The Reputation Trust Link

The character of your company is on public view every time a customer promise is delivered and every time a customer promise is broken. When these promises are constantly broken your reputation will be inevitably damaged.

One of the last presentations I was involved with in my corporate career involved a global survey on the subject of Trust. This was just after the demise of Enron and the immense commercial insecurity across the business world as a result of 911. Today Trust is a value that many organisations aspire to. In banking, particularly in the wake of the 2008 crisis and Libor it has become an industry obsession. One of our favourite descriptors of it comes from the Speed of Trust by Stephen Covey Jr. He cites two key elements of trust: character and competence. We would add a third: consistency. Simply put if you aren’t trusted to deliver on your promises your reputation will suffer. Trust is heavily correlated with reputation.

One of the reasons there is such a lack of alignment between what is promoted in an annual report and what goes on inside a large company today is a unilateral focus on competence. It is obviously important to hire and train competent employees who know what they are doing. However, it is also critical to recruit people who actually believe in, and care about what your company stands for.

The character of your company is on public view every time a customer promise is delivered and every time a customer promise is broken. When these promises are constantly broken your reputation will be inevitably damaged. One way to start managing ‘character’ more consistently is to reflect on the purpose of your organisation. Beyond making money (which is an outcome not a purpose) ask Why does our company exist? Can we trust ourselves to deliver on this purpose? How do our customers/clients really benefit from this?

The thing to remember about Trust is that there are multiple levels of it. For instance customers generally trust that an ATM is going to deliver some cash or that they can pay bills electronically but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they have more than a functional relationship with their bank. To go beyond transactional trust and create a trusted relationship it is necessary to be in authentic service of your customers, even if that occasionally costs you. It means you need to be conscientious about what you are doing.

So often the word ‘trust’ is thrown around without any real consideration for its meaning. It is a heavily loaded term that carries expectations so these need to be effectively managed. It is perfectly fine to have transactional relationships when it is clear that this is all you can deliver. If you don’t plan on delivering anything more than a functional product/service then avoid building an expectation of offering anything further. What executives often fail to realise is that it is actually worse to promote a value/belief and not live up to it, than to not promote the value at all. So, if you happen to communicate a word like ‘Trust’ in your efforts to better manage Reputation, remember it is not what you say but what you do and how you do it that counts.

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