Human relationships and therefore business relationships depend on trust. Trust that others will keep their word and do what they say they will do.
Thinkers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau have argued that trust is a sort of social contract that helps society work – if I can trust what you say then it makes sense for me to keep my word and vice versa. The thinking goes that if we live in a society where some people use power or deceit to get what they want, there will be damage and cost to us as individuals, and to society as a whole.
I guess we have seen plenty of examples in business and politics throughout 2012 demonstrating that there are still too many individuals who don’t seem to care how much damage they do to society as long as they get what they want. This year we were told that in financial services ‘My word is my bond’ can no longer be depended on and most of us looked on in disdain at the obvious lack of principles, ethics and integrity.
Keeping your word starts at home
We rightly look on in disdain at the big players who can’t be trusted to keep their word but maybe as 2013 approaches we should reflect on our personal (or our organizations) propensity for word keeping. After all, delivery as promised is the minimum level of service that results in a satisfied customer or client.
It should be simple. You pay a plumber to fix a burst pipe trusting that the leak will be fixed; you work for someone trusting that you will be paid; you enter a business agreement (verbal or written) trusting your partners will hold up their sides of the bargain. Commitments are made based on an underlying belief that other people’s word is their bond. If either party does not feel bound by their word then, whilst wonderful promises are made and everyone aspires to great things at the start; if someone does what best suits themselves when things don’t go quite as well as planned, trust is a casualty and the venture is doomed to failure.
Put that in writing?
As many lawyers could testify, even a written contract means nothing if one party decides not to be bound by their word. I was told of a recent meeting where someone was trying to undo an agreement with the words ‘we didn’t actually put anything in writing’ – as if that made any difference to either the legal basis of the agreement or the implications for keeping their word. At least lawyers do well out of such attitudes – but the real cost of a flippant approach to being bound by our word is the lost potential of a relationship or venture plus the cost to business and society in general.
After all, if everyone entered into agreements intending not to be bound by their word whist at the same time assuming they could hold others to their obligations – eventually no one would get what they want!
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