It’s a tough economic time, and Bob’s on edge–both in his professional and personal life. At work, he hears the buzz as his employer discusses ways to cut costs, and he begins to lose that sense of job security he previously felt. He wonders, what does this mean to my position, my paycheck? Bob immediately goes home and begins to assess his family’s spending habits. He eliminates from the personal budget some of the more frivolous things, such as dinners out and weekend trips to the coast. His insecurity combined with the loss of some of the family’s fun activities results in increased stress and an overall tension in the household. Although Bob has received no direct evidence his job is in jeopardy, his anxiety and resulting behavior continue to wreak havoc on his life for many months.

There is one common element of social reality that, when removed, served as the domino that knocked down Bob’s life as he knew it: trust. The moment Bob lost it, things changed.

In November, I attended the General Counsel Forum’s annual conference in San Antonio, Texas. The keynote speaker, Stephen M. R. Covey, spoke at length about the importance of trust in an organization. Covey–an adviser on leadership and ethics and author of “The Speed of Trust: The One Thing that Changes Everything”–contended in his speech that when trust is removed, the result can be so powerful to destroy governments, companies and thriving economies. But it also has the opposite effect: When trust is encouraged and fostered, the result is significant–productivity increases as people stop operating on fear.

As I looked around the conference room–full of senior-level in-house counsel–I saw a lot of heads nodding in agreement, as if the light bulbs that were already over their heads brightened. Although trust’s role as a key element to building and maintaining a successful business may seem obvious, it’s also very easy to forget–particularly when employees are still working under the confines of tightened budgets and job insecurity, just like our friend Bob.

As we ring in the new year, I challenge all of us to begin to forge a greater sense of trust in our departments. By this time next year, we will all be thankful we did.