Trust Issues Part 1 - True Believers

Why Trust In The Workplace Matters Today More Than Ever

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> Part 3: The Seamy Side of Business

True BelieversWhy trust in the workplace matters today more than ever – and how you can ensure your business is trusted.

Feel like blind faith is sometimes a facet of your business that's a little more important than it should be?

Distributors need to have faith in their clients that they won't shop around their good ideas. They need to have faith in suppliers that they'll fulfill orders on time and to spec – not to mention trusting that they won't do the unmentionable: Sell directly to those clients on future deals.

Sure, there are purchase orders and spec samples and invoices. But, really, there are no contracts to protect distributors from clients or suppliers going in different, unforeseen directions. It's a matter of trust, then, that keeps distributors flourishing today. There's a lot of faith and confidence in partners that distributors need to have to succeed in the promotional products market.

And, maybe more importantly, distributors need to engender trust, so that clients believe they'll always deliver on time and provide a level of service that they can depend on. Ultimately, there's a lot of trust that has to be built up throughout the whole supply chain for end-buyers to be confident in the process.

After all, every client has to trust that his distributor will receive the order on time from a supplier, who has to trust that his (likely) foreign manufacturer will fulfill an order like clockwork, who, in turn, must trust material sources to get the goods to the factory on time. Throw in multiple production sites, shipping logistics, customs hiccups, and suddenly trust is morphing into fingers crossed, prayers uttered and an anxiety-filled business experience for everyone involved. More to the point, many feel that trust is a force that's eroding in the industry.

"Unfortunately, there's just not a lot of trust in the industry today," said one executive from a Top 40 distributor firm, who asked to remain anonymous. "Suppliers and distributors struggle to trust each other. And distributors often don't trust their clients right now because they're constantly looking for lower prices, and they'll go anywhere to find them."

Become Trustworthy
That lack of trust is a common occurrence in the business world, according to recent studies. The 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer report, produced annually by Edelman, the New York-based global public relations firm, surveyed 30,000-plus people in 25 countries to measure trust in today's business and online world. The study revealed that trust is on the decline – in the media, in government, in academia, and in certain industries, such as energy and banking.

In fact, only 50% of consumers said they trust businesses in the U.S., a decrease from 64% when the survey was conducted 10 years ago. In other words, only half of Americans surveyed said they could trust businesses in general. Further, when asked to say who they would trust to tell the truth, even if the message was complex or unpopular, respondents in the U.S. said they'd trust government officials over business leaders by a margin of 53% to 38%.

So how can distributors build more trust among their clients? It starts with trusting the partners you do business with, as well as building 360 degrees of trust in the workplace, experts say – from clients to employees to vendors. By fostering trust at home, so to speak, within their own walls, distributors are building a style of relating to others outside company walls. "It's about exceeding expectations," says Michael Cherenson, executive vice president of Success Communications Group, a business communications and public relations firm in Parsippany, NJ.

By that Cherenson means treating staff with more regard than they might expect – asking them for their opinions, ideas and criticisms. Cherenson's point is bolstered by recent studies. A 2010 Deloitte LLP survey found that 48% of Americans said they'd look for a new job in a rebounding economy because of a loss of trust in their employer. And though perhaps sometimes feeling helpless to do anything about it, 65% of executives surveyed admitted they thought trust issues were a leading cause for employee turnover.

To regain trust in the workplace, Dennis Reina, president of The Reina Trust Building Institute and co-author of Trust and Betrayal in the Workplace: Building Effective Relationships in Your Organization, says managers and employees can best increase trust by building open lines of communication in which employees are a key go-to resource.

One of the best ways to build employee loyalty and trust, experts insist, is to leave doors open – literally – so that employees can offer up ideas on the spot, offer constructive criticism (of the workplace or the management), and otherwise voice concerns throughout the day about work issues. It also fosters a two-way dialogue between employer and employee about what's working, as well as not working, at the company.

Do Clients Trust You?
That kind of open-door policy doesn't have to stop with employees. In fact, experts consistently state that the same trust-building techniques hold true whether they're practiced inside or outside a company. Maybe the easiest way to think about it is as a bank account, says Cherenson.

True Believers"You make deposits and withdrawals," but the goal is to maintain a healthy balance, he says. "Where you earn your trust is in the promises you've made and kept, exceeding expectations, measuring milestones, respecting and honoring those who put their trust in you."

That way when orders go wrong, distributors have a strong track record (i.e. bank account) to draw on. "Those things are true for internal and external clients," Cherenson adds.

In fact, one of the keys to building employee trust is to think of staff as internal clients. How distributors treat employees becomes habit-forming and is easily transferred to external clients, Cherenson says. So, the best trust-building practices are formed internally first. That includes acknowledging mistakes, apologizing for errors, taking a personal interest in workers and allowing them to expand their potential at the firm.

Leading by example is also key, says Linda Henman, president of Henman Performance Group, a business consultancy based in Chesterfield, MO. Bosses, for example, who pad expense reports or take credit for an underling's idea are the reason workers leave and employee turnover rises. What's more, it sends a message that not only is trust not valued, but it's okay to break the trust of others.

"If you're at the top and you cheat on your expense accounts," for example, Henman says, "that becomes contagious and epidemic in organizations." Turn that kind of behavior rampant and it will eventually spill out into general client relationships.

To build trust at his company, Tom Walter, a serial entrepreneur and expert on workplace cultures and human capital, as well as current CEO of Tasty Catering, an event-planning company in Elk Grove Village, IL, says his company's profitability is 60% higher than competitors largely because he's built a trustworthy and transparent office environment. When employees make a mistake, they're expected to own up to it in front of other staff members, as one worker did during lunch recently by announcing she'd forgotten to list upward of $4,000 in products on an invoice – lost revenue that the company had to eat.

In doing so, everyone "confronted the cold hard facts," says Walter, co-author of It's My Company Too! "Everyone clapped for her … and moved on." But for that kind of exposure to work, Walter admits, everyone must make amends. So, likewise, when managers make mistakes, they're expected to apologize to staff members and acknowledge their errors as well. "Trust is earned every day," Walter says. "It's given, not taken."

He may be onto something. According to Deloitte's 2010 survey, 92% of executives said transparency by leadership to staff was a top-ranking tactic in building employee trust.

The same holds true for clients, say business experts who study trust. The key, says Reina, is to build and rebuild trust over time with customers. How? Aside from delivering a consistently good product on time, building rapport is largely a personal mission – something that happens outside of the sales cycle. It's also something that, for distributors, can happen in either direction – with both clients and suppliers.

"What's absolutely critical is to be able to establish, maintain and sustain those relationships, particularly with suppliers and customers throughout the supply chain," Reina says, "not just when you want something or want to sell them something, but also to develop those relationships when you're not asking for something."

Sending a client an article about his favorite sports team, for example, or passing along a business tip about his industry, simply out of courtesy, can do much to forge client ties.

It's crucial to apologize immediately when mistakes are made. "Especially in the promotional products industry, shipments are late" and orders are delayed at times, says Cherenson. In a marketplace that relies on so many different players to come together to fulfill an order, breakdowns in communication and processes are bound to happen. But owning the mistake is a key to repairing relationships – even more so than fixing the actual problem.

Several studies in various industries have found that full disclosure is often one of the strongest tools for rebuilding relationships where trust has been eroded. The University of Michigan Health System, for example, saw 40% fewer lawsuits between 2002 and 2007 after it changed its policy to investigate medical mishaps and share them with patients, along with an apology.

"One of the best ways to build trust," Cherenson says, "is saying you're sorry."

Apologies aside, however, another way to build upon trust – and perhaps avoid apologies altogether – is to incorporate more partnerships among clients and suppliers, Reina says. Not only does it make them an integral part of your company's processes and whole existence, but it also makes them feel valued. In addition, that kind of partnership building (see sidebar) helps distributors better understand their own business as well as the challenges of those they do business with. That's what ultimately leads to a higher degree of trust among all involved.

>> Part 2: Trust Me Maybe