Trust or talent - which one trumps?

by Sarah Harding - Principal Consultant (IT), The Talent Hive

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If you had to make a choice between trust and talent when hiring someone, which would you plump for?

For many employers, both qualities are non-negotiables. In other words, there’s no point having a talented person you can’t trust, or a trustworthy person with no ability. It’s a trick question right?.

Then again, it depends how you define trust. Does ‘trusting’ someone mean you think they operate under the highest code of ethics at all times? That they have basic integrity but are as flawed as the rest of us? How would you even go about measuring those standards? Would it require micromanagement, whereby employees have to check with you before doing anything, just to ensure they still have your trust? Would the consequences of such a jealously guarded system of honour even be desirable?

The questions arising from a concept as nebulous as ‘trust’ go on and on, with very little in the way of concrete answers. Everyone has a different definition of trust, which throws doubt on the suggestion that you, as an employer, can objectively identify a betrayal of trust. Is it not healthier and more productive to assume employees are acting in ‘good faith’, even if you can be reasonably sure that won’t be the case 100% of the time.

The benefit of the doubt is a great gift in a work environment – especially one populated by highly talented people. Talent gets the job done. The talented company outperforms the company with some shaky notion of ‘trust’ – and anyway, genuinely talented people can be trusted. They can be trusted to be genuinely talented, and genuine talent does not need to betray trust in order to give the appearance of success.

Although the two ideas aren’t mutually exclusive – far from it – the ways in which we measure ‘talent’ and ‘trust’ are not equally reliable. Measuring an individual’s performance is much easier than measuring our own level of trust in the same person.

So, until we figure out a way to precisely (or even vaguely reliably) measure trust, the question isn’t such a trick after all. Trust or talent? Give me talent any day of the week!