Trust in Crisis? Start the Trust Building Cycle


15 years researching 

global trust trends Edelman 

researchers declared in 2017 “Trust in Crisis”. What’s incredibly revealing is not only the global swell of ‘distrust’ but also how ‘untrusting Australians are’. We’ve moved up the ‘distrust’ scale because of

 "lack of belief in the system”…."The System favour of elites”…”no confidence in current leaders”...”hard work isn’t rewarded”…and there is “desire for change…we need forceful reformers to bring change”

As the trend of distrust towards government grows the expectation for businesses to carry the baton for social fairness increases. We want to trust, we want to believe in a brand and we want to trust companies. But are we as ‘corporaties’ doing enough to deserve social confidence?Brands that have high consumer trust have higher market stability and often trust is used as a predictor of future performance. Phil Knight co-founder of Nike is often quoted as saying “ Nike is a marketing orientated company, and the product is our most important marketing tool”. They built global trust and loyalty into their brand over years of listening to customers, experimenting with them and responding to customers when their faults were called out. 


Volkswagen of recent) 

Nike was responsive and addressed the faults in their products and product manufacturing because that’s what the customers requested. Although Phil Knight does mention in his book “shoe dog” that he feared that on one of Nikes first recalls customers would hate them, it turned out many athletes appreciated their willingness to experiment and push the boundaries of better.

In 1978 when Nike released the ‘Tailwind’, it was jam-packed with a dozen new innovations, they did a major launch at the Honolulu Marathon and within ten days had to issue a recall because ‘metal bits’ came flying out. Two key things that came out of this lesson for Nike that business leaders can embrace are;

 1. They embraced the failure as a learning and ACTIVELY IMPROVED how they did things   

"We'd learned a valuable lesson. Don't put 12 innovations in one shoe... We reminded each other that there was honor in saying, 'Back to the drawing board.’” Phil Knight.

2. Customers gave the product another go because they believed Nike was innovating FOR THEM. They revised Tailwind went on to become an absolute top seller for them.

Circa 40 years and we have corporations with failing products failing to ACTIVELY IMPROVE on the opportunity to strengthen relationships with customers and build trust. The recent 2017 PWC CEO studies state "63% of CEOs are concerned about the lack of trust in business. CEOs say trust in business is at an all-time low. Technology has exacerbated the challenge but trust is a leadership issue. “

I agree trust is a leadership issue. Business leaders are failing to understand the power they have to build trust within their organisations. They are failing to prioritise trust as a cultural activity, subsequently losing the leverage trust creates to be faster than competitors, operationally productive and safely innovative. More often than not they are also failing to act trustworthy. The good news is in most cases it’s actually not because leaders are not worthy of trust, it’s because they don’t how to confidently lead through failure.

Break down the behaviour of the Nike executives whenever they got into trouble and there is a useful pattern all leaders can benefit from. Refreshingly the same trust building cycle used at the corporate market level by Nike is the same powerful steps used at the individual level.

Trust Building Cycle

  1. Acknowledge the visible evidence; don’t add meaning, just acknowledge the evidence

  2. Understand and accept the impact of that evidence from the meaning of the recipient; don’t make excuses, empathise - that is feel the pain you created in another being

  3. Stop the issue straight away; don’t hesitate, don’t blame, don’t waste time - just stop

  4. Dissolve the problems so it doesn’t happen again; don’t just hide the issue, nor ignore the causes

  5. Revise another go together; create safety from what you’ve learned and just do it again.

You don’t need magic PR, major spin or sales trick to build trust from failure. Yes, it helps with the scale of economies when you are reaching out to an entire market.  And remember the Relational Leader understands that leadership is always a one to one relationship by which you will be measured; regardless of whether you lead one person or one million people. Practice being relational to the moment and intentional to improvement.