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Trust is essential to the core of your business: Here’s where to start
Trust is fragile. It can take a lifetime to earn, and a heartbeat to lose. And consumer and stakeholder expectations around trust have never been higher, say Wes Bricker and Kathryn Kaminsky of PwC US.
We’re living in a world of technology disruption, climate change, fractured geopolitics, social tension, and the ripple effects of COVID-19. Over our combined nearly 60 years of work, we’ve seen many things that have influenced and impacted the business world: the switch from analog to digital, the introduction of social media, stock market crashes and rebounds, and, of course, disasters like the pandemic. One thing that we also see right now is how important trust has become—to conduct business, to do good business, and to stay in business. Customers, employees, and other stakeholders are buying more than a product or service. They want to support purpose-driven companies that stand for something—something meaningful that goes beyond reputation, exceeds brand building, and leaves empty promises in the dust. They want to do business with brands they can trust.
But this is where things can get tough—it’s not just about what you say, it’s what you do and how you do it, every day and when no one is watching. And it’s about how you respond when things don’t go according to plan (and that happens to everyone).
Every executive should be thinking about how to embed trust-based principles throughout the fabric of their organization. We believe it takes courage, big thinking, a tone at-the-top approach, and a hyper-focused execution strategy. And it needs to permeate company culture. We’ve seen companies successfully respond to and change in the face of the major shifts shaping the world, creating sustained outcomes for clients and communities and helping build trust during a time in which it’s never been harder to earn. At PwC, we recently experienced a transformation, making big changes to our strategy and structure to create faster and better solutions that drive more value for our clients. We established a Trust Leadership Institute and are bringing cohorts of C-suite, executive, and corporate director leaders together to learn and develop trust-based principles they can take to their businesses to build—and maintain—trust.
Establishing these principles isn’t a novel concept. But now it’s more about how companies and executives apply them. What does that mean for leaders in practice today? It starts with establishing goals around purpose and then understanding how the company wants to—and should—execute on them. And it requires a focused and principled approach: embracing, supporting, and furthering those goals in day-to-day business and in all of your interactions with your stakeholders.
Here’s where you can start:
- Build a culture of transparency. Open communication is critical to building trust. This may seem obvious, but the pandemic amplified just how important it is—and how a lack of transparency can dismantle trust...fast. Transparency wasn’t always a top priority for business. But expectations and standards are changing. Employees, investors, and customers all want to know what your company is doing, what it stands for, and how it operates—and understand why. Internally, a little bit of information can go a long way. Being open and honest with your employees about the company’s plans, goals, and future outlook can help build and retain loyalty and drive productive attitudes. Externally, providing clear, consistent, and accurate disclosures that tie to the strategy and purpose of your business can help build trust with investors and other stakeholders. And the common thread to how you communicate transparently internally and externally is the need for you to be authentic and genuine in how you do it.
Consumers want to see companies walk the walk, not just talk the talk: 83% of respondents to our 2021 Consumer Intelligence Series on ESG say companies should be actively shaping leading practices around ESG.
- Support strong investments in technology and security. Companies are spending more on cybersecurity and privacy than ever before. But that investment should go beyond maintenance; it’s about spending in the right places to stay agile and be ready for the next threat. Transparency plays a role here, too: You can’t promise that your organization won’t be breached, but you should be able to say that your company’s infrastructure is secure and that, if a breach happens, your stakeholders can trust that you’ll respond quickly and protect their interests.
Cybersecurity is a top spending priority: 55% of executives responding to PwC’s 2021 Global Digital Trust Insights Survey plan to increase their cybersecurity budgets and 51% are hiring more full-time cyber staff.
- Proactively address ESG issues. The pandemic forced many companies to take stock of their values and their purpose. And for many, it was a catalyst to evolve their purpose to include environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues. It’s not just one aspect of ESG, either. Companies need to think about all three—the E, S, and the G—together and what each means for their business. Things like diversity and inclusion, taking care of the workforce, listening to customer concerns about sustainability and renewable energy sources, and building more resilient operations have all become issues companies and executives are prioritizing now. Add to that increased scrutiny from investors and regulatory pressure, and many companies are working to weave ESG directly into their growth strategies and reporting regularly on their progress. Getting ahead of these issues can open lines of trust with all stakeholders.
Companies are investing big in diversity: Many retailers are committed to spending millions in awareness efforts around diversity and inclusion and creating opportunities in their communities.
- Lead by example. This is something we believe wholeheartedly and have both tried to do throughout our careers. It’s not always easy, of course. But it is core to building trust, loyalty, and relationships—and is the driving force behind how change happens. Start by being genuine. What does that mean? It means don’t hide who you are when you speak to clients (customers) or employees. And let them be who they are. Ask about their lives, their experiences, their needs. As COVID-19 forced many of us to work from home, video calls gave us a glimpse into each other’s lives—we could hear dogs barking and see kids in the background. These humanizing moments allowed us to connect on a personal level, which can make relationships stronger. And this openness and honesty can make having difficult conversations easier.
Jockeying for the lead on the move to electric: Several big automakers recently announced aggressive goals around carbon neutrality—making investments, building plants, and introducing new electric vehicles.
- Do more than what’s required. The world is changing—fast. To stay ahead, sometimes you need to be willing to be brave, to go above and beyond standard operating procedures and compliance with regulatory requirements. That may mean listening more closely to your employees, your customers and clients, your investors, and your communities to better anticipate and meet their expectations. Or it may mean not being afraid to make waves when you need to. Even small disruptions can spark change.
Consumer products and manufacturing companies are looking to satisfy both consumers and the environment: They are working to balance business and sustainability goals and listening to consumers’ opinions on things like fur, recyclable packaging, and renewable energy.
Trust is the name of the game in business now. If you haven’t already, it’s time to get started.
Note: This article was created by PwC.
© 2021 PwC. All rights reserved. PwC refers to the US member firm, and may sometimes refer to the PwC network. Each member firm is a separate legal entity. Please see www.pwc.com/structure for further details. This content is for general information purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional advisors.