[Commentary] Trust is the new gold. Your best possible safe-haven investment.

Marie-Agathe de Place writes about the importance of trust in organisations during the COVID19 pandemic.

I know this sounds like an poor catchphrase, after “AI is the new electricity” and “prepare for the New Normal” that we now hear several times a day. Ok, you are right, this title was thrown just to grab your attention, mea culpa.

Of course, trust has always been at the heart of human and business relations. However, with the current crisis, the trade value of trust has skyrocketed. In a world where uncertainty rules the world, where we cannot any more trust our data models, where we need to challenge our business models and where we keep doing and re-doing reforecasts on multiplying ephemeral scenarios, trust in people is all what is left to us.

The trust that you place in others whether they are public bodies, employees, clients, suppliers and shareholders is the foundation of your future personal and business health. And so is the trust you are able to generate in others’ mind.

Indeed, trust is a value you trade. You give your trust to people you choose and in exchange you buy another person’s trust. What if the future of our economy would rely more on the Trust Market than on the Stock Market?

Well, I can hear some of you thinking that stock market is actually all about trust. That's right, the value of a company is -or at least it supposed to be- based on the trust the shareholders have on its successes to come. However, the Trust Market I am talking about is much wider than the stock market, it will rule most of the business relationships we will have in the near future, not only the ones with our shareholders.

 

To realize how the importance of trust has tremendously grown over the past weeks, just look at what is happening in our private lives. If someone would have told us just 3 months ago that we will all comply to highly freedom-restrictive regulations, we would not have believed it. Staying home, wearing a mask and washing our hands ten times a day? Are you crazy? And still, we are doing it. Are we doing it because we are forced? Yes of course. But this is not the main reason. Let’s be honest, we do not comply just because we are afraid to get fined from breaking the rules. We comply because we somehow trust the public authorities, or at least the medical experts advising them. And we comply because we do not want our neighbors to mistrust us. Trust is a mesh; it is a multi-stakeholder relation. The current situation makes it very clear: everybody needs to trust everybody to make it work. We need to trust the supermarket cashier with their handwashing, we need to trust our kids’ teacher with their methodology (because we suddenly realize that their job is not that easy, and we would not be capable to do this ourselves), we need to trust the doctors and nurses with the lives of our loved ones and maybe one day with ours.

 The need of trust is not a novelty, but it is exponentially growing under uncertain times such as the one we are living through.

 And whatever happens in our private life is always diffusing in our business lives in a way or another. Do we also need more trust in our business environment at this time? Definitely yes, a lot. Everywhere. It's time to reinforce the trust link with all stakeholders:

  • our teams
  • our management or shareholders
  • our customers
  • our suppliers

 

Trust your teams and inspire trust

First let’s talk about our internal work relationships. Our employees, our boss, our colleagues. Homeworking is a pain for some of us, it is a relief for others. More autonomy, no boss over our shoulder, no constant interrupting, and probably better coffee during the meetings.

Micromanagement is dead, long live alignment.

Homeworking is hopefully putting the nail on the coffin of micromanagement. And if you acknowledge yourself as a micromanager, too bad, you will have to adapt. But be reassured, you will survive it and you will eventually enjoy your new management style. You already realized you can’t get a grab on all the tasks your employees do when they are working remotely. Has the whole organization blown up? Has the business totally stalled? Nope. You may observe some productivity drop but this is due to conjectural factors. Firstly, working conditions are not ideal (have you ever tried focusing on a 65-slide ppt with two under-10 kids chasing each other around your home desk?). Secondly your staff may have other personal concerns in mind.

So, it is time to let go a bit, leave your team more space to take decisions and initiatives. In a word, it is time to trust them with their talent and their commitment. You take no risk but to learn about your team. Those who obviously take advantage of the situation to lay back and be under responsive identify themselves as unreliable team members. You know you will have to replace them as soon as the crisis is over. And the other hand, you may have good surprises. Some shy talent may be revealed when given a little bit more autonomy. Soon enough, you also see clearly who you can rely on in difficult times, who are the true team players, who you can trust and give more responsibilities to.

Of course, trusting your teams for doing a good job remotely does not mean leaving them alone. On the contrary, you need to be even more present, communicate intensively, truthfully, humbly. You need to show you are at their side. At all time.

Show empathy, ask them how they feel, understand their personal constraints and source of anxiety. Replace control by alignment.

Set clear and reasonable objectives, agree on the milestones, deliverables and deadlines.

Do weekly update and realign if necessary.

And trust them with actioning the plan.

 

The boss is a normal human being after all (and it's ok).

Trust is strong when reciprocal. As a manager, you aim at inspiring trust to your team. Obvious. But not easy to do remotely. When you manage a team remotely, you lose the non-verbal side of communication. Whether you want it or not, your managerial image is also sustained by your managerial posture, the way you look at people, the way you dress, the way you walk, the position of your workstation in the office. The shift to homeworking is demystifying the manager posture.

The boss has a home like me (you do not see how big it is through the computer camera), I can hear a kid in the background just like mine, he wears a polo-shirt just like me, and he speaks from a little window on Teams application, same size as my little window. Well yes, the boss is a normal human being after all. Afraid of getting down from your pedestal? You should not. It is the opportunity to get closer to your teams, to connect and inspire them for who you are and not for artificial manager attributes.

Does it mean that we are all going to turn into some trendy-cool-guy-google-like bosses? Absolutely not. And, to be honest, this would not fit well in many traditional organizations, especially in Asia where the perception of hierarchy is culturally strong. This is not about becoming someone else, it is about being true, clear and transparent with your people. Then they can know you, they can rely on you and trust your guidance.

 

Being truthful is the first step of being inspiring. You may think the role of a leader is to appear strong as a rock and therefore some weaknesses are urgent to hide. I will not argue on whether this is right or wrong. The fact is that this attitude is no longer an option in the type of crisis situation we are going through. Do not call your staff stupid, they know the situation is difficult, and they can feel how bad it is. Hiding it will just increase their anxiety. Tell them the truth, because they deserve it and because it is the starting point to start building back the business.

As a leader, do not be afraid to acknowledge your weaknesses or those of your organization. Time to change and adapt your business, time to improve yourself. Acknowledging your weaknesses is a way to highlight your strengths. Your teams know you are not Superman. They will learn about your weaknesses, but they will also learn where your true strengths are. And they will feel reassured that they can hold one to those. Show them you may not be perfect, but you are surely strong enough and definitely the right person to lead them out of the crisis.

 

Trust your customers

In times of crisis, your most precious gems are your talents and your customers. The last thing you want is losing your key clients. They may not be able to place order from you at the moment – or to use your services – but you want to make sure they will be there when you get out of the tunnel. They will be there if they still like your product, if they still need your product, and of course, if they remember you.

Keep it touch and be relevant.

Let’s start with the basics. Your customers must remember you, so keep in touch. Communicate. But remember the number-one rule of communication: communicate when you have something to say. Then the question is ‘what am I gonna tell my customers?’. Well, first tell them the truth. Explain what the situation about the product or the service they are usually buying from you is. Tell them about availability, delays, and where you focus your efforts. But, please, no whimpering!

You have heard this a thousand time, but it is truer than ever: put yourself in your customer shoes. Do not explain how this crisis makes it difficult for your business. Not your customer’s problem. In addition, you want your customer to trust you, not pity you. Unfortunately, I have a few recent examples in mind, some very respected companies from who I received, as a customer, a very nice, sympathetic but authentically egocentric message.

Ok then, it has been weeks since the beginning of the crisis and things have not really moved on our side, so what can we now tell our customers? First, choose the right frequency. Do not communicate every other day if you do not have much to say; you would just annoy your customers. Ideally, you feed them with relevant insights, practical advice linked to your field of expertise, bringing them value in another way while you cannot bring it through your product or services.

 

Trust your customers, they know what your next product is.

Let’s go to the next level: how do you know your customer will still need you and like you after the crisis? Here comes the trust part. Trust is built on interaction, and truthful interaction is made of active listening. If you are not used to listen to your customer, it is urgent to start. If you are already doing it, continue to do so during the crisis. We know that this crisis will probably lead us all to a ‘New normal’. What is going to be the ‘new normal’ of your customers? Do you have a role to play in it? What new stuff could they need or like that you can provide them with? It could be a totally new thing or just a new version of your product or an additional service to make they life simple.

 

Connect emotionally.

What works for your teams works for your customers as well. This is an opportunity to connect differently and build a transparent, humble and sincere relationship with your customers. I am sure you have read articles on some brands championing the customer relation, creating an emotional connection and a sense of community. Nike, Netflix, Amazon are some well know examples. These champions not only know very well their customers - customer intimacy in the marketing jargon- but they also manage to create a bidirectional connection, based on trust and alignment of values. Some brands even take radical marketing moves to connect deeply with the sense of purpose expected by their customer. Patagonia has such a strong purpose-driven connection with its customers that it has become an opinion leader in the sustainability arena.

Without aiming to the moon, there are simple ways to create some emotional connection with your customer. And crisis time is a good time to do it because everyone tends to be more emotional than usual, no matter of you are in B2C or B2B. Active listening, humility and empathy are the right ingredients to start a constructive dialogue with your customers.

Trust your customers in showing you the way to your next step. Be transparent, humble and connect with them emotionally. And then you can trust them to wait for you at the end of the tunnel.

Trust your suppliers

One thing you should not forget: you are the client of your suppliers. This means that, whatever we described above regarding the need of trust in your relationship with your customers is true the same way in your relationship with your suppliers. You want to keep your customers; your suppliers want to keep you as customer. You want to know what your customers think and will want; tell your suppliers what you will need during and after the crisis.

We can expect that supply chains will be reshuffled by the crisis. First because some countries will restart before others; then because a lot of companies are now considering short circuit and/or diversified supply chains. Therefore, it seems to be the right time to talk to your suppliers, check their long-term reliability, their capability to adapt to the post-crisis situation and motivation in keeping you as a client.

Yet it is also the right time to behave as a good client of them. You may be short of cash but so are they. If you can, pay them on-time, or at least discuss openly and honestly new payment terms. You will certainly remember those of your clients who have been supportive during the crisis and you will cherish them more than the others. Your suppliers will also remember you if you behave as an understanding and supportive client during these harsh times. Be sure that, one day, you will be able to harvest the fruits of this stronger relationship with your suppliers.

Trust your suppliers when they try their best for you. They will value you for doing so.

 

Never Let a Good Crisis go to Waste.

The current one is a perfect opportunity to build long-lasting and fruitful trust relationships with your teams, your management, your customers and your suppliers. During and after the Covid-19 crisis, trust will be worth more than it ever has.

Invest in trust, heavily and everywhere.

 

This article has been inspired by great leaders around me. In Singapore, China and Europe. They are truly leading their business and their team through the crisis with emphathy, humility and forward thinking. I am proud to count them as my friends.

 

Marie-Agathe DE PLACE is an innovation-focused and consumer-centric leader, as well as a tech enthusiast. This article is from her LinkedIn post here.  

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