One of the most disheartening axioms about business today is that consumer trust is at an all-time low. Forrester predicted that 2018 will be a "year of reckoning" for many brands as they face the fact that consumers might not love them as much as they thought they did.
While data breaches are not a new phenomenon, consumers and lawmakers are fed up. Top it off with this week's news that Google not only exposed the data of over half a million people, but also hid it - in part because of fears that doing so would draw regulatory scrutiny and cause reputational damage. They're right, on both counts. Regulatory scrutiny has intensified in recent years, but so has consumer response to unethical business conduct.
Yet amid this storm of mistrust and headline-generating bad behavior, there are companies for whom consumer trust and principled practices are not mere marketing tactics or trendy buzzwords. As Jeffrey Hayzlett - well known entrepreneur, television and podcast show host and author - put it, "I think that it has always been the case that people like to do business with businesses that do good. The good news is that people are starting to state it."
Hayzlett, who may be best known for being recurring guest judge on The Celebrity Apprentice, has a new book coming out in November called The Hero Factor: How Great Leaders Transform Organizations and Create Winning Cultures. In it, he explores the importance of a strong company culture as the backbone of a successful business. "We tend to see the light shone on bad behavior in business; that's what the media focuses on." But with the new book, Hayzlett will illuminate the many insights he's gained through his stewardship of (and participation in) The Hero Club.
Acquired by Hayzlett's C-Suite Network in 2016, The Hero Club strives to empower CEOs with resources, relationships, education, and experiences. But what sets it apart from other executive clubs and mentorship programs is that being a trustworthy business is an underlying tenant of membership.
Likening it to the bond of the pinky promise, Hayzlett says that Hero Club members pledge to (among other things) be responsible and ethical to employees, partners, and consumers as well as to be guided by a serving mentality to people, causes, and organizations. And, as anyone who has looked into the earnest eyes of child with pinkies locked knows: This is not a pledge to be taken lightly. As Hayzlett says, "There are going to be times at which your value system will be tested. The pledge is about keeping attention on these values in good and bad times."
Clearly, there's something to the idea that building a company around "heroic" values is good for business. Half of consumers rank transparency and honesty as critical factors when choosing which brands and companies to patronize. And more than a third of consumers rank 'trust in brand' among the top reasons affecting where they choose to shop. Trust, optimism, admiration, and acceptance all rank high for consumer brand loyalty. And consumers are actually willing to pay more to feel better about the purchases they make. The takeaway is that value-driven companies earn respect and will do better than organizations that customers see are just in it for the money.
To support the development and growth of value-driven companies of all sizes and across sectors, Hayzlett offers insights from the four pillars of The Hero Network:
- Always be learning. Entrepreneurs need strategic planning, time saving tools and apps, and ways to gain insight into their business with tools such as data mining. Hero helps them sift through the options to find the gems. "I can dig a hole with my spoon or my hands. But I'd rather do it with great big shovels," says Hayzlett. The Hero Network emphasizes ongoing training, support, and a flow of trustworthy information to support efficiency and quality practices.
- Surround yourself with good people. Entrepreneurs are a special breed, according to Haylett. "Remember, the definition of entrepreneur is somebody who gives up a 40-hour-a-week job to work 120." Another hallmark of founders is that their intense personal drive can also lead to isolation. From those they hire, to the partners and investors they work with, Hayzlett encourages entrepreneurs to seek out like-minded people to support their business - and its ethics. "There's lots of ways to get together and connect, but there's not a lot of smart ways. Because of the kind of people that make up our network, the relationships support high values and high growth."
- Continue to seek out - and make - sound investments in your business. Many Hero Club members are VCs, family funds, angel investors, and corporate development funds. The Club also hosts an annual investor summit, which saw over one billion dollars invested last year. However, Hayzlett points out that this isn't simply a question of funding startups. Business leaders must constantly examine the ways in which strategic investment can support growth. Again, he emphasizes how important it is to seek out investors that share your values. When you do this, you don't just fuel your business, "It is more like pouring gasoline on a fire."
- Maintain work-life balance. Entrepreneurs push themselves hard. But pushing too hard can be bad for their relationships, families, mental and physical health. "In everything you do, there's got to be a balance," says Hayzlett. "If there's not, why are you doing what you are doing?" And he says good leaders extend this ethos to their teams as well. The Hero Club supports maintaining balance among its members through activities like hiking, taking a cruise together, or seeing a show. One activity Hayzlett particularly enjoys is fly fishing. "It makes you think, close off the rest of the world and concentrate on what you are doing in that moment - and have fun." He says it is educational in that the sport is not easy to master and "requires hitting a lot of bad notes before you become a maestro." He also points out that some of the most valuable moments are about "being in the boat, floating down the river, talking to the guys."
Hayzlett grew up in Sioux Falls South Dakota, where he went to a pancake house for breakfast that was frequented by many local business people. "There was one table where the stewards of the community sat. These were the people who made sure that the community was cared for. I always wanted to grow up to sit at the big table, where the heroes sat."
Not only has Hayzlett earned a seat at the table, he has a newfound purpose to help other business leaders see that it's good business to be a good business. "I believe being mentally prepared for success and making small heroic decisions along the way are as important as success itself. Being a hero entrepreneur isn't an end goal; it's a way of doing business.