Is trust just nice to have or essential for businesses?

Following the slew of recent scandals, we look into how important trust is for startups’ relationships with their customers and employees

Is trust just nice to have or essential for businesses?

Trust is an emotion and a very fragile one at that. It takes time and careful effort to build but can be shattered in a matter of moments. Building on from this, trust is part of a wider issue for businesses and the way in which they are viewed by both employees and customers. And if an employee does not trust their employer, motivation and productivity will be affected; if customers don’t trust the business, they won’t buy from them.

Trust is a key element of a company’s culture. This is directly linked to the sustained success of an organisation and the wellbeing and attitudes of its employees. And workplace culture has rarely been out of the headlines recently. The current Facebook crisis and the scandals at Uber have both shown what can happen when you get it wrong. But culture can mean many things to different businesses, large or small. Unfortunately, all too often it is viewed as something ‘fluffy’ and not essential to business practice.

Those high-profile scandals feed into the increasing sense of distrust and alienation towards big businesses. This has resulted in people looking for something different from their workplace, something that speaks to and for them. This is where SMEs have a chance to change the game by aligning their business goals with a workplace culture that inspires trust.

But what exactly is company culture? Compared to finance, efficiency, productivity, investment, marketing and skills, where does it fit?
In fact, it underpins all of these things. Your business culture frames your potential, defines your possibilities and overall vision. It’s how things get done in your business, the feel of the environment, the way people treat each other and your implicit values and behaviours.

Overcoming the crisis of trust

Your behaviour and values determine who will engage with your business and who will place their trust in you – be that employees or customers. In light of the culture crisis’ at large businesses, the wider economy is becoming increasingly aware of the value of good workplace culture. In fact, the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer found that average trust in organisations sits at just 52 points out of 100.

Research from breathe HR, the HR software provider,  recently found that 53% of UK workers say they distrust the senior leaders and managers in their company. A worrying statistic. A key reason for this was the belief that managers don’t “appear to know what they are doing”. This highlights that trust, respect and authority must be earned by actions and attitudes and not freely given by default according to hierarchy or status. Interestingly, the research also showed that the highest levels of trust in leaders and management was among 18 – 34 year olds and the lowest among 35 – 54 year olds. The fact that those who have been in work for longer have lower levels of trust, further highlights this issue.

This presents SMEs with an opportunity. The trust crisis is about the establishment being perceived as remote and out of touch and small businesses are perfectly placed to lead on refreshing new ways of working and addressing challenges.

How can you spot if trust is lacking and what to do about it?

Start with the facts. Using the most authentic approach for your business, perhaps a survey or one-to-ones, gather as much information as you can around the elements of your business culture. This can be used as a foundation for continuing conversations about how you adapt and shape the culture you want to see in your business.

By doing so, you will be able to identify any gaps and where conflict and dissonance may occur. You can then revisit your business strategy, objectives and targets and see where culture fits within this. It may also open your eyes to making all aspects of your business part of a meaningful mission that will engage and enthuse employees.

Ultimately, make yourself available to your employees. You can’t trust someone you don’t know. Invest the time into getting to know your people and having face-to-face conversations. If you strive to lead by example and engage with the real concerns and issues arising in your business, you will be able to make strides in building confidence and trust across your entire organisation, no matter what the size.

Jonathan Richards
Jonathan Richards

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