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Can trust be measured, systemized, and baked into corporate operations and culture? Is it tangible at all? Two Deloitte researchers say trust is something that needs to be better understood and planned — and they have hard numbers to prove its value.

Think about it: data needs to be trusted before it can deliver meaningful insights on what road to take next in the business. Artificial intelligence and other applications need to be trusted to deliver the right analysis, without bias and unintended effects. Yet, all of this discussion about data and AI trust is moot if the organization itself suffers breakdowns in trust.

In two infamous examples, Enron, the energy broker, and Theranos, the medical testing company, touted very advanced technologies, but suffered breakdowns at all levels of trust. But it doesn’t have to be completely outrages breaches of trust — customers receiving bad service or defective products — without proper follow-up to remedy these situations — could quickly erode trust in companies via social media and ratings systems. Or, employee trust could be wiped out by callous acts by management — such as announcing layoffs via Zoom.

Trust is incredibly important — more important than technology or strategy — yet it’s so abstract that it’s difficult to tie to performance success. Yet, Ashley Reichheld and Amelia Dunlop, both with Deloitte, have attempted just that in their latest book, The Four Factors of Trust: How Organizations Can Earn Lifelong Loyalty.

Upon hearing the title and subtitle, one’s first thought may be “Lifelong loyalty? Good luck with that!” In the digital era, loyalty can almost be measured by the minute. If you’re an employee, you want to see trust going both ways, and as a consumer, well, trust is a very fragile commodity. Still, trust is achievable, and there is a systematic way to build and maintain it, Reichheld and Dunlop state.

To back up their assertions, they assembled the responses of 200,000 employees and managers from across 500 brands to determine the degree of trust that exists, and what needs to be done to build trust. In addition, they looked at trust from both an employee and a customer perspective.


The following are the four common denominators Reichheld and Dunlop identified that can be found within high-trust enterprises:

  • Humanity: “An individual or organization demonstrates empathy and kindness toward their customers and other stakeholders, treating everyone fairly.” Customers are 2.5x more likely to stick with a brand through a mistake. Workers are 1,5x more likely to defend their employer after hearing someone’s criticism.
  • Capability: “An individual or organization delivers quality products, experiences, and services.” Consumers are 3x more likely to select a brand exhibiting greater capability over competitors. Workers are 33% less likely to look for another job.
  • Transparency: “An individual or organization openly shares information, motives, and choices in plain language.” Customers are 2x as likely to defend the brand on social media. Workers are 1.5x more likely to defend their company on a public website.
  • Reliability: “An individual or organization consistently and dependably delivers upon promises made, time after time.” Customers are 3x more likely to spend more on a brand that exhibits high levels of reliability than on similar products or services. Workers are 1.6x more likely to recommend their employer to a friend or family member.

There is a very pronounced technology component to the trust equation. The challenge is “delivering capably and reliably in the face of significant complexity,” Reichheld and Dunlop point out. Leaders need “to have a mastery of the systems and platforms that workers and customers use to do their jobs. They need adequate experience with the ecosystem and business partners’ technologies to deliver the outcomes clients and customer expect.”

The Deloitte authors recommend a focus on the fundamentals of technology management. Growing a company through technology requires a “rock-solid foundation,” they urge. “Leadership needs to see over the horizon to anticipate the point at which advanced systems, taking lots of time and money to set up, can meet long-term strategy, rather than lagging changes in enterprise direction.” In other words, technology should always map to what the business needs, not the other way around.

In addition, the authors state that it’s about humans, not just systems. As technology is brought in and developed, “make sure you’re designing systems for humans.” Ultimately, they add, “a good human experience is critical to driving the right outcomes. For the technology function, making products usable, intuitive, and simple is a good way to build trust.”

Often, they add, “technology and process superusers are just as important to a product or service launch as their executive managers.” Figure out who these superusers are, and you can leverage their ‘trust capital’ for any needed process or technology changes,” Reichheld and Dunlop urge.

They provide five pieces of advice for pursuing trust-building within teams and organizations:

  • Humanize. “First, humanize yourself, modeling trustworthy and leadership behaviors to your teams.”
  • Measure. While it’s difficult to document something as abstract as trust, the authors outline some basic questions that can be addressed to gain a sense of both customer and employee trust. These questions are based around how closely organizations meet the four trust factors identified in the book: humanity, capability, transparency, and reliability.
  • Build. Design these four factors — humanity, capability, transparency, and reliability — into your organizational culture “so they are a part of every interaction.”
  • Collaborate. Don’t go it alone, they advise. “Building trust is a coordinated team effort across every part of the organization and partner ecosystem.”
  • Lead. “Lead with transparency by reporting on trust both internally with your teams and externally in your public statements.”

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