January 13, 2015 – By Wouter van Daalen, Sander Asma, Eelke Kroes and Jacha van den Dungen – &samhoud consultancy
We are facing a decrease in trust in our social institutions. Those in the financial sector in particular. But even though this is with good reason, given the role of some in the financial crisis, current public discourse is too resentful and polarised. We need to rebuild trust in financial institutions for the restoration of economic growth. Without trust no economic transaction can take place. This means financial institutions have to change, but also that the public debate has to leave ‘the verbal trenches’. Industry and public have to connect again.
As &samhoud we feel that we need to take action. Being a consultancy firm that works a lot in the financial sector and operates from the core value ‘friendship’ we feel addressed as well. If our friends are seen as unreliable what does that say about us? Why are these people, who we know as honest people, perceived to be untrustworthy? What went wrong? And how can we bring positivism to the atmosphere? In order to find the answers we started the ‘Search For Trust’, to better understand the causes of low trust in the financial sector and the complexity of the situation. We also looked for solutions to make financial institutions more trustworthy. We explored the theme by talking to lots of people and analyzing the sign of the times. The main method for our Search was engaging in ‘Trust Dialogues’, these are group sessions with people from various financial backgrounds who exchange experiences and insights.
The Search of Trust fits our own company vision ‘Together we build a brighter future. We achieve breakthroughs by inspiring and connecting people’. And so far, the Search has led to enormously positive responses, both in the discussions and in companies. In this article we share some of the insights of the long hours of discussions had so far.
Create competitive edge by building new trust
The Search For Trust has resulted in many observations and conclusions through our dialogues. We would like to share a few of them because they are extremely useful for the any organization that is working to build new trust. Regaining trust as it was is impossible, deeper change is necessary to create new trust. At this moment not only the financial sector is under extreme pressure because the levelsof trust in financial institutions and their professionals decreased rapidly. In fact in these timesof fast spreading opinions and transparency, all professionals are questioned: lawyers, surgeons, teachers, managers, politicians. They are closely watched and their actions andwords become public on our digital highways almost in “real time”. In this sense, the times of“blind trust” are over, both in large institutions and their professionals. It is important toaccept this, because this implies that you cannot gain back trust as it was in the past. Youhave to find complete new ways to create and rebuild new trust with all of your stakeholders.
This demands a completely new approach to a topic that was taken for granted until a few years ago. Therefore, now, something as simple as trust in your organization can provide you with a competitive edge that helps you build a winning strategy and will directly influence your bottom line. The first movers on this topic will become the winners.
Working on trust without connection leads to no results
In the financial sector a lot of effort is focused on regaining the trust of clients and all banks, insurers and pension funds are closely monitored by legislators. New mission statements are defined, products are developed that are more customer oriented, complete transparency is given in simple language, professionals publicly swear oaths and sign treaties to be honest and trustworthy. Why didn’t this lead to higher trust levels in the financial sector from the society, clients and their own employees? What is missing? We can think of various explanations, but in our opinion the most important key word is: connection. Trust is not about one action; it is not about “box ticking” the requirements that according to legislators will make you more trustworthy and client oriented. It is about deep connection. Connection and trust within your organization, with all your stakeholders and deep in the system that makes your organization successful. This explains why working on trust is such a complex process. The good news is that you can make it tangible and work on it successfully.
Make trust tangible and translate it to elements you can influence
In our experience many boardroom leaders discuss the importance of trust and supervisory boards talk about applying more “soft controls” such as trust level, organizational culture or behavioral aspects. However, these discussions are often poorly translated into tangible, actionable ideas to measure and influence these aspects in their organizations.
Since they are classified as “soft aspects” that depend too much on relations and people’s perceptions, they seem hard to control. Maybe we can agree on the fact that trust is hard to control, but with the right understanding it is surely a factor you can make tangible and strongly influence. Nevertheless, successfully building new trust requires a systematic approach in which many times the courage of leadership is tested to make harsh decisions in the short term that will lead to long term gains by stopping “trust bleeders” and enhancing “trust builders” hidden in every organization.