There are many things that can’t be measured and still must be managed. Sometimes the most important data required to manage a business are unknown or unknowable. But, fortunately, data about trust doesn’t fall into either of those categories. In this post I explore some basic concepts and why it’s time to measure trust.

To re-emphasise just how important trust is, it is both omnipotent and omnipresent. It touches everything & everyone. It lies at the heart of every action, every relationship and every transaction you engage in. It’s also the leading indicator of economic exchange. This means there is an overwhelming case for organisations to measure trust because it also drives future business profit and growth. But, if it’s so important, why do so few organisations measure trust?

In a poll we conducted, 57% of respondents said they didn’t think it could be measured and a further 29% indicated they didn’t have the expertise to do so. Clearly, many organisations don’t feel they’re in a position to leverage the obvious power of trust, but that’s simply not the case at all.

One of the first steps in managing trust (including measurement) is understanding how it can be defined and how it is created. Trust is often considered an abstract and difficult to pin down concept, so given the perceived difficulties of understanding and measuring it, many organisations don’t prioritise trust or treat it with the same urgency and focus as they do other business assets.

But the benefits for those organisations who are perceived as trustworthy (the antecedent of trust) are very significant. Trust brings real and quantifiable value to an organisation. Trustworthiness and related metrics must be managed like other key performance indicators.

Each of us thinks of trust in different ways, so it’s worth going back to basics to understand the trust process. Trust is essentially built, maintained and restored through a circular process depicted in the following diagram.

Trust process

Let’s start with propensity to trust because it’s often overlooked when thinking about trust and how it can best be managed. Just as we each have a preference for different things in life, each of your stakeholders (customer/client, employee, supplier, investor, etc.) brings a unique perspective and propensity to how they trust others. This is formed by a combination of genetic characteristics and life experiences from a very early age. It represents a consistent tendency to be willing to rely on the words and actions of others across a broad spectrum of contexts and acts a bit like a filter that helps interpret perceived trustworthiness.

Some people find it easy to trust others while others less so. Ideally, every organisation should attempt to gather data about each prospective stakeholder’s propensity to trust because, armed with this information, the organisation is better able to deploy strategies and tactics that support the important goal of achieving trust as an outcome. And the quicker that can be done the better because it helps accelerate to a position of confidence and certainty with each relationship.  

When a stakeholder engages with an organisation, particularly for the first time, they face conditions of high uncertainty which is why they assess trustworthiness. Your perceived trustworthiness is responsible for up to 80% of the stakeholder’s decision to trust you, so it is a critical step in the process. Fail here and you won’t get to a position of trust. What sort of things are stakeholders looking for? It turns out there are three (3) key areas of interest:

    • Your ability (can you do?)
    • Your integrity (will you do?); and
    • Your humanity (will you put their best interests first?)

Assuming trustworthiness is demonstrated to the stakeholder’s satisfaction and the perceived risk is not too high (all trust involves a leap of faith and risk taking), they decide to trust you, at least once. The stakeholder is signalling that they’re willing to be vulnerable to you and there is an expectation you will reciprocate and not violate their trust. It’s important to note that you can’t force anyone to trust you, nor can stakeholders make you trustworthy.

“Trusting you is my decision. Proving me right is your choice.” Anonymous

Once the stakeholder has decided to trust you, they will engage in some form of risk-taking activity to consummate the exchange. For example, this could take the form of buying a product or service, agreeing to become an employee, entering a supply agreement or investing in the organisation.

The last step in the process involves an outcome. This happens when the risk-taking activity concludes and the stakeholder assesses your performance against their expectations – did you reciprocate or violate the stakeholder’s trust? Whatever the outcome, it feeds into the organisation’s ongoing perceived trustworthiness and reputation, informing the stakeholder’s future decisions about whether they should trust you again or not.

So far so good, but how do you go about managing that process like a pro? Fortunately, organisations don’t need a great deal of expertise to measure trust because the hard work has already been done by services such as Trustgenie to make it quick and easy to obtain feedback from various stakeholder groups. It uses well-researched and validated questions to accurately measure key elements of the trust process – propensity to trust, trustworthiness and trust – identify strengths and weaknesses, and offer guidance on how to improve performance.

It’s important at this point to make a clear distinction between measuring trust and perhaps using a ratings/review or similar service. The latter can be used to help create a sense of trustworthiness for the benefit of prospective stakeholders. But they lack scientific backing, are susceptible to ‘gaming’ by bad actors and don’t measure trust at all. A five star rating may signal satisfaction with a recent transaction/interaction but isn’t an accurate reflection of the service provider’s trustworthiness.

In order for your organisation to manage the expectations of an expanding ecosystem of stakeholders, it should first make trust a strategic priority. In our experience, individuals and organisations implicitly know how critical trust is, but can really struggle to move from knowledge to action due to the complexities involved.

However, there are a number of relatively straightforward steps you can take to manage trust as a strategic asset in your organisation:

    • Measure trust levels. Develop an understanding, and get an initial sense, of your trust performance with various stakeholder groups. Surveys of different stakeholder groups such as employees, customers, or investors are a helpful starting point and Trustgenie is well positioned to support your organisation.
    • Diagnose critical gaps. Leverage data from the initial exploration phase to identify the areas within your organisation that indicate trust performance gaps. Trustgenie will analyse the data, generate insights and identify critical gaps that, when addressed, will have the biggest impact on achieving or improving trust.
    • Prioritise. It’s probably not practical to address all performance gaps across the organisation at the same time, so management can prioritise focus areas by looking at the implications of each trust driver relative to the strategic priorities of the organisation. Insights generated by Trustgenie will assist in prioritising those gaps to bring clarity to what needs to change.
    • Take Action. By focusing on the areas identified as the most critical to driving trust through specific activities, organisations can see, over time, an elevation in levels of trust and the corresponding impact on stakeholder behaviours and financial performance. Trustgenie generates Game Plans that identify the actions most likely to result in the highest uplift in performance relative to the organisation’s needs.
    • Protect the future. Every organisation is constantly evolving as part of an increasingly complex ecosystem. That’s why trust across key stakeholder groups should be re-measured on an ongoing basis to anticipate and proactively address trust issues before they lead to significant underperformance. This ongoing focus on trust-building will eventually create a level of goodwill to help the organisation cope with any future negative trust events.

By following these steps, organisations can put themselves in a position to make trust a strategic asset rather than a potential risk should problems arise. What do you think?

If you missed it, you can check out an earlier post Why Trust Matters.

Trust is the basis for all connection with others. In an organisational context, it is an ongoing relationship between an entity and its key stakeholders such as customers, employees, suppliers and investors. When performed with the right intent and a high degree of competence, your organisation’s actions can earn trust with these groups.

Trust is a strong differentiator for any organisation and a dominant driver of future business profit and growth. When you put trust at the forefront of your purpose, strategy, and execution, your stakeholders are more likely to trust you.

At MyNextAdvice, we’ve made trust tangible via our Trustgenie service—helping our clients measure, manage, and maximise trust at every opportunity. If your organisation is interested in unlocking the power and value of trust, MyNextAdvice can help.

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