Why Trust Is the Top Requirement for Building and Growing Your Company (and How to Prioritize It)

What’s more important for your company: growth or trust?

If you said the former, you’re not alone. Organic growth is overwhelmingly the top goal for business executives, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers’s 24th annual global survey of CEOs. It’s what 88 percent of U.S. company heads and 73 percent of global leaders reported as their No. 1 priority for 2021.

And why not? Growth brings rewards: higher stock prices, more robust executive compensation, and bigger budgets for hiring, building, and expanding in every way. In business, growth and success are nearly synonymous.

But executives and entrepreneurs often ignore the importance of trust to their organizations.

Going for growth at the expense of trust can give a company a short-term boost, but it undermines credibility in the long run, internally and externally. Without trust, employees don’t value their leaders or feel valued themselves. Without trust, customers doubt your company’s messaging or products and eventually fall away.

It’s vital that businesses first choose to enhance trust, both within their organizations and with their customers. You prioritize trust because you value growth.

The business world is full of examples of companies that have put trust first and are thriving. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff lists trust first among the four core values that fuel his company. The other three–customer success, innovation, and equality–are strongly informed by trust.

Another example is Popeyes. When Cheryl Bachelder stepped into the CEO role in 2007, franchisees and the company were in deep disagreement. Bachelder told Wall Street that her top priority was not investors, but first building a relationship of trust with franchisees–which would ultimately prove better for investors. Since then, growth has soared in U.S. and international markets.

On the flip side, some tech companies, for example, have pushed growth at the expense of customer confidence on privacy and data issues. Those companies saw short-term growth but eroded credibility with customers in the longer run.

Trust makes it easier for executives to achieve most business goals. If employees and customers believe what you’re saying, they’re much more likely to follow your lead. Trust builds goodwill. Here are three ways leaders can prioritize trust. In doing so, they can achieve greater growth.

Make establishing a high-trust culture a specific objective.

I’ve rarely worked with an organization where growth wasn’t an explicit objective. But what about trust? While many organizations have trust elements listed as part of their values or mission/vision statements, and they should, it’s not uncommon for explicit trust goals to feel like platitudes.

Investing in trust pays off. Every year Fortune, in conjunction with the Great Place to Work Institute, publishes a list of the “100 Best Companies to Work For.” You can’t get on this list without having built a high-trust culture–in fact, trust qualities make up most of the criteria. Companies don’t make this list by accident. These organizations work intensely at building such a culture deliberately. I know because I’ve worked directly with many of them. They are every bit focused on trust as everyone else is on growth, and precisely for that reason, they’re getting both in greater measure. Over a 20-year period through 2018, the organizations that made this list outperformed the market by nearly three times.

Identify how your colleagues and teams behave.

Take a hard look at how people in your company interact with each other. Do they tell the truth or spin? Do they cover up problems or are they transparent? Are there meetings after the meeting to talk about real issues? Is there finger-pointing and blaming? Are people confronting problems or denying problems?

In low-trust cultures, people either don’t or can’t tell the truth. Decisions take longer and initiatives cost more than they should. People don’t feel safe raising problems, nor do they feel safe taking calculated risks. As a result, innovation diminishes. Why? Because you can’t innovate without taking responsible risks. And when trust is low, people won’t take risks. A high-trust culture means people care about each other and look out for each other. It is vital to sustained innovation.

Build trust explicitly with customers and partners.

It’s trust that turns a prospect into a customer. Remember that you’re not just making a sale–you’re building a relationship, one that will manifest in sustained growth. In a recent Salesforce survey of 2,900 sales professionals, about 8 of every 10 business buyers reported it’s absolutely critical or very important to interact with a salesperson who is a trusted advisor.

When customers trust you, they’ll not only buy from you, they’ll buy more frequently and in greater volume. They’ll stay with you longer and give you referrals. And referral business is the speed of trust in action, it’s your customer telling your prospect that they should trust you. In the end, sales is simply trust monetized.

Because trust isn’t a line item, it doesn’t get the attention it deserves, but trust drives every item on both the income statement and balance sheet. Trust not only drives growth, trust is the ultimate currency.

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