Is low trust hamstringing your organisation?

Money is the currency of transactions, trust is the currency of interactions.
— Rachel Botsman, author of "Who Can You Trust?"
Rachel Botsman.png

Do you ever struggle to communicate or understand the investment logic for engagement? Then this article is for you.

In it, we build on the work of Rachel Botsman, the author of "Who Can You Trust?" You can hear her in action in this TED Talk. Her key message is that trust is now the most important currency for organisations to survive. Break it, and it will be much harder to make good things happen.

But how do we earn trust in our over-communicating world? This blog will point your organisation in the right direction. And it will illustrate how engagement is crucial to building your credits in the Royal Bank of Trust.

We're over-communicating but are these interactions helping us?

As community members and customers, we are sharing more information than ever before about our interactions with organisations.  In the public sector, communities are demanding an increasing level of accountability.

For officials, this can feel stifling!

If we don’t build trust, it will be more and more difficult to survive, let alone compete.  And the effects of lost trust are like a virus. You don’t know it’s happening until it’s too late.

How do we increase trust?

The solution is to start depositing into the Royal Bank of Trust. You need to start saving for the day when you make a mistake. Mistakes are inevitable. You need to have enough trust in your account so a mistake doesn't leave you in debt.

Okay, so how do we build our credit in the Royal Bank of Trust? 

Many organisations think they need to commit to full transparency.

But Botsman warns against this.

Committing to full transparency is an admission that nobody can trust you. Besides, there are times where people will only share their views if they know your organisation will not share those views.

Instead, you need to increase the number and quality of your interactions with the people affected by your work.

And that's where engagement comes in.

Engagement is about well-managed interactions.  Well designed engagement is one of the best ways of increasing your balance in the Royal Bank of Trust. 

Of course, engagement and trust-building takes time. And according to Botsman, there are four essential success factors.

Botsman's four traits for building trust


1. Competence

The engagement process must be well planned and managed.  And you need to invest to ensure this happens; you can't leave it to chance.

2. Reliability

Engagement isn’t a one-off task.  Effective engagement only happens when an organisation embeds it into its culture.  Organisations can build trust by being consistent and reliable about how they engage. Over time, an organisation's community will understand the organisations' approach. Again, that doesn’t happen overnight. 

3. Integrity

Engagement that builds your credit in the Royal Bank of Trust can’t come with hidden agendas and fake news.  It has to have integrity. Communities can smell when a decision-maker has already made a decision and is consulting to tick a box.

Additionally, Botsman makes clear that friction is OK. Working through a difficult conversation in a constructive way will increase the balance of your Royal Bank of Trust account.

4. Empathy

Meaningful engagement gives people a chance to understand each other. It goes beyond just sharing your view, but also understanding what other people think and why.


Some examples in action

Increasing trust through Smart+Connected

For the last 7 years we've worked with the Marlborough District Council on Smart+Connected, its economic development programme. Smart+Connected projects have become easier over those seven years. If we apply the four success factors above, you can see why:

  1. Competency: The council has partnered with Business Lab to ensure a competent process each time. This has allowed the Council to sit around the table as an equal, rather than being at the front of the room guiding the conversation.

  2. Reliability: The Council has used a similar approach for each of the four community and five industry workstreams. That's continued even with a change of Mayor and Council.

  3. Integrity: The Council does not come to a Smart+Connected project with the answer. They come with a defined scope and a clear question. And that gives their community a genuine chance to contribute. Sitting at the table with their communities, not leading the conversation, also helps ensure integrity.

  4. Empathy: For every Smart+Connected project, we have always given people a chance to understand each other’s perspectives and consider the bigger picture, not just the immediate problems at hand. By helping people to collectively identify a small number of opportunities to work on together, they can better connect with the desired outcomes and next steps.

Over seven years, we've observed an improvement in the relationship between the MDC and its communities and industries. For instance, there has been a significant increase in thoughtful submissions to Annual and Long Term Plans. Smart+Connected has connected communities and industries and helped them to be more strategic - meaning they are better placed to communicate constructively with Council.

Decreasing trust through non-notified consents

Councils can process a resource consent application in one of three ways:

  • publicly notified

  • limited notified

  • non-notified.

Developers generally love non-notified consents because they provide certainty. And they are cheaper because you don't have to go through the public notification process. An unelected council officer signs off your plans - and that's that.

But we're seeing more and more examples where non-notified consents have been expensive and anything but certain.

Here are a few examples that spring to mind.


In Wellington, a developer had to halt their plans to build a 10-storey hotel and apartment complex near Parliament. The Council had granted the consent without notifying the owners of a neighbouring heritage building.

proposed hotel in Wellington.jpg

In the Bay of Islands, Council-owned company Far North Holdings had to delay the construction of a cafe on the old Russell Wharf. Council had granted non-notified consent and mana whenua had not been consulted


In Hawke's Bay, Craggy Range Winery installs a new track on Te Mata Peak. But then there's a backlash against the non-notified consent process. Craggy Range has since promised to remove the track at their cost.

Craggy Range track

In each of these cases, we're talking millions in extra legal fees, redesign work and lost time for the project owners.

But that’s not the only thing. 

The impact on trust is immeasurable.

These debacles decimate the project owners’ Royal Bank of Trust account. Communities have long memories, and it will take a long time to refill those accounts.  Investing in strategic and genuine engagement up front is one very good way to protect your trust account.

Nelson Arts Festival Planning Event

Increase trust through consistent and competent engagement

Organisations which invest in relationship-building can weather the storms of community outrage or customer frustration. If you want to improve your approach to engagement, we can help.