If a handshake is not enough to build trust today, what does?

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Last week at the Family Business Australia National Conference one of the conference sessions was devoted, in part, to the importance of trust and that, in fact, trustworthiness was the number one factor people in business are looking for.  However the discussion that followed suggests some of the ways trust is built are changing.

The presenter had posed the question to the audience “how do we go about establishing trust today, is it still the same or has it changed?”

My grandfather and my father each owned and ran their respective businesses. Growing up, I observed many an agreement and deal being reached and undertaken on a handshake. Nothing more. No forty page contracts. More than once I heard these words spoken “you’re only as good as your word”.

I think it’s fair to say that trust, and who to trust, is being progressively eroded for many reasons, not least a wave of corporate and political scandals. We only have to look at the ongoing saga playing out currently with the Commonwealth Bank. Today we are more likely to ask “who can we trust?”.   Research [1] shows trust of business globally sits at 53% and trust of governments globally sits at 42%. It begs the question; if a handshake will no longer do it what are we using to establish trust?

The most likely lens we use today is “peer to peer” recommendation. Quite simply, people trust other people. Like me, I’m sure you have done the same – on meeting someone with whom you want to build a business relationship you take a look at their LinkedIn profile, sometimes before you meet them, and you look to see if any there is anyone among the connections you have in common, a peer, whom you can contact to get their opinion. So at the top of the list are referrals or recommendations from people I know and who know me.

A fast follower in helping to build trust is through gathering social evidence. Uber and Air B&B have used social evidence brilliantly. Not only do you rate them for their service, they rate you as a customer and these ratings are for all to see. Plus there are innumerable sites such as Trip Advisor where people rate their experience.   It seems we are seeking reassurance based on the experiences of real people as opposed to being told by some corporate promotional campaign what we should expect to experience.

So what conclusions can we draw from these new lenses through which trust is now being built?

  • Be real. Whether you are an individual or a company you can no longer hide behind clever branding.
  • Don’t overstate the situation. Tell it as it is.
  • Be consistent. That way people will come to understand what you stand for.
  • Value relationships. Despite the marvels the digital age brings us, it is yet to successfully replicate the bonds formed through human relationships.

Finally, I am sure we have all been told this (I know have): be aware of what you post and put on the various digital channels such as LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook and the like.   It’s a permanent record people can access. It’s these channels that are becoming a rich source for peer to peer connection and the means by which trust is built.

Viventé Australia enables leaders and managers develop the bond between people and performance, creating a powerful advantage: the synergy between people, leadership, management, and culture, produces performance that allows your business to achieve its best.


[1] Edelman Trust Barometer 2016