Ken Rona: How to Establish Trust When Building Relationships

In Chapter 10 of 15 in his 2012 Capture Your Flag interview, digital media executive Ken Rona answers "How Do You Establish Trust When Building Relationships?"  Rona notes that trust is the currency of business, not money.  He learns to just give trust to his staff, noting if you give it, you get it.  He finds this something controllable. When there is no direct reporting relationship, either with people more senior or in different parts of the business, Rona tries to demonstrate trust to them. 

Ken Rona is a Vice President at Turner Broadcasting, where he leads teams across advertising sales, big data software development and business strategy.  Rona earned a BA and MA in Political Science from Stony Brook University and a PhD in Behavioral Economics from Duke University. 


Erik Michielsen: How do you establish trust when building relationships? 

Ken Rona: Well, with my staff, I just give it. There’s that Paul McCartney, John Lennon line— ‘the love you get is equal to the love you give’ or something—I mean it’s that kind of notion. I think that if you get it—if you give it, you get it. So but there are—that’s with your staff and that’s kind of more controllable. I think for folks who are let’s say more senior than me or in different parts of the business where I don’t have—there’s no direct reporting relationship, I think that one of the things that I do is I exhibit to them that I trust them. And I try to demonstrate to people that I think about them in the circle of trust. 

I was just talking to someone about this today, someone I had lunch with, to say in our first interview, when she was interviewing me, we got to talking about a personal issue for her and I gave her some advice that you probably wouldn’t give somebody that you had just met. And I was—she said—she was talking to me about this today, this was 2 years later. I said well I did that to say like, you know, I would expect that we would have a relationship that is, you know, trusting. And that I was gonna kind of talk to you about this stuff and once again, I guess in some ways I did the same thing I do with my staff. I gave her my trust. And I brought her in to my circle. And that’s what I try to do. 

Now having said that, some people are unresponsive to it. Some people don’t respond when you say something personal. Or when you be kind of a real person. They may not respond. And that tells you something about them. I think that tells you kind of more how you have to treat them. It’s a more buttoned down relationship. But you know what I tell people about trust is—once again I try to come up with a pithy line, trust is the currency of business. That is how business works. It’s not money. 

The way things happen is that if I trust you to do something and you trust me—that we all kind of trust each other that we’re all gonna do what we said we’re going to do, right, we’re gonna meet our commitments. Wall Street certainly thinks about it that way. So the thing you’re making commitments about is money or projects or whatever, but I think that the –what limited success I’ve had I think is because people trust me to do the right thing, they trust my judgment and I’ve tried to demonstrate it. 

So I think also, you know, you get a lot of benefits by reps. One of the things that I try to do for the staff is make sure that they don’t—when I’m delegating, they’re not there in a situation where they can fail, right? Part of that trust is when somebody gives me something that I have the judgment to know when it cannot fail. That if my boss asks me to do something that you know, I have to make a call. Is this something that I should—that he is willing to tolerate failure on, or that he’s not gonna be super happy about. And he said that I get it right, I build up more trust. I build up social capital. I think it was social capital. And in fact we built up enough social capital with the stuff we’re working on where the company has entrusted us with more strategically important things to do. And I think that’s how you know when you’re a success. That if you kind of feel that people—that your circle of trust gets bigger. I guess I’ll say that.