Trust, Inc.

Walgreens, the venerable (116 years old, second largest) US drugstore chain, has announced a new tagline as part of a new brand positioning strategy.  No longer will it be “At the corner of happy and healthy” – the new mantra is “Trusted Since 1901.


I wish Walgreen’s nothing but the best, and don’t doubt their good intentions. Nor are they necessarily wrong on the facts. And, Walgreens is hardly alone in wanting to trumpet their levels of trustworthiness, or their trusted relationships with customers.

However, the use of “trust” in corporate branding is problematic on at least three dimensions. Walgreens provides a good opportunity to explain why.

Cognitive Dissonance

I always tell people not to call themselves a ‘trusted advisor,’ and certainly not to incorporate the phrase into their advertising. It’s like saying “humility is my best quality.”

Trustworthiness is something of a virtue, and calling yourself virtuous just explodes the claim. It’s wonderful when other people use trust to describe you or your relationship with them – as long as it’s them saying it. (“Trust me” may be the two most trust-destroying words you can say).

Calling yourself ‘trusted’ is also different from calling yourself innovative, or respected, or high quality. Walgreens might want to take note that none of the ”Top 10 Most Trusted Brands” brands incorporate trust itself into their taglines.

They might also take note of how it’s worked our for “The Most Trusted Name in News,” whose tagline allows Donald Trump a convenient foil.

Risky Business

Claiming to be trusted is a bit like the Gary Hart strategy – daring the press to find otherwise. It’s like a red flag to a bull.

How many people will manage to dig up the fact that Walgreens made a substantial amount of money and growth during Prohibition by selling (legally) whiskey? Or that the pharmacy business managed to quickly carve out a very liberal interpretation of “medicinal purposes” during that period? Sorry, Walgreens, it’s what you’re setting yourself up for.

History aside, stuff happens. Ask BP about oil spills, or the old Union Carbide about explosions. Or, closer to home, J&J about Tylenol redux. Mis-steps are magnified, and stay in the press longer, for those who claim to be trustworthy in the first place.

Corporations are Not People

This is the biggest one. “Trust” is a word with much contextual nuance of interpretation. But one thing we can say for sure: personal trust is richer and stronger than corporate trust.

We trust people on an emotional level. We trust people based on our views of their intentions, their transparency, and their willingness to trust us.

By contrast, corporations’ intentions are usually very much self-oriented; transparency is little-practiced; and rare is the corporation without legal disclaimers governing their customer relationships. That’s not a criticism (well, it is a little bit); but it’s mainly just stating the difference between protein-based and legally-based entities and the ways we trust them.

Most corporate executives would probably agree with this in the abstract – but they ignore the implications in the particular. If they really believed it, they would be spending money on becoming more trustworthy, rather than on PR campaigns to be seen as more trustworthy, or on reputation management to change perceptions rather than underlying reality.

So What’s a Company to Do?

A company that is serious about being seen as trust-based would start by recognizing – it’s personal.

Trust is not created by spin, advertising, PR, or taglines. It is created by the collective personal behavior over time of corporate employees interacting with customers, suppliers and each other.

This means corporate trust is a culture-and-values issue – not a process-and-marketing issue.

A company that is serious about trust will, among other things:

  • figure out how to trust its customers and suppliers, often by taking some form of risk (because trust is reciprocal – we trust those who trust us);
  • invest in customer service by focusing on effectiveness, not efficiency; by using ROI, not budget variances, to measure success;
  • hire, train for, and role-model best practices for interpersonal trust, including emotional intelligence, strict truth-telling, and vulnerability;
  • consistently prioritize long-term, relationship-based behaviors over short-term, self-aggrandizing behaviors, in its compensation and promotion policies;
  • focus on ways to establish deeper relationships with stakeholders, rather than focusing on issues like NDAs, non-competes, or arbitration clauses;
  • make heroes out of people who model trust-based behavior.

We trust those more who do not protest how much we trust them.


Trust is Not Reputation

Four words can have a big impact: Trust is not reputation.

But what does that mean? This year especially it seems the two words have been thrown around interchangeably for some time.

I took a look back at the last time I addressed the difference of the two words and how their definitions got confused along the way.

I trust my dog with my life – but not with my ham sandwich.

That is but one of dozens of humorous ways to indicate the multiple meanings we attach to the word “trust.” It’s remarkable how good we are at understanding the word in context, given its definitional complexity.

One interesting aspect of trust is its relationship to the concept of reputation. This issue is coming to the fore in the so-called “sharing economy” or “collaborative consumption” movement.

Who can you trust on the Internet to deliver the goods they said they would deliver (think eBay), to leave your apartment in good shape if you lease it on Airbnb, to not be a creep if you call an Uber?

It’s tempting to look at the concept of reputation as the scalable, digital badge of trust that we might append to all kinds of transactions between strangers, rendering them all as trustworthy as your cousin. (Well, most cousins.)

Tempting, but not exactly right.  Because trust, it turns out, is not reputation.

Greenspan’s Folly

William K. Black has written about the dire consequences of Alan Greenspan confusing trust and reputation, saying:

Alan Greenspan touted ‘reputation’ as the characteristic that made possible trust and free markets. He was dead wrong.

Greenspan believed that Wall Streeters’ regard for their own reputation meant that markets were the best guarantor of trust – because they would perceive their own self-interest as aligned with being perceived as trustworthy.

Unfortunately, Greenspan’s belief was probably based more in ideology than in history or psychology, as the passion for reputation was overwhelmed by the passion for filthy lucre, immortalized in the acronym IBGYBG (“I’ll be gone, you’ll be gone – let’s do the deal”).

Early Social Reputation Metrics

Think back, way back, to November, 2006.  A company called RapLeaf was on to something.Here’s how they described their goal:

Rapleaf is a portable ratings system for commerce. Buyers, sellers and swappers can rate one another—thereby encouraging more trust and honesty. We hope Rapleaf can make it more profitable to be ethical.

You can immediately see the appeal of a reputation-based trust rating system. And with a nano-second more of thought, you can see how such a system could be easily abused. (“Hey, Joey – let’s get on this thing, you stuff the ballot box for me, I stuff it for you, bada-boom.”)

Then there’s Edelman PR’s pioneering product, TweetLevel. It does one smart thing, which is to avoid a single definition of whatever-you-wanna-call it. Instead, it breaks your single TweetLevel score into four components: influence, popularity, engagement, and trust.

Edelman says:

having a high trust score is considered by many to be more important than any other category.  Trust can be measured by the number of times someone is happy to associate what you have said through them – in other words how often you are re-tweeted.

According to TweetLevel (back in 2012), here were my scores:

  •             Influence        73.4
  •             Popularity      70.1
  •             Engagement   56.4
  •             Trust               46.9

So much for my trustworthiness.

Guess who owned the number one trust score on TweetLevel that year? Justin Bieber. Now you know who to call for – well, for something.

The KLOUT Effect

It’s easy to poke fun at metrics like TweetLevel that purport to measure trust; but in fairness, because trust is such a complex phenomenon, there really can be no one definition. What TweetLevel measures is indeed something – it’s not a random collection of data – and they have as much right to call it ‘trust’ as anyone else does. Indeed, I respect their decision to stay vague about what to call the composite metric.

KLOUT raised a more specific question: it directly claimed to measure Influence, and is clear about its definition, at least at a high level:

The Klout Score measures influence [on a scale of 1 to 100] based on your ability to drive action. Every time you create content or engage you influence others. The Klout Score uses data from social networks in order to measure:

  • True Reach: How many people you influence
  • Amplification: How much you influence them
  • Network Impact: The influence of your network

I find that to be a coherent definition. If I’m a consumer marketer, I want to know who has high KLOUT scores in certain areas, because if they drive action, I want them driving my action.

Note that Klout doesn’t mention reputation at all – just influence. Where does trust come in?  Klout says, “Your customers don’t trust advertising, they trust their peers and influencers.”

Well, I wouldn’t go there. On TweetLevel, the top three influencers were Justin Bieber, Wyclef Jean, and Bella Thorne. Influencers – definitely. People to be trusted? What does that even mean?

Trust Metrics

One problem with linking trust to reputation is that it can be gamed. One problem with linking trust to influence is that notoriety and fame are cross-implicated. Bonny and Clyde were notorious, so was Bernie Madoff and the Notorious B.I.G. – that doesn’t make them trusted.

Take Kim Kardashian. Is she influential? You betcha: her Klout score was a whopping 92 (Back then! Juts think about today). Does she have a reputation? I bet her name recognition is higher than the President’s.

But – do you trust Kim Kardashian? Well, to do what? (By the way, TweetLevel gives her a 70.1 trust score – way higher than mine. Now you know who to ask when you need a trustworthy answer; I’m referring all queries to her).

So here are a few headlines on trust metrics.

  1. They’re contextual. You can’t say you trust someone without saying what you trust themfor. I trust an eBay seller to sell me books, but I’m not going to trust him with my daughter’s phone number.
  2. They’re multi-layered. Both Klout and TweetLevel correctly recognize that social metrics can’t be monotonic – a single headline number is useful, but it had better have nuances and deconstructive capability.
  3. Behavior trumps reputation. You can get lots of people to stuff the ballot boxes for you; it’s a lot harder to fake your own  behavioral history. Trust metrics based more on what you did, rather than just on what people say about you, are more solid.
  4. Good definitions are key. When people say ‘trust’ and don’t distinguish between trusting and being trusted, they’re not being clear. There’s social trust, transactional trust – it goes on and on. Good metrics start by being very clear.

So what’s the link between reputation, influence, and trust? There is no final arbiter of that question. Language is an evolving anthropological thing, and as Humpty Dumpty said, words mean what we choose to say they mean. So job one is to be clear about our intended meanings.


Full disclosure: I have a small interest in a sharing economy company, TrustCloud. I have written more about the sharing economy and collaborative consumption in a White Paper: Trust and the Sharing Economy, a New Business Model.

(This post was originally published on TrustMatters)

Bloggers’ Top 10 Annoying Spelling Errors: Spellcheck Won’t Save You

You may be uneducated – but you needn’t advertise the fact.

Of course, we all understand typos – though the sight of them uncorrected on a blogpost suggests serious amateurism.

But what’s worse is a spelling error that is more than a spelling error – that belies a failure to understand the difference between two very different words. If you think you ever watched a Western movie that involved sending in the calvary, you are not only mistaken, you are flaunting your ignorance.

Spell-check will not help you here; these are words that have two very different meanings. If all you do is rely on spellcheckers, then all you’ll get is correctly-spelled indications that scream out loud you don’t know what you’re talking about.

You may not have graduated college – but why advertise the fact? And if you did – why make it look like you weren’t paying attention?

Study this list of examples I’ve encountered over the years – my Top Ten Most Annoying Spelling Mistakes. (Non-native English speakers get five free passes).

  1. Cavalry vs. Calvary. A cavalry is a group of horse-mounted soldiers. Calvary is the name of the hill on which Jesus was crucified. The only cavalry at Calvary that day was Roman.    
  2. Compliment vs. Complement. To compliment someone is to say something nice about them; a complement is something that goes well with something else. Being complimentary is a nice complement to a set of good manners.
  1. i.e. and e.g.  i.e. is short for the Latin “id est,” or “that is.” e.g. is short for the Latin “exempli gratia,” or “for example.”   “I’m from Missouri, i.e. show me,  e.g. by citing a few cases.”
  1. Memento and Momento. A memento is a piece of memorabilia. A momento is Spanish or Italian for the English word “moment.” Un momento, por favor, I just want to grab a memento of my last day in Madrid. 
  1. Chord and Cord. A chord is a harmonious set of intervals played at one moment; an idiomatic use is “struck a chord,” meaning ‘resonated with.’  A cord is a length of rope or string.  To make it more musically confusing, we all have vocal ‘cords’ – not chords.  That movie struck a chord with me, especially when the lead character yanked on the cord and proceeded to exercise his vocal cords at full strength. 
  1. Effect vs. Affect. Effect, the noun, is a result – to effect, as a verb, is to bring something about. To affect, the verb, is to influence something – affect, the noun, is a demeanor.  The effect of his affect was to change everything; he affected world politics, and thereby effected world change.  
  1. Pare and Pear and Pair. To pare is to strip something down to its essentials. A pear is a fruit you eat. To pair is to match up with another.  Would you please pare down that pear? I want to pair it with another pear that is already pared down considerably. 
  1. It’s and Its. “It’s” is a contraction for “It is.” Its is the possessive form of “it.”  It’s about time that cartoon rabbit got its own TV show. 
  1. Sight vs. Site. Sight is the ability to see, one of the five senses. Site is a location. He chose the new factory site on paper alone, sight unseen. 
  1. Reader’s Choice. What’s your nomination for number 10 on the list of most cringe-worthy spelling mistakes?  I’ll print all good answers, and the best three get a free copy of one of my books.







Building the Trust-based Organization

The Elephant of TrustDo your eyes glaze over at that title? Mine do. I always click on such titles, but am usually disappointed when I get what feels like low-content or high fluff-quotient material. So I set out to tighten up the perspective.

Tentative conclusions: sometimes the issue really is vague, fluffy, fog-sculpting content. More often, however, it’s more a situation of the blind men and the elephant: all describe a key component of the answer, but none have a holistic perspective.

The Parts of the Elephant

This is not an exhaustive taxonomy, but a great number of pieces about creating trust in organizations do fall into these categories. Here are the equivalents of the blind men seeking to describe the elephant of trust.

Trust as Communication. “Communications is fundamental to earning trust,” says Jodi MacPherson of Mercer in Ivey Business Journal. “At the heart of building trust is the process of communication.”

This approach gets one thing very right; trust is a relationship, not a static set of virtues or characteristics. Hence the connection between parties is key, and communication is the basic way parties relate to each other.

However, the communication approach begs one huge question – the content being communicated.

Trust as Reputation. The Edelman PR firm’s annual Trust Barometer has been a major communications success.  A sample statement:

Corporate reputation and trust are a company’s most important assets, and must be handled carefully…Beyond safeguarding a reputation, the 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer findings reveal that businesses acquire a greater license to operate as they expand their mission and create more meaningful relationships…By identifying a company’s assets and weaknesses in the realm of trust, we help corporations uncover, define, exemplify and amplify their authentic identity in ways that resonate with stakeholders and inspire support of their business mission.

This approach has one big risk: by equating trust and reputation, the emphasis naturally falls more on managing the perception of the trustor, and less on managing the trustworthiness of the trustee.  It is also inherently corporate, and therefore impersonal.

Trust as Recipe.  There are probably more approaches that fall into this camp than any other.  It includes lists of (typically 4 – 6) actions, principles, insights, definitions, concepts which, if considered or managed or invented or followed or preached about, result in greater trust in an organization and between that organization and its stakeholders.

A good example is Ken Blanchard Company’s The Critical Link to a High-Involvement, High-Energy Workplace Begins with a Common Language.  They offer  four trust-busters (one of which is lack of communication), five trust-builders, and three rules to building leadership transparency.

Trust as Rules-Making. A Harvard Law blogpost titled Rebuilding Trust: the Corporate Governance Opportunity, Ira Milstein points out the critical roles that can be played by boards and shareholders in increasing trust.

A similar point is made from an Asian perspective, in Corporate Governance: Trust that Lasts, author Leonardo J. Matignas says “Corporate governance is not premised on a lack of trust. It simply ensures that trust is accompanied by practices and principles that will further strengthen it.”

While these views may appear slightly narrow, they’re part of a broader governance category that says corporate trust lies in better rule-making. If the game is out of control, we need to clarify the rules, tweak the goalposts, empower the referees, and not be afraid to make changes to the environment in which business operates legitimately as business.

The strength of this view lies in its linkage of business to society – the implicit statement that there is no Natural Law that says business has any right to stand alone outside a broader social context.

Trust as Shared Value. In Michael Porter and Mark Kramer’s notable 2010 HBR article Creating Shared Value, Porter auto-performs a conceptual sex-change operation on his previous work. The author of Competitive Strategy and the Five Forces affecting competitive success boldly charts out a world in which companies take the lead in formulating multilaterally beneficial, long-term projects for the greater betterment of all stakeholders. The lions and the lambs can get along after all, it seems.

Porter and Kramer deserve mention here because they have pinpointed something few others do – an unflinching claim that economic performance at a macro level is consistent with firms behaving at a micro-level in longer timeframes and in more multi-stakeholder collaborative manners. (Incidentally, this view reclaims Adam Smith from the clutches of the Milton Friedmans and Ayn Rands who suggest competition is purely about survival of the fittest, and restores to him a sense of Smith’s broader views as reflected in his Theory of Moral Sentiments).

They are not entirely alone. The Arthur Paige Society a few years ago published The Dynamics of Public Trust in Business, which similarly stated:

…trust creation is really an exercise in mutual value creation among parties who are unequal with respect to power, resources, and knowledge. We believe that a core condition for building public trust is the creation of approaches that create real value for all interested parties—businesses and public alike.

Of all the views, Trust-as-Shared-Value is the one most breathtaking in scope. The issue facing it is one of execution. There is a bit of a “then a miracle happens” quality, perhaps inevitable given the scope of envisioned change.

Seeing the Elephant Whole

All the five generic approaches above get something important right – but none of them constitute a full answer to “How do we make trust-based companies?”

So what would constitute a good answer?  It must have three parts: a Point of View, a Diagnosis, and a Prescription.

Crudely speaking, in the list above, Porter/Kramer’s Shared Value is a point of view lacking a prescription. Trust as Rule-Making is a diagnosis without prescriptions or a point of view, and Trust as Recipe is pretty much prescriptive in nature.

In Part II of this post, I offer my suggestion for how to best answer the question across all three dimensions.

Can Trust Scale? Interview with Stephanie Ann Olexa

Getting to The Core of ValuesI recently got to meet Stephanie Olexa, a renaissance woman whose most recent incarnation is as an executive coach, at her company Lead to the Future. She has quite a bit to say about trust, and about two organizations in particular.  Here’s our conversation.

Charlie Green: Stephanie, you’re hard to pigeonhole. You’re an author, teacher, entrepreneur, PhD, patent-holder, scientist, professor, angel investor – and that’s not even half of what you do. How did you come to be so multi-faceted?

Stephanie Olexa: You might say I haven’t figured out what I want to do when I grow up.  But in reality, I followed my curiosity.  I started as a teaching and research scientist in a medical school, then evolved to work in the business of science at two Fortune 100 companies, then jumped into entrepreneurship by forming my own company in a scientific field, followed by a short time applying business principles to nonprofit organizations and now using everything I learned along my journey to work as an executive coach, consultant and teacher.

C. You and I met through Trust Across America, and we got to talking about the issues of increasing trustworthiness in business. You had a fascinating story about how decisions get made in a Pennsylvania company you know; could you tell us about that?

S. I met one of the co-owners of the business at a dinner sponsored by the Delaware Valley Family Business Center.   (I asked, but he prefers not to be mentioned by name or company).

He, his brother and brother in law are equal owners of the company and equally share the title of President.  All major decisions are made by consensus.  Of course this goes against everything I learned in Business school so my curiosity was piqued.  I asked him to describe their decision making process.

They have a conference room in the company with a basket at the door.  The word “ego” is on the basket.  This, he said, is to remind everyone to leave their egos at the door. Also in the room is a sign with the company core values.  For every decision, they ask which alternative best meets their core values.  When he told me that after thirteen years they never had a disagreement there was a calm and peaceful look on his face.  I wanted to hug him!

C. The ability to manage like that – doesn’t that come from a homogeneous culture? Isn’t that virtually impossible to replicate?

S. First, I believe that business leaders are responsible for creating and maintaining the culture and that the culture must be based on shared core values. It’s not impossible to replicate, but it is hard to maintain and takes commitment.

C. This sounds like a small, private company. Can you really scale up this kind of management to bigger companies?

S. It is a private company, but not small.  They have over 370 retail outlets spanning Eastern United States from Florida to Maine, with over 5000 employees.  Layer on top of the size the challenges of leading remote teams and it is even more impressive.

C. Wow. So, how do you see what’s going on here? What makes it work?

S. It works because the leaders have consensus on their core values, the courage to live in accordance with them, and the commitment to demand that the business is managed in  a way that promulgates them.

C. So, why can’t we scale up larger companies in the same way? Or can we?

S. We can.  I believe that we need to have the leaders in those companies to commit to shared values and to be proud of those values.  The values can’t be in a strategic plan on a shelf but have to be demonstrated every day.

C. What are some of the benefits of increased trust in business that you see?

S. The literature has statistics on financial benefits but I have witnessed the human benefits, happiness, peacefulness, generosity, compassion and caring.  Trust in business spills over into trust in families, industries and communities.

C. Are there some other examples that come to mind that illustrate the trust opportunities in business?

S. I ran my company, a network of analytical labs, for twenty years.  It was built on shared core values.  We always told employees that if they made a mistake in a test, the problem could be solved but if they hid the problem there could be long term issues.  Mistakes of the hands can be fixed but mistakes of the heart were not tolerated.

A few years ago we hired a young woman right after her  graduation with a degree in Microbiology.  She was near the end of her six month training in a test for total coliforms in drinking water.  The method has strict quality control requirements but this is a test that is dependent upon the analyst looking at the results and recording them in a lab computer.

One Saturday morning this analyst saw that the QC requirement failed.  The correct thing to do was to invalidate all forty samples and recollect them.   She was alone in the lab and could have easily just checked the box that everything was ok.  She didn’t.   She called her supervisor at home, who then called me.  We had to call all of the customers and send out two collecting teams to get new samples and run them that day.  The expense of redoing the work was really high and the young analyst knew it.   I thanked her for her honesty.  Not one employee complained about the inconvenience or increased work.

But the best part is that the following month the young employee was voted employee of the month by her peers, citing her courage and honesty.  They wanted her on the team. So what was the benefit to me of the trust in the company?  I had no doubt that every employee would do the right thing even if nobody was watching.

C. This is timely; I’m just reading a 10-year old book, McKinsey’s Marvin Bower, wherein author Elizabeth Haas Edersheim describes the same utter devotion to values-based management that he instilled in McKinsey. I suspect Bower would completely agree with you what you’re saying, and I’ll note that while McKinsey was far higher visibility, your friend’s organization is larger than McKinsey was at the time.

S. Values-based management is not just a pretty phrase.

C. Not at all. Stephanie, thanks so much for taking time to speak with us, and best wishes to you. Where can people reach you?

S. My website is Lead to the Future, and my  email is



Trust Inc.: Strategies for Building the Trust Asset – Chapter 1

Trust Inc coverThis is an abridged version of the opening chapter – “The Business Case for Trust” – of the just-published  Trust, Inc.: Strategies for Building Your Company’s Most Value Asset. 

The book is a collection of 30-plus articles by diverse authors on trust in business. Edited by Barbara Kimmel of Trust Across America, the book covers issues ranging from measuring trust, diagnosing its presence or absence, managing trust and increasing trustworthiness, to improving people, companies, industries and societies.

Barbara and I co-authored the opening chapter. Other authors in the book include names like Steven M.R. Covey Jr., Ken Blanchard, James Kouzes and Barry Posner, Peter Firestein (investor relations), Laura Rittenhouse (financial candor), Jim Gregory (branding), and Linda Locke (reputation). And more.

Have a taste of the book, below. And click through here to see a complete table of contents and authors list. Whatever your interest in business in trust, you’ll find something here the addresses it.

The Business Case for Trust

by Barbara Brooks Kimmel and Charles H. Green: from Chapter 1 of Trust, Inc.,publisher Next Decade, November 2013.

Trustworthiness — once exemplified by a simple firm handshake — is a business value that has suffered erosion. We see this in how the public has grown increasingly cynical about corporate behavior—with good reason.

The PR firm Edelman found in a recent “Trust Barometer” survey that trust, transparency, and honest business practices influence corporate reputation more than the quality of products and services or financial performance. And yet, scandals and bad behavior continue to pile up.

Our view is that a company seriously interested in its reputation must increasingly focus not just on “business performance” as it is traditionally understood, but on being seen as trustworthy too.

We believe there is an important, material business case for trust. This doesn’t mean that trust isn’t or shouldn’t be justified on moral or societal grounds. Of course it should. But trust makes for good business as well. This essay will put forth the business case for trust by exploring the gap between low- and high-trust organizations’ performance. We will also offer a framework for assessing corporate trustworthiness, and point the way toward strategies for creating a trust-enhancing business model.

First, let’s look at the costs of low trust.

How low trust affects stakeholder outcomes

Low Trust in Society

Business operates in a social context; because of that, low trust in society-at-large costs business. Indirect examples include the TSA airport security program ($5.3 billion, not to mention the impact on tens of millions of business travelers), and the criminal justice system ($167 billion in 2004). Both of these examples are funded by taxes on individuals and business.

Businesses also shoulder direct tangible losses from crime ($105 billion), where they are often the victims.

A more obvious social cost for business is the cost of regulation. Economist Clyde Wayne Crews releases an annual report entitled “The Ten Thousand Commandments” that tallies federal regulations and their costs. In 2010, the federal government spent $55.4 billion dollars funding federal agencies and enforcing existing regulation. In 2013, The Washington Post reported that “the federal government imposed an estimated $216 billion in regulatory costs on the economy (in 2012), nearly double its previous record.”

Doing business in a low-trust environment is costly. Whether or not you believe that companies can, or should directly impact social conditions, one thing is clear. In aggregate, business bears a lot of weight for the cost of low-trust in our society.

Low Trust in Business Practices

Social costs on business, however, are just the tip of the iceberg. Far bigger costs are exacted by simple business practices. Consider the
need for detailed financial audits. The Big 4 accounting firms’ aggregate global revenue is $110 billion5, of which about one quarter is made up of audits in the U.S.

Consider lawyers: there are over 1.2 million licensed attorneys in the United States, more per capita than in 28 of 29 countries (Greece being the 29th). The cost of the tort litigation system alone in the United States is over $250 billion—or 2% of GDP. It’s estimated that tort reform in health care alone could trim medical costs by 27 percent.

All these are examples of transaction costs: costs we incur to protect or gain (we hope) larger economies of scale, markets, or hierarchies. Transaction costs add no value to the economy per se; they just foster favorable market conditions so that other economic factors (e.g. markets, scale economies) can add value.

But there comes a point at which the addition of more non-value-adding transaction costs ceases to be positive and becomes burdensome. It’s clear to us today that we are well past this point. A Harvard Business Review article from 8 years ago (Collaboration Rules by Philip Evans and Bob Wolf, July 2005) suggests that nearly 50% of the U.S. non-governmental GDP was, as of 2005, comprised of transaction costs. Imagine the impact of redirecting even a small proportion of these monies to value-adding actions.

Their research goes on to say that, in such an economy, the most productive investments are often not those that increase scale or volume, but those that reduce transaction costs. And the most viable strategy for reducing massive transaction costs? Trust.

Low Trust and Employee Disengagement

Disengagement occurs when people put in just enough effort to avoid getting fired but don’t contribute their talent, creativity, energy or passion. In economic terms, they under-perform. Gallup’s research places 71 percent of U.S. workers as either not engaged or actively disengaged. The price tag of disengagement is $350 billion a year. That roughly approximates the annual combined revenue of Apple, General Motors and General Electric.

According to The Economist, 84 percent of senior leaders say disengaged employees are considered one of the biggest threats facing their business. However, only 12 percent of them reported doing anything about this problem.

What does disengagement have to do with trust? Everything. In a Deloitte LLP ethics and workplace survey, the top three reasons given for employees planning to seek a new job were:

  • A loss of trust in their employer based on decisions made during the Great Recession (48 percent);
  • A lack of transparency in leadership communication (46 percent); and
  • Being treated unfairly or unethically by employers over the last 18 to 24 months (40 percent).

A lack of trust in the employer is at the heart of each of these reasons. To the extent that plans to find a new job are a proxy for disengagement, the case is clear. Lack of trust drives away employees.

In discussing the survey, Deloitte LLP Board Chairman Sharon Allen notes:

Regardless of the economic environment, business leaders should be mindful of the significant impact that trust in the workplace and transparent communication can have on talent management and retention strategies. By establishing a values-based culture, organizations can cultivate the trust necessary to reduce turnover and mitigate unethical behavior.

The survey also provides some interesting data on the business case for organizational trust. When asked to rate the top two items most positively affected when an employee trusts his or her employer, employed U.S. adults made the following top rankings:

  • Morale (55%);
  • Team building and collaboration (39%);
  • Productivity and profitability (36%);
  • Ethical decision making (35%); and
  • Willingness to stay with the company (32%).

As Mary Gentile eloquently states later in this book, “Very often the most visible, most costly challenges to the public trust in business are fairly predictable: deceptive marketing practices; falsified earnings reporting; failure in safety compliance; lack of consistency in employee relations; and so on.”

In other words, the ability to manage the costs of low trust –whether arising from society, from business practices, or from management practices—is to a great extent within the control of the corporation. And yet, it is largely not being done—with sadly predictable results.

Continue reading:
How high trust improves stakeholder outcomes
A framework for assessing trustworthiness
Trustworthiness in Action

Six Reasons We Don’t Trust Wall Street

In 2013, finance is the least trusted industry globally.

It hasn’t always been this way. Within the industry, it’s tempting to think that trust can be regained by reputation management. Reputation is seen largely as a function  of communications or PR departments in 50% of companies in one survey.

But it goes deeper than that – deeper even than enlightened views of reputation management. There are serious structural issues that have driven down trust in the sector, and it’s hard to see how trust can be restored without directly addressing some of them.

But let’s let you be the judge of that. Here are Six Reasons we’ve lost trust in Wall Street.

1. “Wall Street” Ain’t What It Used to Be.  In 1950, a discussion of “Wall Street” unambiguously meant the NYSE, the Big Board, and brokerage firms like E.F. Hutton. Today, Wikipedia says:

The term has become a metonym for the financial markets of the United States as a whole, the American financial sector (even if financial firms are not physically located there), or signifying New York-based financial interests.

That means “Wall Street” came to include commercial banking (think Chase and Bank of America), mutual funds, hedge funds, investment and trading operations like Goldman Sachs, private equity, and insurance companies like AIG.  I think it’s fair to say the “new” financial businesses have had more than their share of the negative press that financial services has gotten over the years.

Many years ago, the president of GM could say – in good conscience – “What’s good for General Motors is good for America.”  Can you picture Lloyd Blankfein saying, “What’s good for Goldman Sachs is good for America” with a straight face?

2. Finance Has Shifted to Zero-sum Uses. In traditional banking, borrowers create increased value with the money they borrow from lenders and put to good economic use. By contrast, in pure trading, no value is created. It is a zero-sum proposition. And the proportion of the financial sector represented by essentially pure trading has increased dramatically.

At the same time, Paul Volcker says the financial services’ share of “value-add “in the US economy grew from 2% to 6.5%.  That’s not “value added” in the economic sense – it’s just an increase in price over cost. And, Volcker added, it was due not to innovation, but to increased compensation. As he famously put it, “The biggest innovation in the industry over the past 20 years was the ATM machine.”

Wall Street has increasingly focused on the “point spread,” not the fundamentals. In the NFL, they don’t let players bet on point spreads. But on Wall Street, that’s the name of the game.

The industry’s counter to such data is that they have increased liquidity, thereby lowering risk and volatility.  Yet volatility in the stock market has steadily increased for decades, while the industry has gotten less efficient. And “black swans” have become part of our lexicon – we have massively underestimated risk.  The value of the added liquidity is far outweighed by the risks it has entailed.

3. Finance Is a Larger Part of the Economy. In 1950, the US financial sector accounted for 2.8% of GDP. By 2011, that number had grown to 8.4%.  In 2011, the financial industry generated 29% of all US profits.  That proportion had never exceeded 20% in all of the 20th Century.  From 1980 to 2010, the profit per employee in the financial sector of the US economy grew by over a thousand percent – far more than all the rest.

And as finance became less efficient, more profitable, and more zero-sum oriented, it also came to dominate business more. In 1937, 1 percent of the graduates of Harvard Business School went into finance. In 2008, that number hit 45%.

4. The Shift to the Short Term. 
As of 2011, 60% of the daily turnover in US stock markets was accounted for by high-frequency trading something that didn’t exist a decade before.  In 1960, the average holding period for stocks on the NYSE was 8 years. By 2010, it was down to 3-4 months.

In 1950, the marginal tax rate was 85%, putting a brake on short-term trading, since capital gains taxation of 25% kicked in only after 6 months.

A short-term mentality has always plagued the US in comparison to Europe and especially Asia. The shorter the timeframe, the more focused we become on transactions, and the less value we place on relationships. And that kills trust.

5. The Transactionalization of Finance.  J.P. Morgan once said, “A man I do not trust could not get money from me on all the bonds in Christendom.”  For several years now, we’ve had the IBGYBG problem on Wall Street: “I’ll be gone, you’ll be gone – do the deal, who cares.”

Can you say “moral hazard?”

In the Christmas movie It’s a Wonderful Life, local employees of a local bank lend mortgage funds to local borrowers, with the bank then holding the mortgage itself. By 2007, the lending was done by non-local employees of non-local mortgage companies who then resold the mortgage to non-local banks, who then securitized and sold to global investors. A relationship business had become thoroughly transactionalized.  This drives down trust.

6. The Attack on Regulation. The LIBOR rate-rigging scandal shocked everyone last year. But rate-rigging turned out to be not a bug, but a feature.  The chairman of the CFTC said LIBOR rates “are basically more akin to fiction than fact.” The truth is more like the Wizard of Oz saying, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”

It’s a market that turned out to be mythical – can you say “Bernie Madoff?”

The Glass-Steagall Act was repealed in the late 90s, arguably giving free reign to bankers to misbehave. The industry has fought consumer legislation governing things like credit card costs, not to mention the mix of Dodd-Frank rules.

It’s hard to trust an industry which visibly and without much embarrassment argues for more and more, after the rather remarkable feast of the last two decades.

The solutions to trust issues that I hear about most coming from the financial services industry tend to be reputation management and personal trustworthiness. I do believe that both these tools – especially personal trustworthiness – could be applied to great effect in certain financial sectors – notably financial planning, wealth management, traditional investment banking, and commercial lending.

But that’s not where the money is, nor where the biggest problems lie. And it’s going to take a whole lot more than the usual approach to reputation management to deal with them.

Until the sector can address those six areas of structural disconnect, the issues of trustworthiness will continue to dog the industry.

Unconscious (Ethical) Incompetence: The Curious Case of SAC Capital Advisors

Should Have Seen That ComingNoel Burch is credited with formulating the Four Stages of Competence model. It describes the psychological states involved in a progression of competence, as in:

1. Unconscious Incompetence
2. Conscious Incompetence
3. Conscious Competence
4. Unconscious Competence

The model has always struck me as one of those so-obvious ideas (like spreadsheets) that the miracle is no one ever thought of it before. It just makes sense.

It is usually applied to the mastery of skills, expertise, or knowledge. It is equally interesting, however, to apply it to the concept of moral development in people and in organizations. Which brings us to the curious case of SAC Capital Advisors.

SAC Capital: The Contradiction

Last week, SAC Capital Advisors was indicted by a Federal Grand Jury in New York for insider trading. The firm pleaded not guilty, and of course nothing I say here should be construed as an opinion on the merits (and my legal credentials are zip-squat anyway).

In reporting on the story, New York Times financial reporter James B. Stewart highlights an interesting question:

According to SAC Capital Advisors, the wildly successful hedge fund now accused of systematic crime, the firm not only has “a strong culture of compliance” intended to “deter insider trading,” as the firm put it recently, but may also have one of the most rigorous and “cutting edge” hedge fund compliance programs in the country.
The firm said it spends “tens of millions of dollars,” on compliance, “deploys some of the most aggressive communications and trading surveillance in the hedge fund industry,” has hired big-name lawyers like Peter Nussbaum and Steven Kessler to oversee compliance, and has a staff of “no fewer than 38 full-time compliance personnel.
Which sets up the question: What were they doing?

What indeed.

Two Scenarios for Going Bad

Let me suggest a continuum of answers to that question, with the two extremes reflected in the following two purely hypothetical internal conversations at SAC following the indictment:

Version A: “Can you believe our bad luck? Just when everything was going so great, some flunky up and blows the whistle on the greatest inside deal since Teapot Dome. It was perfect! I guess it was too good to be true, something had to go wrong some day and we’d get found out.  Well, let’s fight the hell out of it and see what we can still walk away with.”


Version B: “Can you believe our bad luck? We take compliance seriously around here, nobody spends on compliance like we do, we’ve got the best systems in the business, the best programs, the best communications and the best lawyers to make sure we’re squeaky clean, and – a couple of lousy bad apples come in and ruin it. Not only for us, but for our clients as well. If they only knew the opportunities we pass up… For crying out loud, when is enough; blood from a stone. We are over-regulated to a T already, how much more compliant can you get?”

I don’t know about you, but I’d put money on the B end of the continuum. What looks like clear malfeasance from the outside all too often looks like business as nearly usual on the inside, with shrill grenades of  misunderstanding being lobbed in from the outside. Whether it’s SAC, Enron, WorldComm, or the generals in charge of preventing rape in the military, most frogs sitting in the water don’t notice the temperature rising to a boil.

Which raises the ethics conundrum – Scenario B is a form of Unconscious Ethical Incompetence. The doers of badness do not recognize that it is badness they are doing. Indeed, they often see it as goodness.

In the Four Stages model, unconscious incompetence is the first step in the process. That heightens the contradiction, because the evil-doers in such cases think they are actually at the opposite end of the scale – having already internalized the right behaviors so that they are unconsciously competent. Nothing could be more wrongheaded and insulting, they think, than to suggest they are actually at the bottom of the scale!

Hence the reaction – not guilt, or even remorse, but pained indignation. Moi?  Nous?  Surely you jest.

You Can’t Depersonalize Trust and Ethics

Cases of this sort highlight a vicious circle in managing for trust. Violations of trust are met with new processes or procedures for preventing it in future. Since so much of business is about processes and metrics, this is seen as a perfectly normal response.

However, by turning trust and ethical issues into issues of process, they are robbed of their context in a relationship, and therefore stripped of their human quality. The predictable result of this is to lower the internal standards of conscience and social behavior, which then leads to more violations. And on, and on.

This is the substitution of quantitative, transactional, impersonal focus for qualitative, relationship-based, human phenomena. Unless checked, it only gets worse. Financial services is only one of the most obvious industries in which this happens. You can see it in pharma, in many sales organizations, even in academia.

Unfortunately, most outside consultative solutions to institutional trust issues tend to focus primarily on traditional change management factors – incentives, structures, communications (or culture, which I tend to see as the result of all the other things). But those traditional change management factors, which work so well when introducing quality or customer focus initiatives, have limited range when it comes to issues of trust and ethics. In fact – they make it worse, by implicitly suggesting the issues are ones of incentives, structure and communication.

What is sorely needed is something that sounds too old-fashioned – personal role-modeling of character-based behavior by leaders. Personal actions at the most minute level – comments, reactions, shading of language, confidence of decisions, personal displays of integrity in the moment. These are the things that employees notice, absorb, and emulate.

Former SEC Chairman Harvey Pitt had done some consulting for SAC. He told reporter Stewart that he “Came away from his visit to the firm unimpressed. ‘My sense was that it was a check-the-box mentality, not a serious commitment,'” he said.

Whether he was right or wrong about SAC, the distinction is powerful. As Mr. Pitt also said, “When it comes to compliance, you have to live, eat, breathe and drink it. It has to be embedded in a firm’s DNA.”

And the route to the firm’s DNA (metaphorically) goes straight through that of the leaders (literally).

When You Can’t Get No Respect

You Gotta Give Some, To Get SomeSome will recall comic Rodney Dangerfield’s catch phrase. Others may remember Aretha Franklin’s iconic spelling, R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

When you respect someone, it’s a verb.  When you get respect, it’s a noun. Either way, it has positive connotations.

But what’s the connection between respecting someone, and receiving respect from them?

Is it a chicken-egg thing? Does one cause the other? Is it inevitably one-sided, as in “respect for one’s elders,” where the relationship between respecter and respectee is a permanent one?

Is it like trust, where the trustor and trustee exist in a constantly reciprocating relationship? Is it like Jesus’s saying, “It is more blessed to [respect] than to [be respected]?”

Is it a Beatles-like thing, where “the [respect] you take is equal to the [respect] you make“? Is it like exercise, where no pain, no gain is the rule? Or is it like Bonnie Raitt sang, “I can’t make you [respect] me, if you don’t?”

And finally, what’s the connection with buying, selling, and the modern workplace?

Respect is Unconditional

We agree that we should respect others where respect is due (never mind who judges “due”). It’s much harder to agree that others should respect us. Particularly when the “others” are the ones we may be disagreeing with.

If I respect you, it doesn’t necessarily follow that you’ll respect me. Many cultures show respect for elders; it doesn’t follow that the elders must respect the young. Nor is it necessarily disrespectful if they don’t.  So respecting someone is no guarantee that they’ll respect you (sorry, John Lennon).

Though frequently, it does work that way. To show respect to another can be a form of etiquette.  This function is powerful in sales, where it’s easy to disrespect customers’ knowledge, even if we don’t intend to.

Demonstrated respect for the customer is rare enough that respect can be a source of differentiation.  Too many sellers don’t follow the Kantian rule of treating others as ends in themselves, treating them instead as means to our own ends. That’s disrespect, and it’s not uncommon, given that selling is potentially a manipulative, secretive black art – if not handled from trust.

Respect should be unconditional. If I respect you only on condition that you respect me, that is faux respect. If you merit respect, I should respect you, regardless of whether you return it to me.


So far, you’re likely agreeing with most of what I’ve said.  But how about this. What happens when you should, by any objective measure, be respected – and someone disrespects you?

The key question is: do you return disrespect for disrespect? Let me be a little controversial here:

  • If you are holding a resentment against someone who has disrespected you, the salient point is that you are holding a resentment.
  • If you are upset by the lack of respect from others, as should be your due, the only relevant point is that you are upset.
  • If you lose all respect for someone who has disrespected you, then either you misplaced your respect in the first place, or you gave in the desire for revenge.
  • If you demand respect, you will most likely not get it. If you continue to demand it, you will continue to drive down the odds of getting it.

Respect is a virtue – when paid.  When respect is received – treat it as a gift, a gift of grace.

Act so as to earn respect – but give up attachment to the outcome.

Be grateful for the respect you earn – but don’t treasure it.

Respect others – but do so without conditioning it on being respected in return.

It is better to respect than to be respected.

If you can’t get no respect – that’s your problem. And you can fix it anytime you want, by detaching from the outcome.

Go respect someone.







Short Yardage vs. the Long Game: The NFL’s Fumble

NFL Referee LockoutWould you risk your company’s reputation in an attempt to save what amounts to 0.16% of your annual revenue?

The owners of the NFL franchises have spent decades building the league’s reputation as a trustworthy, venerable institution – with a lot of success. Now, literally in the blink of an eye, the NFL has risked its credibility for relative peanuts.

In case you haven’t heard, the NFL has locked its referees out because they didn’t want to switch their pension plan from a defined-benefit to a defined-contribution model. A hill to die on? Not.

Unsportsmanlike Conduct

Referees missing calls isn’t quite news (insert your favorite blind ref joke here). Across all sports, poor decisions are made that affect the outcome of games. What makes the NFL’s referee lockout so newsworthy are the repeated bad calls the league has made.

The NFL made an initial, and forgivable, mistake by not standing by its refs. True, the NFL is a business, and it’s hard to overlook $16 million a year. But by not taking responsibility for their mistake, they are compounding the problem, letting it grow and sacrificing their reputation in the process.

When yesterday they unequivocally denied that a mistake was even made, they simply added further tension to an already stressed situation.

Time to Call an Audible

The NFL’s denial of the controversy is a classic example of institutional refusal to face facts confronting a failure of trust. The desire to cover up – from Watergate to Penn State – runs deep.

But this season is still young; there’s time to resolve the issue and begin to rebuild the lost trust. If the NFL acts humbly, admits its mistakes and ends the lockout, all can be forgotten in a matter of weeks or even days.

But the longer they refuse to admit the breach of trust, the more trust they’ll leave on the field.