Why don’t you trust me!? Putting trust back into business

Trust is an abused word in business; and the abuse often starts with the leadership.

Listen now to the CEO on the conference platform:

He offers a winning smile and says ‘Trust me!’

He’s telling his employees, he’s telling the customer, ‘Trust me!’

But no one’s listening.


His words are never backed by action… and so no one hears or believes them anymore.

What our CEO has forgotten is this:

Trust is an outcome, not a message…the outcome of trustworthy behaviour.

So how can business engage meaningfully with the idea of trust? Given that profit is also rather important…

Charlie Mayfield is chairman of the John Lewis Partnership, and sees three elements in the building of trust in a business:

  • He notes an inherent tension between company profit and the customers’ interests. Where is the mutual trust when your only interest is to fleece them? Every business must make a profit; but when setting the margins, the customer voice must be present in the room. How much profit do you have to make?
  • Don’t over-promise…if anything, under-promise and over-deliver.
  • If you get something wrong, own up to it. (This commitment cost John Lewis £47 million last year, when they discovered they’d been under-paying holiday pay, according to European legislation. They back-dated the pay increase seven years.)

Every organisation will deal with the trust issue in its own way.

But the umbrella truth is this: trust is not an announcement, not a message.

Trust is an outcome – a gift from staff and customer, given to those who prove trustworthy.