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Building trust in uncertain times //12.09.20

Almost overnight the world became virtual. A shift some industries had embraced early and others resisted.  Today’s employees are managing sensitive financial information, operating heavy machinery and engaging in confidential discussions on national safety and regulation— all from their home.  Organisations moved fast to enable a remote workforce and maintain operations. As a consequence, we have become physically more distant and digitally more connected. 

To achieve success long term, it is critical organisations understand and seek to build greater levels of trust. Grant Thornton developed a business case for trust, which found that building trust in an organisation lends to higher levels of staff productivity, innovation, investment and customer loyalty. Fostering trust is valuable for business but can be difficult to sustain. Echoing my colleague Margarete McGrath in her recent post “Trust is gradually earned, but quickly lost.” 

To continue to build and foster trust in today’s new normal, organisations will need to consider the following:

  1. Demonstrate purpose by delivering initiatives that lead with care and goodwill to aid during this time of need and beyond
  2. Leadership & organisational alignment to ensure clear communication of updated practices 
  3. Innovative business strategies and operations that help employees, customers and shareholders
  4. Adoption of tools & advanced technologies that secure employees, customers and data to build greater levels of resilience

Trust is a feeling, it is visceral and is built by consistent actions and words.  During the pandemic, leading with empathy and care has helped organisations build trust between employees and customers. Examples of this can been seen in every industry.  British supermarkets committed to making shopping physically safe by creating an early hour for elderly and vulnerable shoppers. Car manufacturers pivoted from their traditional offerings, utilising manufacturing plants to develop ventilators in place of luxury vehicles. UK banks waved overdraft charges, provided mortgage repayment holidays and developed a dedicated helpline for those who have become financially distressed due to the pandemic.

These are examples of how organisations can create a positive feeling and build trust. Through these actions, organisations have shown they care for the physical, financial and emotional wellbeing of people. Data shows that people are more likely to buy from organisations that handled the pandemic well and consumers will favour brands that responded with care.  

To foster trust, leaders also need to align with the organisation and understand how best to help employees and customers. Supporting employees includes minimising uncertainty, communicating clearly and effectively and acting with transparency. Supporting customers requires acting with clarity and innovating rapidly. Innovation, specifically in digitisation is required to enable safe or more secure experiences. 

While ethical practices, strong leadership and new innovations can help organisations build trust, investment in secure technologies and tools will help organisations sustain trust. In fact, without secure technologies, organisations are at risk of losing positive momentum and trust in the market. Over the last 12 months VMware reported that out of 251 UK business leaders, 98% have seen an increase in attack volumes, 99% have suffered a security breach and 93% have experienced cyberattacks linked to the pandemic. These statistics are particularly concerning when we understand that sensitive data is being accessed and monitored at home, on home networks. 

To manage these threats, business leaders need to approach the organisation with both strategic and tactical steps. Strategic measures involve cyber resilience leadership and organisational alignment on risk appetite. Tactical measures include consolidating investment in cyber tools and taking a more planned approach to technology investment across the whole organisation. Accomplishing both in a staged approach will help organisations build trust.

At last year’s RSA conference it was reported that the average enterprise organisation invests in over 130 tools to detect or monitor threats. This makes it difficult to understand where legitimate threats are and often leads to over alerting. Consolidating tools is the first step towards reducing risk for the organisation.

Next, organisations need to invest in technologies that will drive value and are relevant for this new paradigm. With the perimeter expanding, it has become increasingly difficult to understand where and how data should be secured. We have found the best approach to data security is investment in tools that are built into the device, application and cloud –intrinsically. Security and protection of data is often only considered after investment in new technologies or approaches has been made. Having security built into technology from the start will ensure the business maintains security and trust with its employees and customers.  

There are other, more pragmatic approaches to building trust and resilience. Executive stakeholders must ensure any technology investment is successfully implemented and the desired outcome is achieved. If technology is acquired to reduce exposure at the endpoint, clear performance metrics should be developed to show progress and improvement in this area. In addition, leaders need to consider a more agile approach to how risk is assessed and managed. This new approach should be able to assess risk fluidly and make decisions quickly. Constant testing, review and updating of business continuity plans will further prepare the organisation for any disaster, to ensure availability of key services and functions.

The Oxford Trust Fellow Rachel Botsman explains the value of trust best. She says, “if money is the currency of transactions, trust is the currency of interactions.” Like money, trust is difficult to earn and easy to lose. It is important that organisations prioritise how to build trust as part of how they adapt their business model. 

Investment in the right capability, processes and technology to safeguard and build new layers of trust will not only drive commercial value but will also help differentiate organisations as they focus on building long term, sustainable business models.