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The importance (and elusiveness) of trust

We’ve been talking about the value of trust lately. Have you noticed that you can’t get much done in business without it?

Trust is the glue that binds people doing business together. High levels of trust lead to networks of advocates, more loyal customers, high employee retention, sustainable revenues and lower costs of regulation.

When we’re brokering talks about sustainable food production, facilitating community workshops about waste management or promoting sustainable behaviours, trust between participants is vital.

What’s worrying is that trust is in crisis around the world.

It’s a time when ‘fake news’ is named 2016 Word of the Year, the stepchild of “mis-spoke”, #alternativefacts, has entered the political lexicon and “greenwash” undermines corporate sustainability.

Considering that notions of an imbalance of power in decision-making have been observed since the late 1960’s, it’s no wonder we find ourselves in such a crisis five decades on.

As a result, when people are looking for meaning many are distrusting society’s institutions – the media, government and business – and turning to individuals and groups who think like them.

So, who do people believe nowadays?

If you don’t know who your customers, stakeholders or staff are listening to (or better yet, believing), you best find out. You need to know and accept what these influencers think and care about.

You start with a stakeholder audit and importantly an analysis of their power to influence others and what they think about you. Whomever they are they need to be your allies. This starts with you understanding them.

In our work with regulators, such as the Victorian Building Authority and PrimeSafe, or with peak groups, such as the Red Meat Advisory Council, we help keep confidence and trust in what they do.

So, how do you keep, build or restore trust? Well, here are five principles to consider.

  1. Be honest

Together with transparency, the truth still matters. Notwithstanding the phenomenon of post-truth politics, honesty is the risk-averse thing to do in business. After all, a liar needs a good memory.

  1. Keep promises

We use the IAP2 spectrum for stakeholder engagement. It requires you to decide what to promise and to whom. Try it. You can’t keep a promise until it’s clear to both you and your audience.

  1. Be ethical

What’s ethical to you may not be ethical to others. This is when you can use an ethical framework.  An ethical framework is designed protect and improve the trust between business and society.

  1. Share power

An imbalance of power between parties undermines efforts to protect or promote trust. If you don’t know where your stakeholders think the power sits, use a relational analytics tool to find out.

  1. Be consistent

Trust comes from being consistent in what you say and do.  Does your organisation value consistency?  A culture audit will reveal the consistency (or otherwise) of your behaviours and systems.

Trust: it implies reliability, dependability

Lastly, my former business mentor and The Executive Connection group chairman Tim Maclachlan says: “Trust is a higher, more noble value than either reliability or dependability, yet it implies both.”

We agree that trust in our institutions is becoming increasingly valuable and more elusive. Surely then, this is an opportunity for CEOs and Boards to embed trust at the core of their business models and governance.

We have a vision of a world with such leaders. Men and women bold enough to serve stakeholders not just shareholders and, in doing so, restore society’s trust.

Best wishes,

Mark Paterson

About Mark Paterson

Mark’s first job was milking cows. An award-winning career in journalism followed. These days when he's not trying to save coral reefs in Indonesia, dreaming about playing tennis on the Masters circuit or raising three kids in a blended family he thrives on consulting work that connects profit with people and planet. The son of corgi breeders, Mark would like to change the world for the better. Read more posts by Mark.

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