Speed and Trust – Why Millennials Need Both

This post originally appeared on the Higher Logic blog, where I’m posting an ongoing series related to Millennials and online community.   And don’t forget that Higher Logic clients can have access to our Essentials of Online Community Management program at a special discount. Contact me for details!


There is a big problem brewing on the horizon for many organizations. Based on our research, the Millennial generation is coming into the workforce expecting something that most, especially associations, are truly bad at: speed.

The Millennial generation expects things to be fast. You can call them “entitled” for wanting that if you like, but it’s a simple fact that the pace of the world increased dramatically as they were growing up.

Access to all of the world’s information became instant. While older generations remember life before that, the Millennials know nothing other than the fast option. At one start-up we spoke with in our research (where nearly all the employees are Millennials), they told us one of their mantras is there’s no such thing as “I don’t know;” there is only “I don’t know YET.”

The information is out there, and you can find it fast. Millennials grew up in an app-based world where if the app you’ve chosen doesn’t do exactly what you want in maybe the first five or ten minutes, you dump it and go find another one – because you can. They have only known a world where high-speed is normal.

And now they are joining your organization, where they quickly learn that decisions could stay at the committee level for months, no one on staff has time to deal with their request and there may be a mysterious political landscape to be navigated in order to get anything done. If that’s the sum total of their experiences, then don’t expect them to stick around for long. There is a ray of hope, however: your online community.

Communities are typically places where members can go to get immediate answers. That’s part of the beauty of peer-to-peer interaction. But is your community really optimized for speed? The potential is there, but are people taking advantage of it?

In evaluating the speed of your community, there is one factor that should get your attention: trust.

Trust enables speed. Stephen M.R. Covey wrote a great book several years ago that explains in detail why systems that have high levels of trust are significantly faster than systems that don’t. We demonstrated in our last book that being able to put your trust in something enables you to give up control, and that’s what creates the speed. So how do you build trust inside your community?

Be transparent.

Transparency is a huge contributor to trust. The more that is kept behind the curtain, the harder it is to trust. So look for opportunities to share more information, be more open and honest, and disclose as much as you can. When you model this kind of transparency, you might see others following suit. And the more information that’s out there, the easier it is to build trust.

We’re seeing more and more organizations building groups into their communities whose sole purpose is to share and discuss things (like conference programming, standards development feedback, study groups for continuing education, etc.) that used to happen only behind closed doors. What can you show that’s behind the curtain?

Support vulnerability.

At the heart of trust is risk. You make yourself vulnerable to the other party – you take a risk – and you count on the other party to not take advantage of you. That’s trust. So try to encourage people to be vulnerable with each other. You may not have realized it, but that standard “please introduce yourself” thread is based in this principle.

When you get people to share things about themselves (anything) it technically requires them to be vulnerable (What if I say the wrong thing? What if nobody likes me? What if they criticize my background?). The risk isn’t huge in this thread, but it exists at the back of your mind, so when you put it out there and it all works well, you’ve developed some trust in the system.

Reward risk taking.

Not all participation in your community is created equal. If taking risks can build trust, then find out ways to reward your community members who are putting more on the line in their communications than others. You might not be able to automate this (the risk/trust part is pretty subjective), but it’s an important step in building a stronger community. One simple (though not necessarily easy) example of this is a “lessons learned” thread where members openly share stories about failed projects.

If you can start to build trust inside your community, then you will increase the chances your members will put more out there, which means more connections will be made and more problems will get solved. Suddenly those committee delays don’t seem like such a problem – not when I can go to the community and get things done. Build the trust, and the speed will come.