I admit that I’m a nervous online shopper.
Several years ago, a credit card number of mine was “stolen” online, and I had to sort through quite a mess to clean it up. Since then, I’ve been careful about doing business on the web. If you’ve ever shopped online, you’ve probably noticed the checkmark logo from VeriSign that appears on web commerce sites utilizing their SSL encryptions services.
A recent case study demonstrated just how powerful this little logo can be. With more than 500,000 online and local stores responsible for more than 400 million products sold, TheFind is the world’s largest online shopping center. This virtual shopping mall has more than 17 million unique monthly shoppers. TheFind’s analysis showed that companies displaying the VeriSign seal received 18.5% more click-throughs than similar companies that did not display the VeriSign seal. Interestingly, Symantec, a software company known for its security products, and VeriSign recently announced a deal for Symantec to purchase VeriSign’s identity and authentication business, which includes SSL Certificate and Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) services, for $1.28 billion in cash. One of the key drivers in this transaction is the brand recognition of the VeriSign seal being acquired by Symantec.
What does that VeriSign seal really seal stand for? Trust! The web commerce sites using the VeriSign seal benefit from consumers like me, who trust that if I provide my credit card information, then I don’t have to worry about someone going on a spending spree of plasma TVs in a third-world country on my dime. This is just one example of the power of trust in business.
Upon reflection, you see how truly important trust is, both in the business world and life in general. If I don’t trust my wife, then I will make our lives miserable by always wondering what she’s doing. If I don’t trust my employees, then I will micro-manage their efforts and keep them in a state of dependence and little self-confidence. If my business partners and I don’t trust each other, then we’ll waste valuable time and resources looking over our shoulders. If my clients don’t trust me, then they won’t be willing to pay me for my services.
In leadership, trust is critical. How inspired are you to follow someone you can’t trust? Conversely, when we trust someone, we’ll go to great lengths to sacrifice personally to support the cause of the leader. Too often, we betray our trust through self-serving behavior. Trust, like friendship, is something you have to be willing to give if you want to receive. As George MacDonald noted, “To be trusted is a greater compliment than to be loved.”
While trust has always been important in business, I believe that it’s increasingly becoming paramount to success in business. Jim Burke, former CEO of Johnson & Johnson noted, “You can’t have success without trust.” Similarly, Robert Eckert, former CEO of Mattel, stated, “As you go to work, your top responsibility should be to build trust.” There are confluences of factors that have increased the need for trust today in business. First, we have a more dispersed workforce. Instead of rule-driven factories, we work in an increasingly virtual world. Many employees work from home today and manage flex time schedules. As managers, it’s more difficult to micro-manage employees that are 1,000 miles away. More than ever, companies today have to center their corporate culture on shared values and trust.
We also live in a transparent world. Companies used to be able to keep secrets. Today, anyone with a camera phone or a computer can be a whistleblower. Any customer with a problem can litter blogosphere with negative things about a company. As Dov Seidman pointed out in his book, How, today it’s more important how companies operate than what they do. His point is that the greatest strength of a company today is its trustworthiness. In the wake of the financial collapse, financial institutions are having to go to great lengths to restore the trust with customers.
If, as leadership guru Warren G. Bennis asserted, “trust is the lubrication that makes it possible for organizations to work,” then perhaps we should start to consider how to increase our trust individually and organizationally. While trust can be a nebulous concept, it essentially means that I have confidence in you, and I’m willing to put myself at risk to “do business” with you.
Even though one can employ manipulative tactics to gain another’s trust, I believe we’re much better served by truly becoming trustworthy people. This means we need to act with integrity. We can’t be saying one thing and acting out another. We need to be reliable. When we make promises, big or small, people need to be able to count on us. We have to be capable. This means that we have to actually be able to deliver on what we say we can do. Capable people are lifetime learners who are always striving to get better. We also have to be “others focused.” When we are simply out for No. 1, it shows through. We genuinely have to increase our ability to know and understand the people we work with and desire to serve.
As we hopefully continue to come out of this financial malaise, we all have a level of fear and uncertainty. As businesspeople, now is the time to truly help others work through their uncertainties and be known as a trusted resource. Becoming trustworthy is a noble journey with substantial long-term dividends. It’s certainly not an easy path, and we’ll all stumble along the way. However, the bilateral transaction of trust is essential to success in life and business, so hopefully we’ll encourage one another on this journey and learn to trust each other more.