Keeping yourself accountable

You’d think John Sullivan’s reputation would be the only thing he’d need to build trust. After all, the former CEO of Gold Star Chili does have 40 years of experience in the hospitality industry.

But Sullivan, who retired in May 2008 after 18 years at the restaurant chain, doesn’t rely solely on his track record. Instead, he takes the initiative to prove himself to employees.

“I think the first thing is always developing trust with the individuals that you’re trying to lead,” Sullivan says. “Trust is made up of two elements: competence … and the other is confidence. Another element would be your value system.”

Although confidence and competence come with time, Sullivan sets them off by exposing his value system to employees and asking to be held accountable. In turn, he requested the same of his associates at Gold Star, which reached 2007 revenue of about $71 million.

Smart Business spoke with Sullivan about how to build trust by getting your values out in the open.

Post your personal values. Years ago, I participated in a workshop where you put together your mission [and] core values. The guy that was directing the seminar said, ‘You also need to sit down and write out your personal values.’ I did that. I then published those to all of my staff and associates and said, ‘Here are the things that I believe in and you can count on.’

There were five things. One of my values is, always tell the truth. It’s extremely important that I always tell the truth, and it’s extremely important if I deal with somebody, they always tell me the truth.

I said, ‘If I tell you something, I will always tell you the truth. You can always take that to the bank. I don’t know, you can maybe catch me in a little white lie, and if you do, bring it to my attention.’

I think once the people that you work with understand where you are, then it just makes it a lot easier for them to follow you.

Just look within yourself to what you strongly believe in. When you post your values and explain them to people, you more or less say, ‘You can count on me for this.’

You just look at yourself, and it’s really a personal thing; it’s not a business thing. How [do] you conduct yourself? It’s not only how you conduct yourself within your business but also within your family.

When I posted my values, I not only posted them within the company but I also even posted them on my refrigerator at home to show my family. [Saying,] ‘If I don’t honor these, then you let me know.’ It helps you make sure that you honor those.