Why Business Execs Need To Check Their Trust Level

“Trust is the lubricant that makes organizations run smoothly.” That’s what the late management and leadership guru, Warren Bennis, believed. Bennis wrote frequently about what makes organizations and their leaders effective.

That analogy makes a lot of sense. I doubt many of us would disagree with it.

Why then, do business executives rank so poorly in trust surveys?

Nurses: Trusted; Executives: Not so Much

Honesty and ethical behavior are fundamental to trust. And the Gallup organization has been surveying the public’s perception of honesty and ethical standards among different professions for decades.

In the 2021 Gallup poll, nurses ranked the highest with an impressive 81% of respondents rating their level of honesty and ethical standards as high or very high.

Perhaps that’s not surprising given the impact of COVID-19. But nurses have claimed the number one spot for 20 straight years!

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Business executives, on the other hand, have not fared nearly as well – not this year or historically. Only 15% of people taking the survey in 2021 rated business executives as high or very high. In fact, 34% rated them as low or very low.

That’s more than unfortunate.

Especially in these uncertain times of global pandemic and geopolitical tension, establishing trust among your co-workers, customers, and business partners would seem more important than ever.

Mistrust in an organization could lead to unhappy employees, lower productivity, and lost business opportunities.

Building Trust Every Day

So how can business leaders build the level of trust that others feel towards them?

An article in the Harvard Business Review offers some guidance. It describes three foundational traits found among trusted leaders:

  • The ability to create positive relationships
  • Good judgment and expertise
  • Consistency

We can all work on developing these attributes. For many of us, it’s a matter of honing our skill sets and normalizing the practices.

But as some savvy business leaders readily point out, building greater trust is like building stronger muscles – it isn’t a one-time exercise session.

Walking the Walk at PwC

“Trust is something you earn through every interaction, every relationship, and every outcome you deliver,” said Dr. Ulrich Störk, Chairman of the Management Board at PwC Germany, told me in a recent video interview. “The world holds businesses to higher standards than ever before.”

This advice seems particularly on-point given that PwC’s entire business model is essentially about building trust. PwC is a global network of more than 295,000 professionals in 156 countries. Collectively, they provide professional services to organizations and customers around the world.

“Companies everywhere rely on PwC to help pursue their business-critical transformations,” Störk said, “and we must work effectively with clients even in unprecedented circumstances.”

Positive relationships, expertise, and consistency are all part of the PwC formula as I discovered.

Also interviewed was Stefan Frühauf, Global Project and Change Leader for the PwC network. He described how and why PwC is moving to SAP S/4HANA Cloud as part of a multi-national digital transformation.

Frühauf explained that this project reflects the importance that PwC puts on both creating positive relationships and consistency.

“Standardizing how our firms work everywhere they operate, will make it easier for our professionals and clients to collaborate across the PwC network,” Frühauf said. “Consistency means clients get the excellence they expect from us time and time again.”

Maintaining a Well-Oiled Machine

I think the metaphor of trust being a lubricant is a good one.

Like oil in an automobile engine, trust is essential to making sure that all the parts of an organization work in harmony to power your company forward.

There’s another similarity too. Trust is something you might not think about every day. But the consequences of ignoring it for too long could be disastrous.

Be sure to check out this video featuring Dr. Ulrich Störk and Stefan Frühauf. And you can read more about a PwC and customer collaboration that helped garner an honorable mention in the 2021 SAP Innovation Awards.

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