Trust is the foundation of every relationship. If you trust someone, you can make decisions and take action because you know they will act on what they tell you they'll do. Without trust, you don't know whether the person will fulfill their commitments to you.

That makes it risky for you to work with them -- and if possible you should replace such a person with someone trustworthy. Sadly, your only choice may be to work with some people who can be trusted in some situations and not in others.

This comes to mind in considering a December 2019 report on the trust crisis facing companies. According to the  Wall Street Journal, a Pew Research poll conducted in June 2019 of over 1,000 adults found that trust in corporations is mixed -- while small businesses get a score of 68 (ranked second behind the military), large corporations are fourth from the bottom with a score of 23.

Few companies suffer the trust problems of Boeing -- whose 737 Max has been grounded since March 2019 with no assurance of when or whether it will be able to convince regulators, airlines, and passengers that it's safe to fly.

Far more companies have a different -- if less threatening -- trust problem. As the Journal reported, since so many companies interact with their customers and others through apps, their reputation for trustworthiness is at risk because an app can create stakeholder expectations that your company cannot reliably fulfill.

Does your company have a trust problem? If so, how can you find out and fix it? Here are five things to start doing now.

1. List Your Key Stakeholders

Who are the most important groups of people your company deals with? If you're like most companies, these include your employees, customers, regulators, suppliers, partners and the communities in which you operate. Your first step in finding out whether your company has a trust problem is to list the most important stakeholders for your company.

2. Conduct An Independent Trust Survey Of Each

Conducting an independent trust survey of the key stakeholders is an investment that will pay off. The survey needs to be conducted by an independent third-party so that you can increase your chances of receiving honest answers.

Provide the firm you hire to conduct the survey the organizations and contact people representing these key stakeholders -- and make sure those people include a mix of people who are happy and less happy with your company. The firm should also make its own independent contacts with your stakeholders.

Here are questions the survey should answer:

  • How long has the survey respondent been working with your company?
  • What are their specific expectations of your company?
  • How frequently has your company exceeded their expectations? Can they provide two specific examples?
  • How often has your company fallen short? Can they provide two specific examples?
  • In general, is their trust in your company rising or falling? Why?
  • Would they recommend your company to a member of their professional or personal network? Why or why not?
  • What advice do they have for your company to sustain or increase their trust? 

3. Find The Source Of Your Trust Problem

The survey results should give you a clear picture of whether your company has a trust problem and if so, help identify its source(s). If your company does have a trust problem, it could be due to one or many of the following:

  •  A culture lacking in trust-enhancing values such as helping employees achieve their dreams, exceeding customer expectations, and fulfilling commitments to others
  • Competition between departments that drives employees to take trust-eroding actions 
  • Failure to hire and reward people who believe and act according to your company's values
  • Lack of systems to hold people accountable for trust-enhancing actions
  • Executives and managers who regularly fail to act on the promises they make

4. Develop Trust Solutions 

You must now make a critical choice: remedy your company's sources of distrust or stay on the same track as before.

If you decide a change is needed, stakeholders expect you to take responsibility for your company's trust problem(s). Here are some possibilities:

  • Do things to boost trust in your company so your people will follow suit
  • Replace executives, managers and staff who erode trust 
  • Create a culture based on values such as fulfilling your commitments and exceeding customer expectations 
  • Coordinate cross-departmental processes to better fulfill your commitments

5. Hold People Accountable For Sustaining Trust

Sustaining trust with your stakeholders depends on systems that hold people accountable. Creating such a system is another investment that will pay off by helping you reward those who fulfill their commitments and coach or part ways with those who do not.

In 2020 resolve to take these five steps to enhance stakeholders' trust in your company.