Trust: How to Rebuild Brand Authenticity

trust

Trust.

It seems the days are gone when we trust easily. From individuals to organizations, our trust seems to be declining with each passing year.

And yet organizations build their brands on trust.

In his newly released book, The Post-Truth Business:  How to Rebuild Brand Authenticity in a Distrusting World, researcher and strategist Sean Pillot de Chenecey shares what brands need to do to have authentic, long-lasting relationships with their consumers in an age of fake news, privacy issues, and the search for truth.

 

The Number One Issue Facing Brands

Your view on the importance of trust is clear from the very first page where you say, “Trust is the number one issue facing brands on a global basis.” What leads you to this conclusion? How is this different than years ago? 

Around the world, brand foundations are being shaken. It’s apparent that many brand-consumer relationships are on rocky ground, and something fundamental needs to change.

According to The Economist, “Consumer trust is the basis of all brand values, and therefore brands have an immense incentive to retain it.” And as that immensely powerful business-figurehead Jack Ma, CEO of Alibaba, stated so succinctly, “Once you have trust, the rest is easy.” However, these statements are set against a harsh reality illuminated by a much-cited industry report from the Havas agency, which noted that, “Much of the trust, respect and loyalty people had for many brands has disintegrated. You see it in the level of cynicism, skepticism and indifference that people have towards them.”

Company strategists are finally realizing that consumers are increasingly judging brands by how they actually behave, as opposed to simply believing the stories they tell. Thus, their brand credibility needs to be based on fact, not fiction. Businesses want to have strong and long-lasting relationships with their consumers. That brand-consumer relationship is built on trust, but in a post-truth world, brands are faced with a serious challenge: so much of modern life is defined by mistrust. So, for brands today, trust and truth are the most important games in town.

 

“Once you have trust, the rest is easy.” -Jack Ma

 

How to Build Trust

Share a few of the principles organizations should use to build trust.

To act as a reference guide for the leaders of ‘good businesses,’ I’ve collated the key learnings into a ‘Post-Truth Brand Manifesto.’ Here is a very brief summary of it…

Be authentic.

Truly authentic companies that want to earn and keep our trust have to ‘live it like they say it’ and dovetail brand intentions with the consumer reality. Because from a customer point of view, behavior is what builds brand credibility and corporate integrity, not merely the advertising stories that a brand may choose to tell.

9 Habits of Trustworthiness

This is a guest post by John Blakey. His new book, The Trusted Executive: Nine Leadership Habits That Inspire Results, Relationships, and Reputation, is a must read for leaders who want to inspire trust and achieve results.

 

9 Habits of Trustworthiness

As a coach, I am interested in helping leaders be more effective rather than more knowledgeable. Sometimes gaining new knowledge is part of the formula that gets us from A to B, but it is rarely the full answer. As Einstein quipped, ‘In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not’. Consider how many great books you have read and how many excellent training courses you have attended. How many of them entertained you rather than changed you? If we wish to go beyond corporate entertainment, then we have to commit to the hard yards of executive practice. However, even more than this, we have first to believe that it is possible to change at all.

Trusted Executive JacketAll the CEOs I interviewed for my book, The Trusted Executive: Nine Leadership Habits That Inspire Results, Relationships, and Reputation, were asked the question, ‘How do you build trustworthiness?’ One of them replied, ‘I am not sure this is the right question because I don’t think you can build trustworthiness in people. You either have it or you don’t, and so we test for it when we recruit people into the business.’ I am sure other executive leaders would have a similar perspective. Can you really build integrity into someone or is it a fixed trait of character that defies further development? This argument reminds me of Churchill’s famous words about optimism: ‘I suppose I am an optimist; there seems little point in being anything else’. So my glib answer to those who believe that trustworthiness is a fixed character trait would be to say, ‘I suppose I believe that anyone can grow and change in profound ways; as a leader there seems little point in believing anything else.’

 

“It is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.” -Paul of Tarsus

 

Dr. Carole Dweck of Stanford University provides a more rigorous assessment of this question in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Dr. Dweck has spent decades studying achievement and success in students. She has concluded that we have one of two mind-sets at any point in time: growth or fixed. Someone with a fixed mind-set believes that talents and traits are fixed and unchangeable. They believe that if someone is not good at something, there is no point in trying harder as their ability will not change. This mind-set gets in the way of learning, since challenges are seen as threatening. In contrast, people with a growth mind-set believe that abilities and talents are cultivated through effort. People with this attitude welcome a challenge and they create an inner resilience in the face of obstacles. Dr. Dweck concludes that, ‘the more we know that basic human abilities can be grown, the more it becomes a basic human right for all kids and all adults to live in environments that create that growth’.

Used by permission. Used by permission.

I assume a growth mind-set. This does not mean it is easy to build trustworthiness, in the same way that it is not easy to run a marathon, but it does mean it is possible. It also reveals that the key to success is not innate ability but superlative motivation. If you know someone who has given up smoking then you know that it is often hard to change a habit, but it is not impossible. New habits come from repetition and practice. And just as Covey had his seven habits of effectiveness, I will shamelessly follow his lead and propose the nine leadership habits that inspire results, relationships and reputation: three habits of ability, three habits of integrity and three habits of benevolence.

A habit is an accumulation of choices. If you want to change a habit, then you have to start making different choices. To change a habit is an act of pure will, which is why it relies upon superlative motivation.

 

“If you want to change a habit, then start making different choices.” -John Blakey

 

9 Leadership habits that inspire results, relationships and reputation

The Real Reason Leaders Win: Return on Character

Cash or Character?

Not too long ago, I was asked to give a talk about organizational culture and why it matters. Before I walked up to the podium, one of the attendees cornered me. He wanted me to know his strongly-held position. In an emphatic tone, he nearly shouted:

“Skip, cash matters, not culture, not character, not creativity! Cash is the only thing you can spend.”

How fortunate that my slides started with financials so I could demonstrate the power of culture change. But, what I wish I had was the book that crossed my desk a few weeks ago:  Return on Character: The Real Reasons Leaders and Their Companies Win.  In the most comprehensive study of its kind, Fred Kiel reveals the research that proves that good character wins. We discussed his findings at length and I know many organizational leaders will want to study the results.

 

“Character is the tree. Reputation is its shadow.” -Lincoln

 

 

Studying CEO’s

Tell us just briefly about your study and its methodology. Where did you get the idea, how many CEO’s were involved, etc.?

ROC CoverIn 2005 I and my co-author, Doug Lennick, published a book entitled Moral Intelligence in which we claimed that highly principled leaders obtained better long-term business results than leaders who were not so principled.  The book has done very well, but shortly after it was published we received some pushback. One person said, “Fred, I know you like all of this soft stuff.  But let me give you a little lesson in economics.  The business model is what creates value.  If a business is profitable and makes a lot of money, all that culture stuff will come along with it.  And if it doesn’t, that’s not a big deal as long as management stays legal.  What you talk about is just icing on the cake.  It’s nice but not necessary.  And, besides you don’t have any hard data to back up your claim.”

This really got to me.  He was right about me not having any data to back up our claim that character matters – and that became the call to action for our study.

Over the next seven years we signed up 121 CEOs and their senior teams to participate.  Eighty-four completed the study, so we have complete data sets on these 84 CEOs, their senior teams, and their organizations.  Over 8,500 randomly selected employees completed our surveys about these CEOs and their teams.  We have nearly one million separate data points in our research base.  This is the largest study of this kind to date.

 

4 Universal Character Habits

How do you define character in the Return on Character (ROC) matrix?

We scoured the cultural anthropology research and discovered that humans all over the world share many common practices and beliefs.  Parents all over the world teach their children to tell the truth, keep promises, own up to mistakes, forgive others, and to care for people – at least in their tribe.  We added to this understanding the recent findings from the neurosciences and genetics to come up with our definition of character as it applies to leaders.

The ROC Matrix shows the four universal principles and the character habits that are aligned with these principles.

 

Copyright Fred Kiel; Used by Permission Copyright Fred Kiel; Used by Permission

Lincoln said, “Character is the tree.  Reputation is its shadow.”  Likewise, the habits we all have for how we treat other people is our character reputation.  That’s what we measured in our research – a leader’s reputation for how he or she treats people.

 

Probing the Leader’s Childhood

In several places in the book, you delve into the CEO’s childhood and upbringing.  Why?  What did you find?  Why is the CEO’s life story so important?

If you took the resumes and employment histories of high character CEOs and compared them to low character CEOs, you’d be hard pressed to see much difference. Both groups are competitive, driven to succeed, rational, high energy, and often wicked smart – they know how to command a room and nail an interview.

Where we started to see significant differences was when we surveyed their employees and asked about their behaviors around the 4 universal character habits – integrity, responsibility, forgiveness and compassion. So that begs the question – how did each group come by their different postures around these habits? Where did they get their beliefs about how the world worked and how to succeed in that world?

Turns out the clues are in their childhoods and upbringing.

The Importance of Character and Trust

Follow Your Conscience

One of the most surprising benefits of blogging and jumping into social media has been the number of people I have met online.  Had I not started, I likely would not have had the opportunity to meet Frank Sonnenberg.  Frank is a blogger and an author. His latest book, Follow Your Conscience: Make a Difference in Your Life & in the Lives of Others, is a book of principles, character and trust.

We recently had the opportunity to talk about his work on leadership, character, trust and following your conscience.

 

“Be more concerned about your character than your reputation.” -John Wooden

 

Character Matters

You start your book by saying, “Character matters.” It’s hard to believe anyone would disagree. Do you think they do? Why is character more important than ever?

You’re right, Skip. Everyone would agree that character matters. But then ask the same folks if good people, or good companies, finish first. I’ll bet many of them believe it’s nice to possess strong moral character, but you have to be ruthless to get ahead.  They’d probably acknowledge, however, that “looking the part” yields rewards.  To them, moral character is a sideshow, not part of the main act.  The truth is, strong moral character builds trust, strengthens respect, promotes loyalty, and translates to rock-solid reputations.  Most importantly, every day you exhibit weak character, you’re letting yourself down. Remember, you have to live with yourself for the rest of your life.

 

“Character is the glue that bonds solid and meaningful relationships” -Tony Dungy

 

What’s the best way to build character?

Follow Your Conscience Frank SonnenbergGreat question. As I say in Follow Your Conscience, “It’s not always easy to admit a mistake, persevere during tough times, or follow through on every promise made. It’s not always comfortable to convey the hard truth or stand up for your beliefs. In the short term, it may not be beneficial to do right by your customers, to put people before profits, or to distance yourself from a questionable relationship. BUT, in the long run, doing the right thing is the clear path to both success and happiness.” The bottom line is, listen to your conscience. That’s why you have one.

4 Stages of Trust

Everything is built on trust. Would you walk through the four stages of trust?

1. Relationship. The first stage of trust represents the beginning of a relationship.  We generally start off with some preconceived notion about others. This is where a person’s or a company’s reputation comes into play.

Promote Yourself: The New Rules for Career Success

The New Rules

You’ve heard the advice, but maybe you are uncomfortable:

Why standing out is more important than ever

The importance of personal branding

How to get noticed in a crowded world

More than ever, your career opportunities are dependent on your reputation.  The good news is that there are more tools than ever to help you get started.

Dan Schawbel is a columnist at Time and Forbes.  He is the managing partner of Millennial Branding.  If you haven’t read his many articles and blog posts, you may have heard or seen him in the media.  As I was reading his latest book, Promote Yourself: The New Rules for Career Success, I happened to catch an interview with him on National Public Radio.  He is an expert on personal branding and understanding and reaching the Millennial generation.

 

“In today’s knowledge-based economy, what you earn depends on what you learn.” –Bill Clinton

 

Why Personal Branding Is Important

What are the top 5 reasons that personal branding so important?

  1. You will be found in search engines when either a recruiter is looking to hire for a specific position or a prospect is looking to hire a consultant.
  2. You will gain confidence in yourself because you’ll know who you are and how your expertise fits into the business world.
  3. You will be able to communicate who you are and what you do at networking events without being stressed out.
  4. Your personal brand will give your company more credibility and make it easier to promote your company in the media.
  5. Your brand will help you both attract the right opportunities and repel the ones that aren’t a good fit, saving both you and others time in the research process.

 

“Think of your career as a series of experiences.” -Lenny Mendonca

 

“If everyone has to think outside the box, maybe it is the box that needs fixing. Malcolm Gladwell

 

What do you say to critics who say that personal branding is self-centered and egotistical?

I really don’t think it’s possible to build a strong brand without the support of those around you.  I also don’t think that being selfish is necessarily a bad thing, especially in a tough economy like this.  Being selfish, in some regard, is a way of saying “I’m investing in myself so I can become more valuable and in doing so help others.”  As long as your intention is to help others today or in a year, everyone benefits from you being selfish.  Those that have built strong brands have empowered others to build their own and promoted their work.

 

“Become the expert your company can’t live without” is powerful advice. What steps do you recommend to make this a reality?

Promote Yourself CoverIn Promote Yourself I talk about how you need to become an expert in your field.  65% of managers are looking to hire and promote experts, not generalists. You need to align your strengths to areas in your company that need improvement.  Back when I worked at a Fortune 200 company, I was the only social media resource.  If a department wanted to learn social media or use the tools for their own purposes, they almost had to contact me.  This truly makes you valuable to your group and to your company, while at the same time giving you visibility which creates opportunities.

 

65 percent of managers are looking to hire and promote experts, not generalists.

 

Use Social Media as a Career Tool

You talk about the importance of social media. Why is it critical for leaders to understand and leverage social media?

Social media is the fabric of our society at this time.  I started using it in 2006 because I realized that it puts everyone on the same plane, regardless of job title.  Through social media you can easily connect with people in your company, profession or industry, which creates opportunities.  Another aspect of social media is that the customer now has a voice, and people, in general, are moved by experts and influencers.  Leaders need to understand social media because it’s a channel that people will use to follow them if they have something interesting or important to say.

 

“Social media is the fabric of our society at this time.” -Dan Schawbel

 

 

How did you use social media to propel your career?