The rise and fall of Aaron Beam, the former CFO of heath care giant HealthSouth who served prison time for accounting fraud, might not be as well known as the legendary wrongdoing of Enron’s Jeffrey Skilling or WorldCom’s Bernard Ebbers. Yet his story — helping company co-founder Richard Scrushy build it up into a multi-million dollar corporation, then “cooking the books” so that he and Scrushy, whose wealth was based on the stock value of the company, could continue raking in the millions — is typical of the ongoing scandals of the past two decades that have destroyed much of the public’s trust in business. Today, corporations are refocused on regaining the trust of stakeholders and the general public, with the help of corporate organizational trust consultants and thought leaders such as Barbara Brooks Kimmel, the editor of Trust Inc.: Strategies for Building Your Company’s Most Valuable Asset. Kimmel is Executive Director of Trust Across America-Trust Around the World (TAA-TAW).
In Trust Inc., Kimmel has gathered more than 30 other consultants, authors and academics to explore the many facets of this subject. The contributing chapters cover a wide variety of topics, from how a village in Africa exemplifies the power and potential of economic trust, to the emotional components of trust, to the importance of moving from corporate social responsibility to a more strategic and committed corporate social innovation. There are a number of to-do lists and guidelines that reinforce the messages of the contributors.
Randy Conley of the Ken Blanchard Companies, for example, shares the organization’s ABCD Trust Model. Specifically, leaders who want to be trustworthy must be
Able. People will trust leaders with experience and expertise but also want to see results.
Believable. Trustworthy leaders demonstrate integrity, treat people fairly, and always walk the talk.
Connected. This means taking a sincere interest in people and being willing to be openly sharing information about themselves and the company.
Dependable. People must know that their leaders are going to do what they say they will and follow through on their commitments.
Contributors Bob Vanourek, a former CEO, and Gregg Vanourek, a professor at the Stockholm School of Entrepreneurship, describe the trust responsibilities of all the stewards of a company, including CEOs who must hire and promote trustworthy officers, develop processes to monitor trustworthy behavior, lead the board and senior management on the development of shared purpose, values and vision, get rid of toxic employees, and keep their ego under control.
Many of the stories in Trust Inc. emphasize the role that empathy plays in building trust. Patricia Aburdene, co-author of the bestseller Megatrends 2000, tells the story of Greg Merten, former vice-president of Hewlett Packard who managed HP’s multi-billion dollar inkjet business. Merten attributes his success to the inspiration of his son, Scott, who died tragically at age 16. Merten was once a relentless, no-holds-barred, results-driven executive. Scott, Merton told Aburdene, was “a real people person” whose example “inspired me to get better at relationships.” He started blocking off a full day monthly for his staff to meet and focus on relationships.
In her contribution, consultant Linda Locke notes that trust is about emotions and that an exclusively rational strategy is not the best way to restore trust.
Trust Inc. is a valuable and diverse overview of a topic that should be on the front burner of every company hoping to rebuild the public’s trust in business.