Exploring the dimensions of trust

July 12, 2007

Two days of discussions, planning, analyzing by our company’s senior leadership group have resulted in confirmation and recommitment to the focus on trust. That is helping our clients build and maintain trust. Which is leading me to want to dig deeper into this issue to understand more what trust is, what it is not, why it happens and how it is lost.

So you will likely see more ramblings and random thoughts about this topic in this blog. As I continue to look at what is happening in the world of crisis management, emergency response, reputation and issue management, I will focus more on the topic of trust as it is in my mind the end game of all the efforts of communicators.

Still, there seems to be a gap that is critically important. Is trust what companies and organizations are all about? Is it what they put on the top of the list of goals and aspirations? I kind of think not. When CEOs or Executive Directors lay their heads on their pillows, I think they tend to think more about what the balance sheet is looking like and the impact of their strategies and decisions on share price, return on investment, and other metrics of financial performance. Where is trust in this?

I think they think of trust as a nice thing to have but not intimately connected to what the numbers are.

If you are a communicator or communications leader in your company or organization, you face the same dilemma we do as a company. How can we get the senior leadership (our clients, your bosses) to connect the dots? To see that building trust is the essential path to financial performance? The trust that customers have in a brand is directly related to brand value. And smart CEOs know how to translate brand value into financial value. Attracting and holding key employees is clearly a matter of trust. Trust in the goodwill, values of management as well as trust in their ability to lead the company forward in an uncertain and competitive world. Trust, increasingly, is related to a company’s ability to operate in a regulated world. Because it is not just government regulators who set the rules, it is the public. I should say, the public as influenced by the media, by online media, by reputation, by events that bear on the feelings and opinions they have about the company. If this is lost, all else is lost–including the ability to translate assets such as brand, equipment, people into economic return.

But the gap exists, and that is why we (and you) need to work on closing that gap. When senior leaders understand the critical role of trust in their organization’s future, you as a communication leader will have a premier seat at the table. And they may just listen to advisors like us who try to help prepare them to take the actions necessary to build and maintain that vital commodity.


2 Responses to “Exploring the dimensions of trust”

  1. I’m currently reading a school textbook chapter about communicating identity, so from the top of my brain, here are some of ideas:

    1. Customers look to the identity of a company for guidance, when reality doesn’t conform to the portrayed identity, there is a breach of trust.

    2. Trust has been taken for granted. If the balance sheet looks good now, why worry about something that could happen later?

    3. Trust and the expectations associated with it are flexible and ever-changing. Yesterday’s standard of trust may not be the same as tomorrow’s expectations.

    4. Who do customers trust more? You, or your competition? Could that hurt you eventually or in the event of a crisis?

  2. gbaron Says:

    Michael, thank you that is very interesting and helpful. As to your first point back in my marketing days we talked about “concept integrity” where all the elements of your brand identity need to be in concert in order for it to be effective. One example–you can claim to be a “green” company without a solid record of taking the right actions.
    I also really like your point about what generates trust one day may not do the same the next. It is a continually shifting ground based on the shifting values and priorities of the stakeholders.

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