Blueprint For Trust Restoration
101 Practical Suggestions
[draft 12 JM Clarke]
Julian Clarke is an Irish chartered accountant who has been working as an independent management consultant for twenty years, around the time he faced his first ethical dilemma in industry when leading finance functions for financial institutions in Australia. He has served on committees of Chartered Accountants Ireland including Council, teaches in business schools, dabbles in journalism and as Chair of EBEN Ireland was one of the organisers of the DOES INTEGRITY MATTER event.
With Ireland in the news for some of the wrong reasons in recent years, he gave a short presentation during a Leadership session on 40 Leadership Characteristics associated with a respected Irish leader – Mary Robinson, former Irish President and United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights – who he said never lacked the courage, integrity and strength of character to ‘do the right thing’ irrespective of the situation or obstacles. Had Mrs Robinson been able to attend the event, rather than embarrass her, he had an alternative presentation prepared on the leadership characteristics displayed by Ernest Shackleton, the Irish polar explorer!
Julian has been organising, attending and speaking at integrity events for almost a decade and has noted the regular advice from wonderful scholars suggesting a restoration of virtues and values, notably from the Aristotelian perspective. While he finds these arguments compelling and is in total agreement, he noted these discussions are seldom accompanied by practical advice suggesting HOW this could be implemented in the modern organisation.
Following an article ‘Trust Reputation Integrity and Professionalism’ for the Accountancy Ireland journal which stressed the critical role that trust and integrity does or should play in business decision making, he considered the next step was to start drafting a ‘Blueprint for Trust Restoration’ containing practical advice how to avoid damaging trust or how to attempt its restoration following damage, usually self inflicted by the behaviour of the organisation’s own staff.
He suggested that people working in organisations are unlikely to change the way they do things and not revert back to previous practices unless they trust their colleagues and are inspired to change.
Socrates’ advice “the way to gain a good reputation is to endeavour to be what you desire to appear” does not just apply to business leaders, it applies to everyone, including those in a position of responsibility. Socrates suggests a good reputation is impossible without endeavour which may require a lengthy journey for all involved.
Shareholders are often cited as the justification for ‘riskier’ attempts at profit maximisation, often without their knowledge. However, were they actually given the choice in many such situations, they may well opt for more modest profit levels in the short term with a view to protecting and enhancing a fine and well respected reputation – the keystone of many a long-standing organisation.
In the long run, as Keynes so presciently noted in terms of economics, we may all be dead. But the advice can be apt for business too. Organisations which remain consistently focussed on short term goals may unwittingly be planning their own demise.
It is one thing to suggest that an organisation change its culture, to suggest a more virtuous approach as a preferable course of action and advocate progress which may include a return to some quite ‘old-fashioned’ values, indeed to recommend that integrity be more prevalent amongst leaders.
However, successfully implementing such suggestions may require introducing simple and effective changes in communication and other practices, what he described as a ‘Blueprint for Trust Restoration’, which may be quite straightforward for progressive organisations but require more radical surgery for many others.
General “Stormin’ Norman” Scharzkopf, is said to have remarked – ‘everyone knows what needs to be done, the hard part is doing it’.
Yet one seldom sees practical advice on how this can be achieved.
Consequently Julian quickly outlined 101 suggestions based on experience from working with many organisations how it is possible to ‘do it’ – improve trust, enhance reputation and rediscover integrity?
Being a Research Conference, this was very much a ‘work in progress’ and has been totally rewritten since the conference. However these are the ‘plain language’ suggestions as presented at the event:
Blueprint For Trust Restoration
- Don’t cover-up. Don’t deny the undeniable. Don’t defend the indefensible.
- If something wrong surfaces, let it. Face up and own up. When cover ups are found out, far greater damage to trust and reputation occurs.
- In contrast, owning up and facing the facts may be so unexpected that trust may be enhanced rather than diminished.
- People respect those who own up to mistakes. Particularly if they genuinely apologise. They know how difficult this can be so respect is enhanced. They are more rather than less likely to trust those who own up and apologise than those who cover-up.
- Don’t lie. Don’t spin. People often know when they are being misled.
- Answer the question asked. As directly as possible. Evasiveness may seem clever but many see through it. Avoiding the issue doesn’t enhance trust.
- Answer the question asked as completely as possible. If ‘spin’ is an option, ask is there really such a thing as a half-truth?
- Follow Robert Louis Stevenson’s advice : “to tell the truth, rightly understood, involves not just stating the true facts, but conveying the true impression”. People like honesty even if they don’t always want to hear the truth! Ask if others were in possession of the full facts would they agree with the disclosure?
- Don’t bluff. If you don’t know, say so. No-one knows everything about their subject and can’t be expected to.
- Remember if you are asked a question you don’t know the answer to, there are two things you can do. Say you don’t know. Or prove you don’t know!
- When bluffing is found out, respect suffers. In contrast owning up to not knowing, well handled, can enhance respect. People are more likely to accept your pronouncement when you do know.
- 12. Don’t make promises you can’t keep.
- Say you can’t promise something you know you may not be able to deliver on. But do say what you know you can do.
- Don’t break your word. Ask is it your bond?
- If you give your word, be prepared to keep it. And do.
- Ask do you want to be known as a liar or as a deceptive person? Would it be better to be admired as honest than mistrusted?
- But if you have to break your word or a previous promise, say so and why.
- 18. Don’t take decisions that, if subsequently found out, would cause embarrasment.
- Ask why so many debatable or questionable decisions are actually made?
- 20. Use the law as a guideline. What is legal should be the minimum not the ‘be all and end all’. Remember some have suggested that “business ethics BEGINS where the law ends’.
- Consider first and foremost the impact a decision could have on trust, both internal and external. Ask will reputation be enhanced or damaged following a decision or outcome? Personal or that of the body corporate?
- If reputation is more likely to suffer, ask is it the right decision and what should be done to improve it?
- Consider using ‘decision making frameworks’ to guide deliberations. These pose a series of questions, the most difficult often being ‘how does this make me feel about myself’ including ‘would my family be happy to know of my decision’?
- Ask is personal gain one of the driving forces in making a decision? Financial or otherwise? Disassociate yourself from the outcome and see if the decision differs.
- Consider the impact a decision could have on all the different people who could be effected, whether you look on them as ‘stakeholders’ or not. Put yourself in all their shoes. Ask who will be advantaged? Will any be disadvantaged?
- Envisage the worst possible outcome which could arise from a debatable decision. Ask is it really worth the risk? Does it arise from short term expediency?
- Consider how revisions to the decision could reduce the likelihood of an unfavourable outcome.
- Be courageous in taking decisions. Bearing in mind General “Stormin’ Norman” Scharzkopf’s belief that ‘everyone knows what needs to be done, the hard part is doing it’ may provide some inspiration to do what needs to be done. Regularly practicing courageous and transparent decision making means ‘doing the right thing’ will become easier and easier.
- You can’t keep everyone happy all the time and shouldn’t try to. Popularity shouldn’t be the main requirement in making a decision. Sometimes the unpopular decision is the right one. Say so and explain why.
- Consider the issues and deliberate but still act promptly.
- Don’t run away from the issues and hope by delaying or deferring they will go away. They won’t.
- Ask which kind of leader is admired – decision takers or decision duckers? Ask would you rather be viewed as courageous or cowardly?
- Not all decisions work out well but that is no reason for avoiding them.
- Ask is the prevailing culture “once a decision is made it must under all circumstances be adhered to?” Why? Pride?
- Be capable of changing a decision already made if that transpires to be the better course of action.
- With further intelligent, broader debate and perhaps greater information, the aim should be to produce the best outcome from a decision, even if it runs contrary to a decision already made.
- Ask is there a ‘blame culture’? Ask “are you remembered as the person who took that bad decision?” (Actual quote from a semi-state employee!)
- Ask which is more important – apportioning blame or learning for next time?
- No-one takes decisions knowing they are likely to have a negative or unexpected outcome. Collectively learning from decisions that don’t work out is far preferable.
- Refusing to ‘blame’ is a sign of a great leader. Indeed accepting responsibility for the mistakes of others can enormously increase respect and trust. Once the same mistakes aren’t repeated!
- Think of the long haul, the medium term, not just the immediate and the short term. Explaining clearly the longer term implications of your decision to those effected, especially those who believe short term expediency is worth risking, is far more likely to protect reputation.
- With ‘shareholders’ often used as the excuse to justify doubtful actions aimed at further improving the ‘bottom’ line, ask would they prefer maximised profitability and a damaged reputation or more modest earnings and a strong reputation?
- 43. Take a long hard look at the way things are.
- Challenge the status quo. Ask what practices would competitors like to replicate? Ask what is so frightening about doing something differently?
- Be prepared to totally ditch the status quo if necessary. Recognise that unless some considered risks are taken, nothing changes.
- Remember Barbara Toffler when with Arthur Andersen challenged some practices which she deemed inappropriate to reputation maintenance. Did the attitude of the response – “that is the way we do things” – contribute to the firm’s downfall?
- Like Zero Based Budgeting, be prepared to challenge ‘the way we do things’ from the ground up.
- Create opportunities for people to criticise “the way we do things”, anonymously if necessary.
- Reward people for suggesting better ways of doing things.
- Don’t retaliate against people who criticise the status quo. Recognise it takes courage to do so. Ask why they are doing so? Often they genuinely care about the organisation and want to make it a better place.
- If there is staff turnover ask why people are leaving? Pretend people have just announced their resignation. Ask them what they would like to do to improve the place.
- Ask do people put their own fiefdoms or silos before the overall firm? Ask which is more important. The department or the firm? The few or the many?
- Ask why do we sometimes ridicule people who want to improve the organisation. Perhaps people who want to “make the world a better place” possess more vision than their colleagues?
- We need more of these people! Ask instead how we could help them!
- Identify the barriers and obstacles put in the way of such people and others making progress? How? Ask people!
- Evaluate why such obstacles are created. Consider what can be done to eradicate barriers to progress.
- Managers, ask your staff for their ideas. They often know better ways of doing things…but are seldom asked.
- Don’t just surround yourself with ‘yes men’.
- Genuinely seek different opinions. Evaluate them. Have the courage to act.
- People like being included – so include them (even if a decision has already been made). Ask yourself how you feel when others exclude you?
- Remember, unless people are inspired to change, they won’t!
- 62. Political leaders particularly need to evaluate why people say they don’t trust them or the institutions?
- Perhaps they don’t believe the citizens (like customers or staff) don’t realise when the wool is being pulled over their eyes. They do. That may well explain low levels of trust and respect. Following the previous advice not to cover up, deny the undeniable, defend the indefensible, lie, spin, mislead, evade, favour minorities, break promises by answering questions directly and completely, facing up and owning up to mistakes, not promising what can’t be delivered and keeping promises that are made whilst making decisions transparently in the public interest not that of narrow vested interests would be a good start to restoring trust.
- Again following Robert Louis Stevenson’s advice: “to tell the truth, rightly understood, involves not just stating the true facts, but conveying the true impression” is particularly appropriate for politicians the world over. People like honesty even if they don’t really want to hear the truth.
- If the public perception is that there is little accountability or acceptance of responsibility. The answer is simple. Accept responsibility. Be accountable for your actions.
- The opposition need to support the government when they would have done the same themselves while criticising and disagreeing when they wouldn’t.
- Politicians at the local level need to be involved with local issues, freeing up national politicians to deal with national issues, perhaps by a prohibition on national politicians making representation on local issues. This would require backbenchers having a forum for their opinions to be considered at the national level. Again better to be included than excluded.
- Parliamentarians need to consider whether all government decisions have to be passed? Perhaps some need be allowed fail and yet not result in government downfall?
- Ministers need to more regularly listen to their public sector advisers if they are suggesting something that will benefit the country and its people even if it requires a difficult decision.
- Public sector advisers need to be strong and courageous in criticising decisions taken for the wrong reasons particularly blatant electioneering.
- Political decision makers need to avoid being overly swayed by powerful lobby groups by consistently putting the people first.
- Legislators need to query why the laws they design and resulting practices appear to admonish people involved in modest wrongdoing but don’t seem to tackle people involved with more significant levels of wrongdoing? They need to consider the message that unequal legal treatment sends out.
- The people need to consider why they accept “low standards in high places”? They need to query why they elect public officials (as well as boards of directors as well as other managers and leaders) of doubtful repute? Does integrity matter?
- Politicians need to evaluate the real priorities. Which is more important – people or money? The family unit or the workforce? The wealth of a minority or the majority?
- Perhaps the economy may also indirectly benefit when decisions put the people and society before the economy.
- Politicians need to put the country and its citizens before the political party. Putting the party first damages trust and ultimately loses votes. In stark contrast consistently, visibly and transparently doing the right thing by the people is more likely to engender trust and respect for the politicians – and their party.
- 77. Consider why people behave differently at work than at home? Should they? Should they have to?
- Ask yourself do you leave your personal principles at the front door of your workplace. Should you? Should you have to?
- Your personal values, your principles, your beliefs are important. If acted on by more people in your workplace, integrity will prevail more often.
- Ask yourself do you like what you see in the mirror? Ask yourself would others view you as a person of integrity? If not, why not? What can you do to change this perception?
- 81. Ask what characteristics of leaders are most admired? Are leaders without integrity respected?
- Ask what synonyms people would use in lieu of the word integrity? Honest. Fair. Truthful. Trustful. Courageous. Impartial.
- Ask would people see you as possessing those characteristics?
- The great thing about integrity is that it is admired by many. Even or perhaps particularly by those who have long lost it. It is never too late to regain it.
- Start by leaving your ‘ego’ at the front door of your workplace. And your home. And sports club. The only person it satisfies is you.
- Ask would a touch more humility work better and lead to greater respect and trust? The hallmark of many of the ‘Good to Great’ and ‘Built to Last’ leaders was humility, not pride and arrogance, which ultimately people respect less.
- How many business people would like the word ‘ruthless’ to be engraved on their tombstones? Challenge why the characteristics of being ‘tough’ and particularly that of being ‘ruthless’ can be admired in business, yet in few other walks of life?
- How many like it when people are tough and ruthless with them? Would they prefer the words ‘kind’ or ‘considerate’ to be engraved on their tombstones?
- Ask why we celebrate celebrity? How many ‘Built to Last’ or ‘Good to Great’ or other long standing and successful firms had high profile CEOs?
- If you are seeking celebrity or fame, ask yourself how many having already achieved such dubious notoriety (or worse, infamy) may actually now hanker for anonymity?
- Treat people the way you’d like to be treated yourself. Try to be less selfish. Think of others. Give people the opportunity to produce their best. Inspire them. Give them the scope to share their ideas.
- Use the four rare words – please, thank you, well done and sorry.
- Being polite can sometimes require forgetting your own ego and feeling of self-importance. Praise can work wonders. Mark Twain said “I can live for a year on a good compliment”.
- Accept criticism. Only by doing so can lasting change occur.
- If you are wrong, say so. Leaders at all levels saying they were wrong is likely to inspire their colleagues to do the same. Everyone benefits as we all learn from mistakes. Far too many organisations repeat their mistakes because their management are too proud to admit to their failings.
- Even better. Apologise when wrong. People will respect you for doing so, particularly if they believe you and your colleagues are likely to learn from the errors. In contrast people do not trust those who fail to recognise or acknowledge when they have been wrong.
- 97. Don’t spread rumours.
- Don’t talk about people behind their back. If other people want to do so, decline and say it is counter-productive.
- Remember you can’t make people trust you. Only your words and actions can do that.
100.What you can do though is give people your trust. If you place your trust in others, they are more likely to reciprocate with you, to everyone’s benefit.
101.In facing your judgement calls, regularly ask yourself would your family or the media agree with your decisions and your motivations in making them? Your organisation’s continued success or indeed existence may require you to ask your colleagues to face up to these same challenges.
If Trust, Reputation, Integrity and Professionalism are to be enhanced by these attributes becoming better respected and more regularly considered, a fascinating journey or TRIP may lie ahead for business people and their organisation!
Corporate graveyards globally are overflowing with organisations who thought exploitation of stakeholders especially staff, customers and suppliers, superseded dealing with them with integrity.
Indeed if management and staff find themselves trying to cover up or justify the unjustifiable or deny the undeniable or not treat people the way they would like to be treated themselves, they should remember that Blanchard & Peale advised ‘there is no right way to do a wrong thing’.
If ‘corporate integrity’ is to become a more generally favoured and admired rather than doubted and criticised attribute, Julian suggested that corporate executives more consistently ‘doing the right thing’ with integrity at the core of deliberations and actions is what will result in the restoration of trust and reputation, not just that of individual businesspeople and organisations but ultimately that of the wider world of business.