Trust: One Building Block of Success

By Steven E. Sacks, CPA, CGMA, ABC

People are so busy these days, juggling meetings, projects, conference calls, performance reviews, and a whole slew of other responsibilities. Each of these activities has a level of commitment attached to it. The person who is accountable for completing the tasks promises he or she will follow through. The other party who is requesting the deliverable expects that the promise will be kept.

How often have we become disappointed that others have failed in their commitments?

A lot.

This disappointment occurs in our professional (and personal) lives. So, let’s examine our professional expectations. Were we overly optimistic or unrealistic? What about the leader whose request is considered to be unrealistic and who does not want to discuss, negotiate, or reconsider the elements of the request? What results? An assignment made was not done properly, or the quality of work was diminished because the focus was on expediency; just get it done now. The after effect no doubt was additional costs incurred to fix all the mistakes.

What about the individual who knows well in advance the start time of a Zoom or Slack video call or a conference call and will still join in five to ten minutes late? The frustration and irritation can occur at all levels: from the senior partner or CEO to the first-year staff person. This is really a sign of disrespect; it says, “I have more important matters to address.” It devalues the worth of other people.

These are only two everyday examples where trust (and relationships) can be destroyed or at least, significantly damaged. There has to be a platform of trust comprising a mutual understanding that includes saying what you will do, and doing what you say; essentially honoring agreements and behaving in a consistent manner. This again applies to the senior partner or CEO all the way down to the junior staff.

The intentions of leaders and their direct reports have to be simpatico. Having confidence in the thoughts and actions will require uniformity in understanding and behaviors. In other words, one’s expectations should be in alignment with another’s intentions. This is the first step toward building trust. Irrespective of whether it is a CPA firm, company, or a not-for-profit membership organization, this concept remains the same.

Don’t Underestimate the Importance of Communications

As I have written before, a component of trust is clear communication. Think about how clear we are in communicating our expectations to others. Do we really understand the needs of others with whom we work? This issue could involve a consultant serving a client; a partner explaining a matter with a CEO or manager; or an auditor requesting information.

With more layoffs occurring due to the Covid-19 pandemic, workers are being asked to do more with less; less direction, resources, and collaboration. Leaders may view this as rightsizing. I prefer to view it as an attempt to destroy worker productivity and morale. While employees may (bolding purposeful) understand what is expected of them, they don’t get the required clarity, resources, or support to successfully meet what is expected.

When a leader’s expectations of their workforce are conveyed, the clarity or lack thereof of his or her message will affect the performance of their direct reports.

Briefly, here are two situations where there will be different results. The first is when a leader sets the bar high and provides sufficient support; this acts as an incentive for employees to exceed expectations. The fact that the bar was set high is a message that says “I have confidence and trust in your ability to do this work.” The second situation is when the expectations are set too high and the employees are not adequately supported. This will result in reduced morale and motivation. The importance of clear and consistent communication cannot be underestimated.

Trust is Especially Critical in Remote Work Environments

Because workers are located in multiple locations, the value of clear communication is even tougher. Do we (in whatever capacity we function) clearly convey our thoughts; and are our thoughts in alignment with our intentions? These are critical questions to ask. Leaders need to appreciate what the staff needs and expects from them. If the expectations and goals are muddled, you can bet that actions taken will be out of alignment with the firm’s or organization’s goals. Expectations that are clearly articulated and understood will cultivate trust — because what is expected by the leader is made clear to the individual, and the individual knows what to expect in return from the leader. When there is a meeting of the minds in terms of desired actions and results, trust will be established. And when trust is established, relationships will prosper.

“Trust is the highest form of human motivation. It brings out the very best in people.”

—    Stephen R. Covey

Just as important as establishing trust is granting employees more independence to do their jobs; to uncover efficiencies and obstacles; eliminate redundant steps; and promote new approaches and processes. In return for this freedom, workers have to be accountable for their actions. The leaders for their part may expect a higher level of responsibility from their employees. But again, if employees are not given the authority and freedom to do their jobs, trust is damaged.

The new work environment will require that relationships are managed top-down and bottom-up. During this uncertain time, communications are more difficult and managing expectations becomes more challenging.

It is human nature that employees want to meet, and even exceed, the expectations their bosses or colleagues have for them. This coincides with their desire to be personally successful while delivering success to their firm or company. To accomplish this, however, employees will rely on their bosses to take the necessary time to communicate clearly and thoroughly what they want from them. Once done, leaders expect that what they assigned will at the very least meet expectations.

Ideally, for today’s workers, the work environment should build into its operating philosophy expectations that are realistic, mutual, shared, and consensus-based. When such an environment exists, then working relationships will lead to trust.

And when there is trust, no challenge or adversity will be too difficult to overcome.

About the Author

Steven Sacks is North America regional director with the Global Alliance Advisory Services, an organization that helps accounting and law alliances operate more efficiently and profitably. Steve can be reached at