabric of our society, it is the relationships and interactions which we have with one another. It is community.  And unfortunately, social trust is down in North America.  As we become more isolated from one another, as courtesy and consideration are replaced by amition and achievement, we have lost the essence of what makes society work.  It is the relationships between all of us and how we treat each other.

    Hiring is the most critical first step on the road to building trust relationships and trusting organizations.  You can provide the best institutional framework and context, but if you have people inside who fundamentally don’t respect or share the values of trust, then the best organizational context won’t help them. 


    Trust is a deeply embedded value and begins early in life.  It is modified by our life’s experience but we often have an essential trust worldview which is hard to change.  We can modify our behaviour but it isn’t easy to change our attitudes. And all an organization can work on is behaviour. 


    Bottom line.  Start out strong by hiring for trust.  Use an assessment that is designed to tease that out.  And then listen to the results.


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *