February 2009
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Trust:  The Primary Currency in an Open Systems World

It takes work to earn it, care to nurture it and only one poor decision to lose it. 

Andy McMillanAndy McMillan
President and CEO
Teletrol Systems Inc.
President

BACnet International

Contributing Editor

I was in Chicago last month for the ASHRAE show but I never made it to the show floor.  After participating in BACnet International meetings on Saturday and Sunday, I found myself an apparent victim of food poisoning that left me too sick to leave my hotel room for the rest of my stay.  The details of those days (and nights) are best forgotten, but one thing worth remembering was the message of a short book I read toward the end of that time.  I was well enough by then that I needed some kind of distraction so I picked up a book I had tossed in my briefcase while rushing out of the house on my way to Chicago.  The book, “Little Teal Book of Trust,” by Jeffrey Gitomer is a short treatise on earning, growing and nurturing trust.  While the phrase “Open Systems” does not appear anywhere in the book, it occurred to me while reading it that trust is actually the primary currency in an open systems world.

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Standards like BACnet and open systems create an environment where it is much easier, at least on a technical level, to create, expand and deprecate relationships among users and suppliers.  Without the technical “lock-in” of proprietary systems to hold them back, users have more freedom to change from one supplier to another or to work simultaneously with several competing suppliers.  In the same way, with standard protocols and interfaces facilitating technical integration, suppliers in an open systems world have the opportunity to collaborate in pursuing various customers and markets.  The result is a world where maximizing success is dependent on the ability to build and maintain organizational relationships without technical coercion.  And the foundation for those kinds of relationships is trust.

Jeffrey Gitomer (and many others) suggest that the way to earn trust is to be trustworthy - which sounds simple enough but can be deceptively difficult to do.  It is not enough to avoid deliberate deceptions, unfair business practices and outright fraud.  Being trustworthy in a business relationship means commitment to the needs and welfare of the other party as well as your own.  As a supplier, being trustworthy means setting realistic expectations in marketing materials and sales presentations.  It also means delivering on the expectations you set … even when that means going beyond the “contract” to get it done.  As a buyer, being trustworthy means setting realistic expectations about the business opportunity.  It also means being open about decision processes and being a proactive participant in issue resolution.

Control Solutions, Inc While trust is important in buying and selling relationships, it is equally critical in supplier partnership relationships … particularly partnerships among suppliers that compete with each other in some areas while cooperating in others.  Since open systems creates an environment where multiple supplier systems are likely to be interconnected, the potential benefits of supplier partnerships are substantial.  Here too, being trusted means being trustworthy and again it can be deceptively difficult to do.  For many companies, being a trustworthy partner with a competitor requires a significant shift in mindset.  Being trustworthy as a partner means setting realistic terms for cooperation and acknowledging legitimate areas of diverging interests.  It also means being open with information that both parties need to make their joint business decisions.  And, of course, being trustworthy means doing what you say you are going to do.

Trust is the primary currency in an open systems world … and never more so than now, when the future is in many ways uncertain.  It takes work to earn it, care to nurture it and only one poor decision to lose it.  Whether buying, selling or partnering, it is good to keep that in mind.

As always, the views expressed in this column are mine and do not necessarily reflect the position of BACnet International, Teletrol Systems, ASHRAE, or any other organization.  If you want to send comments to me directly, feel free to email me at andysview@arborcoast.com.

 

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