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Case Study: How One Canadian Company Earns Trust

Michael Bassett, Senior Research Associate, Organizational Effectiveness and Learning
September 14, 2009

At a time when the decline of trust in business is accelerating, one Canadian company has made earning the trust of its stakeholders the cornerstone of its business. A Conference Board of Canada case study, The Dalton Company Ltd.: Building on a Foundation of Trust, describes how this professional building services firm has created a culture of trust and implemented systems to ensure that its values are translated into actions for its stakeholders.

“Trust is not an intangible, ‘soft’ concept, but a key issue in business today,” says Andrew Dalton, CEO of The Dalton Company Ltd. “In a challenging economy, a corporate culture of earning, predicting, and measuring trust will prove critical to any organization’s sustainability. If you don’t have clear standards, you can’t hold people accountable.”

Developing the Definition of Success at the start of a project is an important trust-building exercise.

Dalton’s systems and processes have made it a leader in restoring trust in the construction industry as a whole. Its trust model is based on accountability and leadership. Through this approach, Dalton seeks to understand each customer’s purpose, vision, objectives, and limitations early in a project, and monitors how it is meeting these needs throughout the building process.

One key factor for Dalton in building trust is its issue resolution mechanism, which identifies potential solutions to problems as they arise in each project. The process begins with the responsible lead for the project. Known as the “Yellow,” this person reports on the project to the leadership team at Dalton each week. In this process, there is no finger pointing; instead, the team works together to find solutions.

Trust is integrated into hiring practices and Dalton’s bonus system.

In its Alternative Approach to Building, Dalton positions clients as the priority and focuses on their needs—in Dalton’s words, their Definition of Success (DOS). Developing the DOS at the start of a project is an important trust-building exercise, as it creates accountability between clients and employees. While a client typically defines success as a project that is delivered well, on time, and on budget, Dalton delves deeper to understand all of the client’s underlying motivations. Once the DOS is established, Dalton measures the performance of its project team based on the client’s feedback in relation to the DOS.

While cultivating trust externally is vital, the company also believes strongly in showing and rewarding trust internally: Trust is integrated into hiring practices and Dalton’s bonus system. The organization’s recruiting process focuses on whether potential employees will fit into the firm’s culture, and employees are rewarded for demonstrating trustworthy behaviour.

“You can train skills; I don’t think you can train trust,” says Andrew Dalton.

Michael Bassett
Michael Bassett
Senior Research Associate
Organizational Effectiveness and Learning
The Dalton Company Ltd.: Building on a Foundation of Trust

Related Publications
Stakeholder Trust: A Competitive Strategy
Stakeholder Trust: A Compendium of Discussion Papers 
The Trust Imperative: Taking Governance to the Next Level  
Rebuilding Trust in Canadian Organizations

Related Executive Networks
Corporate Ethics Management Council