“House theory” – It is almost impossible to rebuild a damaged trust.
Words and interview by Lai Thi Van Anh – s3373503
Many men of his age had the same start; they were all poor college students who graduated with nothing but a certificate and dream of changing life. Mr. Truong Hung, currently the CEO of SonHung Construction, Trading, Service Co., LTD, began his career as an electrical engineer in a government-owned cooperation. It was a steady job at that time.
“Why did I leave, you ask?” He laughed. “It was because I didn’t have any faith in my own boss.”
In any business, it starts and ends with the word trust. For Mr. Hung, it is the key point to keep his company developing for over 20 years. Galford & Drapeau (2013) stated that trust within an organization is fragile, complicated but very critical. Trust links directly to organization’s performance and can be built with old-fashion virtues like clear communication, consistency, willingness to deal with problems (Galford & Drapeau 2013). It sounds simple enough but that is only the theory.
A case of dishonesty at its best.
Mr. Hung and his best friend Tran Thai Son – the main shareholder, started SonHung Company in 1992 as a sub-contractor in charge of providing construction machines and transportation. Since July 1997, SonHung Company had successfully developed into a Construction, Trading and Service Company, which provides full service as the main contractor. His company had been through many up and down but only once, which they were on the verge of bankrupt.
It was in 1998, two years after SonHung Company had developed from a sub-contractor to a main contractor, a big client came to him. They offered him a contract worth one billion with many benefits and support. However, when Mr. Hung finished his job, he did not get what he deserved and the client simply refused to pay. The client had taken advantage of Mr. Hung’s trust and lack of experience to break the contract.
“I tried to sue.” Mr. Hung said. “But it was a government-owned company so there was nothing I could do.”
At that time of crisis, he decided to speak the truth to all of his employees, management board and the shareholders about company’s state. Fortunately, most of them elected to stay with the company and agreed to work with late-payment. After over 3 years, SonHung Company started recovering from its worst state and running smoothly again. Currently, his company is working on a big project as the main contractor – Phu My Factory in Vung Tau which worth approximately 40 billion. That incident was both an unforgettable and valuable lesson for Mr. Hung as he continues to lead his company.
What is the lesson?
In business, you might get away with your lies once or twice but at some point, you won’t. When you are caught in a lie, your single greatest assets, which is your credibility, will be gone forever (Solomon 2008). This theory is proved true through Mr. Hung’s experience; it is not the incident that will damage the company but the wrong way of handle internally will. In time of crisis, when trust within the organization is at its most vulnerable state, the leader must always be honest and deal with the trouble head-on. On the bright side, when the storm passed, who were left are those have faith in the bond within the company and you – as the leader – have successfully gained their trust.
The ‘House theory’
“I am a man of construction,” Mr. Hung stated. “So the only theory I know is the house theory.”
It is very simple and familiar to me, as a Client Management student, how his theory of rebuilding trust and what I have learnt in class collided.
When starting to build a house, you have nothing but scratch, it is the same with building trust. It begins with a firm ground and is built step-by step with one block then another over time. This is a long process and took both parties hard work since trust, according to Reina & Reina (1999), is reciprocal, which means in order to be trusted by others, you must first be willing to trust them. However, also like a house, trust is hard to build but very easy to break. What will you do if your house broke down?
- Find out the cause of damage: Lewicki & Wiethoff (2000) stated that it is best to start with managing distrust first. Before finding a solution, you must know the behaviors, which created distrust in the first place.
- Take responsibility: You cannot build a bad house than walk away when it crash. It is necessary in any rebuilding process to have each responsible person apologize for violation of trust and explain (Lewicki & Wiethoff 2000).
- Willing to repair: At this state, both parties need to negotiate and agreed to the term of expectation.
- Starting over: It is fundamental to start over in a new manner. You must not rebuild a house, which is worse than the last; you already know where is the weak point so harden it step-by-step.
- Throughout supervising: When rebuilding a house, it is natural that both client and the contractor will pay closer attention to the process to avoid making mistake. It is the same with trust repairing; both parties need to help each other to establish ways to achieve mutual trust (Lewicki & Wiethoff 2000).
It was a great metaphor – the house of trust. At the end of the interview, I understood that building trust is hard but rebuilding it is even harder; as Mr. Hung insisted:
It’s almost impossible to rebuild damaged trust if you are not willing to
Trust is critical in every relationship whether it is internal or external and the key point to build trust is clear communication, willingness to trust and to deal with the trouble head-on. You might need to experience many up and down in your career path before these theories can be applied in the right ways but when they do, you are ready to build your own house.
Galford, R. & Drapeau, A. 2013, ‘The enemies of trust’, Havard Business Review, pp. 88-95.
Solomon, R. 2008, ‘Deal with trouble Head-on’, The art of client service, Kaplan Publishing, New York, US, pp.137-139.
Reina, D. & Reina, M. 1999, ‘The need for trust in the workplace’, Trust and betrayal in the workplace, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, San Francisco, pp.10-11.
Lewicki, R.J. & Wiethoff, C. 2000, ‘Trust, Trust Development and Trust Repair’, The handbook of conflict resolution: Theory and practice, San Francisco, pp. 86-107.