Trust seems to be in short supply these days. Perhaps it’s because we are reminded daily of scams on the Internet that result from unscrupulous businesses and people. Thus if you run a business, you know customers won’t buy from you unless they trust you. Therefore, it’s critical to your success that you build a culture of trust in you and your venture.
Market leaders, such as Google and Amazon, have shown that it is possible to build a strong culture of trust. According to recent reports, both employees and customers need to feel they know you – and you know them – before levels of trust can accrue. In other words, it’s all about perceived relationships and actions. In my role as an advisor and investor, I see this proven over and over again.
Most business leaders intuitively understand this, but many are not so clear on the specific actions and programs they need to initiate to build a trust culture in their business and have it projected outward to potential customers. So below, I offer the following prioritized initiatives from my own experience to get you started:
- Make sure everyone knows the business, both good and bad. As I said in the beginning, people don’t trust what they don’t know, so make sure you communicate your company’s vision, goals, and challenges to the whole team and customers personally. Hiding in the corner office or sharing only the good news does not build a culture of trust and support.
- Be the role model for trust and consistency in your actions. The most effective leaders today build trusting cultures by being visible, competent, and approachable in the office and the community. They are clearly in charge, but they don’t hide challenges and are honest and vulnerable when dealing with all constituents.
- Commit to a relatable “higher purpose.” Find a social or environmental issue where you, your team, and your customers can make an impact as part of your business. Keys to this would be something that matches your values and could benefit from your strengths. Make sure your team and your customers have a meaningful role.
- Set high but rational team expectations and follow through. People respond best when they know what needs to be done, and feel challenged but not overwhelmed by accountability expectations. Follow-through means paying attention to who is contributing; it also means fixing problems in a timely fashion when expectations fall short.
- Build real relationships with employees and customers. For employees, showing empathy and respect for their ideas and challenges is crucial. For customers, it means listening to and being supportive of special needs and situations, exceeding their expectations, and showing appreciation for their business.
- Empower teams to build their own work processes. The key to any trust culture is a feeling of control over one’s destiny. That means providing the tools and resources to do the job without micro-managing the exact process. Your role is to provide mentoring and support as required. It also means listening and following-up on feedback.
- Recognize and reward individual key contributions. The most effective individual recognition is timely positive feedback from you, in front of their peers, for excellence beyond the call of duty. Bonuses tied to production metrics are nice, but these will not generate the long-term trust and loyalty you need in the culture.
- Provide training and mentoring directed at career growth. Employees need to see career growth and investment in the people around them and feel all have equal access to the training and guidance to get the same opportunities. Also, provide daily informal feedback on performance rather than formal annual reviews; people prefer this approach, and you’ll see your team improve quickly.
- Focus on the whole employee and customer experience. With employees, the whole experience might include providing access to meals and relaxation at work, or the opportunity to work from home. For customers, the buying experience goes well beyond support after the sale to include product selection, website layout, and feedback.
- Enable shared ownership for employees and customers. Several reliable reports indicate that, on average, employee-owned firms perform substantially better and have a stronger trust culture than other firms. The same is true of consumer co-operatives owned by customers and managed collectively, aimed at fulfilling the needs of their owner-members.
With these initiatives, you too can build a culture of trust with your employees and customers. But be aware – trust is like the stock market. It’s hard work to get it to go up, and it can come down overnight if you make one wrong step. Thus, I recommend that you seek to get it right the first time and keep it there. Very few businesses get a second chance to be trusted.