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Big lesson from 2017: Trust goes both ways


The Norwegian word for trust is tillit. Interestingly, it is a palindrome; it reads the same backwards as forwards.

Originating from old Norse language, I wonder if it was a clever Viking that inspired the altruism that “trust goes both ways”?

I learned about the clever construction of the word “tillit” at a company kick-off event end of March this year.  The global CEO in a large international operation had entrusted me the role as Chairman for a holding company of two recently acquired Norwegian operations with the task of merging the two companies into one team. When we at the kick-off event talked about the importance of “trust”, one employee highlighted to the global CEO and me that Norwegians have a deep connection with “tillit”.

I just put down the book “Working with Norwegians” written by the “Loud American” Sean Percival. A quick read, the book is well worth the time for anybody wanting to do business in Norway, or for any Norwegian who wants to do a bit of self-reflection.  Percival says “Trust is extensively woven through the entire society”, and I think he is right. The book reminded me of the kick-off event earlier this year.

In business in Norway, you see trust manifest itself in a “word is a word”. We keep a promise, we pay on time, a handshake is a contract – and decisions are often reached in a consensus and an egalitarian fashion. Contracts are short, clear and without small print.  Indeed, even a verbal commitment can be legally binding.

I think these are all qualities we could enjoy more of around the world.

In the merger process that I have worked on throughout 2017, I was encouraged to see how collaboration and finding a common North Star can be a great source of trust and a solution for bringing people together.  Because when you agree on a distinct vision, mission and clear values, you go through a process of building alignment and trust.

Conversation creates understanding. Clear direction fosters alignment. Commitment and delivery inspires respect.

Conversation, clarity and commitment are foundations for a process of finding the “North Star” and making it shine.

Fundamentally, conversation, clarity and commitment build trust.

If you have a clear North Star to navigate after, it becomes so much easier to achieve progress together. The difficult part is actually to create distinct clarity so that you stand out in a way that you earn the trust of others.

And I hasten to add, conversation is about listening, not talking. Listening and respect also go hand in hand.

The merger process in Norway was the first for me where I was given the chance to navigate everything, not just the message.  As a “PR” guy I have been part of a tenfold of multibillion dollar mergers, and I have often been a witness to how the “soft stuff” is taken lightly, ignored or totally forgotten. Most often ignored.  The “soft stuff” is that of taking time to build trust between people.

In service and knowledge based businesses it is for sure more and more about trust, and less and less about assets. So, when you bring these kinds of businesses together, trust has to be the foundation for the merger.

It is encouraging to see how businesses that depend on stakeholders worry more and more about the trust aspects of their operations.  Those who succeeds with building and retaining trust with stakeholders will win in the long run.

Trust rules.

We wish you a lot of “tillit” in 2018!

Rolf Olsen

CEO, based in Geneva

Rolf Olsen launched Leidar in 2010 and continues to lead the company as CEO.  He advises clients on strategy and narrative development; crisis management; and complex reputational issues on a global scale.

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