America has a trust problem, which means your business has a trust opportunity.
Our firm's scan of trust polling and literature, which we undertook when developing the Columbus Trust Study, documented our nation's trust problem. From elected leaders to the news media, and from once-trusted institutions in business to organized religion, there has been a steady decline in public confidence over the past several decades.
This decline was happening long before the digital age, but instant access to information and opinion through our mobile devices and computers has exacerbated the issue in ways we are just now beginning to understand.
In a recent article, "Trust: The New Currency in the Digital Age," author Dorote Lucci makes a vital observation: our old models of influence have long been based on elites (leaders of all institutions) having access to more and better information, and the assumption that their interests were inter-connected with those of the masses.
In the digital age, the new reality is inverted and the masses empowered. Today, it is peer-to-peer influence that rules. Driven by factors such as the democratization of information, high profile revelations of greed and misbehavior and issues of fairness, such as income inequality, there is a new peer-driven reality when it comes to generating influence and authority - aka whom we trust.
We book vacations only after checking TripAdvisor; we order goods online only after reading peer reviews; we travel with drivers we can trust on Uber or Lyft because our peers say we can.
Businesses that grasp and begin to operate in this new, peer-driven trust reality have a distinct advantage over their competition:
- High trust companies have about 50% less turnover than their industry peers.
- Workers who trust their colleagues are 31% more likely to love their jobs.
- Half of the executives interviewed by Forbes believe that by 2020 digital will have an impact on more than half of their sales.
In the public's eye, most companies operate in undifferentiated, competitive environments. As companies flock to create the ultimate customer experience, wise leaders will begin by incorporating practices that embrace what the masses – starting with their own employees - think, want and need in a trusting relationship. They will not only recognize that trust is the ultimate currency, but they will operate in new ways that demonstrate their respect for what customers, colleagues and other stakeholders are thinking and saying about their organizations.
The trust-driven leader will engage all stakeholders on a peer-to-peer level in order to create more effective, trusting environments.
When facing a challenge, such leaders will start by asking employees what they think they should do, instead of telling them. They will truly listen and value what their people are saying and feeling - never interrupting or giving in to the temptation to provide instant answers. They will facilitate, not dictate.
No empowerment is more effective than self-empowerment, and in today's peer-to-peer trust reality it is more important to be genuinely compassionate, concerned and attentive than to be "right."
In fact, a recent study shows the most credible and trustworthy spokespeople for organizations are technical experts, third-party academics and industry analysts, a customer "like me" or your own employees - all ranking ahead of the CEO.
One of the most compelling findings in our own study was that people look to how employees of organizations are treated as a key barometer of whether to trust and do business with that organization.
Are you, or your leaders, developing a trust culture in your organization?