With billions of dollars in taxpayer bailout money, how much do you trust the leadership of the banks that, after record losses, gave themselves unprecedented raises? How much do you trust the leaders of Wall Street? How much do you trust our government’s ability to manage the money they have given to the banks or the auto industry? 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 can have serious consequences as we try 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 the net-enabled knowledge economy together. The more trust you have with someone, the more powerful the relationship. The less trust you have, the weaker the relationship.

In business, trust is something you must earn. You do so by displaying three universal values: honesty, integrity, and delivering on promises. In fact, no matter where you travel around the world and regardless of religion or culture, those three values are the same. Because people worldwide place such a high emphasis on trust, many companies cite “trust” in their list of organizational values. And by nature, most people are indeed trusting of others. But because trust is assumed, many companies have a tendency to implement strategies that undermine trust. They fail to make trust a conscious part of their strategy. Instead, trust stays in the back of their mind, and that’s when problems begin.

For example, call your Telephone Company or Internet Service Provider 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. In fact, 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.

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

Whenever you’re bringing about any change, either 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 (the company) and the people who will be impacted by this decision or policy, where is trust currently?” Mark it somewhere on your trust meter. Then ask, “If we implement this change in this way, what will happen to that trust?” Mark whether you think trust will go down, stay the same, or increase.

If trust will go down, don’t implement the change in that way. This doesn’t mean don’t enact the change, decision, or policy. It simply means not to do it in the way you’ve outlined. Change how you implement the decision or policy so trust stays where it is. And if anyone on your team can come up with a way to get the trust meter to increase when 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.

As you decide what policies and changes your company will 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 employee offered the customer a deeply discounted renewal rate of $90. This is “something for nothing” mentality, because now the customer sees less value in the product (and feels ripped off for paying the higher renewal price in the past).

A better strategy would be to offer the customer a few additional months of newspaper delivery for no extra charge. So now instead of getting twelve months of newspaper delivery for a certain price, the customer gets fifteen months of service for that same price. When you think in terms of rewarding loyalty with more value rather than a lower price, people feel that the company is giving them a genuine “thank you.” They feel appreciated (something everyone wants to feel) and will actually want to keep doing business with you. Therefore, pinpoint what your customers will perceive as added value and make that a part of your policy change.

Next month, I will share two additional strategies that will allow you to bring about change faster and more effectively, and improve your business.