Relationships are built on trust. When trust is broken, it is tough, and sometimes impossible to regain it back. And a brand is built on trust too. In spite of the fancy lingo, a brand is nothing more than a promise a business makes to its customers, employees and stakeholders and what really matters is how it fulfills that promise.
If you doubt that concept, just take Lance Armstrong as an example. His lies have caused his personal brand to crumble like a house of cards. During an interview with Oprah, he referred to the day his sponsors pulled out one by one as a “75 million dollar day”. His admission of cheating, lying and bullying have also impacted Livestrong, an organization that has raised more than $480 million dollars over a period of fifteen years, and inspired cancer sufferers worldwide.
Positive brand image can result in higher donations for non-profit organizations, and in particular, association with successful sports celebrities can add to that positive brand image. And exactly the opposite can happen when it turns out the founder isn’t exactly what everyone thought he was. The code of authenticity and trust has been broken.
And those two qualities – authenticity and trust - are no longer optional in business. Focus has moved back towards building relationships and conducting business in a way that ensures accountability and integrity.
So what can leaders in business do to build trust? Here are some basics.
Lead by example. If those at the top of the hierarchy endorse a culture of trust and work at ensuring promises are fulfilled, it is a fairly good indicator of a trustworthy organization. Trust should be a foundation of everything you do and your employees will follow and deliver if they are given the chance.
Be human. Human beings relate to other human beings and communication is key to ensuring that happens. What do your customers want and what specifically, will you do to give them what they want? Don’t promise what you can’t deliver and deliver what you do promise. Transparency and open honesty is no longer optional. Quality business relationships are built when people trust that they are being told the truth and can count on receiving the promised outcome.
Can you hear me now? With the explosion of social media, everyone has a voice and it is far reaching. Businesses that listen to what is being said, and in turn, act on any criticisms will build trust exponentially. The reward is that if you do it right, they will share that and hopefully your organization will reap the benefits.
Say sorry. Apologizing when something is wrong is common decency and good manners. Don’t make excuses, don’t blame and justify but instead, just apologize and fix it.
Think forward. Building a culture of trust should be in all facets of your business planning and lived throughout your organization. Your customers, employees and stakeholders should feel that your company stands behind its promise and delivers without exception.
Cathy Goddard is Principal of Lighthouse Visionary Strategies offering small business consulting, workshops and an Open Forum speaker series. She is the founder of Lighthouse’s Mentor Network, providing multiple mentor groups to women entrepreneurs. Cathy writes a column for the Whistler Question newspaper and was recently nominated by Small Business BC in the Top 5 for the Community Impact Award.