Monday, January 23, 2017

People powering trust

As a consultant, my work is most often behind the scenes of business and most of my job satisfaction derives from helping others make a difference. One of my favorite things about my work is when clients tell me they gained a new insight, or when I see the contribution I have made creating ripples in an organization or helping empower people. And in the field of CSR and Sustainability, pretty much everything I work on supports a mission of  advancing positive-impact, ethical, values-driven business which I believe is a key stepping stone to a sustainable society and planet. 

Transparency is the cornerstone of responsible business, and my geeky fascination with and love of Sustainability Reporting has become a purposeful occupation, a hobby and a vocation all rolled into one. I couldn't have imagined that this is what I'd end up doing when I started out 30+ years ago as a Distribution Manager with Procter and Gamble in England, and today, I can't imagine doing anything else. As a consultant, I think we are wired not to seek recognition for ourselves, but for our clients. As consultants, we take pride in our professional work, but we are more proud of what our clients achieve. As consultants, our success is possible because of the trust our clients place in us. And trust is what brings me to share these non-typical personal ramblings on what is usually a fairly on-topic blog. 

In the Winter 2017 Issue of Trust! Magazine,  I am quoted on the topic of trust.  

"Trust defines relationships – personal and professional. It’s the most basic currency of our interactions. When trust exists, relationships thrive and positive outcomes are possible. When trust is eroded, relationships are eroded too. In a business context, the value of trust is often underestimated. Because we can’t count trust in the same way as we can count money, products and other tangible outputs of business, we are often unappreciative of the role trust plays in making it all possible. But we must never forget that business is built on relationships… we may think business is about profit but it’s really about people… so when trust is present, relationships work and business has a good chance of success. As an optimist, I believe, we are predisposed to trust. Retaining trust is the longer-term challenge and that is done by consistently demonstrating integrity, empathy and openness (in business, that includes transparency)."

But you may notice that the Magazine cover carries a special announcement - it's from Trust Across America - Trust Around the World (TAA-TAW) honoring  global leaders in organizational trust. The TAA-TAW awards program, now in its 7th year, celebrates professionals who are transforming the way organizations do business. This year a diverse group of 84 global professionals from different backgrounds operating in different countries and sectors are honored. This list includes seven honorees who have  maintained Top Thought Leader status for five years and are presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award. The Press Release from TAA-TAW notes: "We congratulate all of our honorees whose work is shining a spotlight on the importance of trust and providing a roadmap for others to follow. They inspire organizations to look more closely at their higher purpose…to create greater value for, and trust from all of their stakeholders, and understand trust is a “hard currency” with real returns."

So it's not by accident that I am writing about all of this here. I am genuinely humbled and delighted to be among the 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award honorees. More humbled, I guess, as the list of Top Thought Leaders in Trust (which you can view in the Winter Issue of Trust! Magazine) includes so many accomplished individuals that inspire me with all they have done to change the world and the world of business.

With this post, I applaud each and every one of the Top Thought Leaders in Trust 👏👏👏👏
I encourage you to notice and appreciate the difference they make and recognize them, as I do, as a source of inspiration and optimism. This recognition by TAA-TAW is a breath of fresh air in a world in which trust is evidently more necessary than it ever has been. 

Trust Across America - Trust Around the World (TAA-TAW) is the product of the vision and focused action of Barbara Brooks Kimmel, the CEO and Cofounder of Trust Across America-Trust Around the World, whose mission is to help organizations build trust. Now in its seventh year, the program's proprietary FACTS® Framework ranks and measures the trustworthiness of over 1,500 US public companies on five quantitative indicators of trust. Barbara also runs the world largest global Trust Alliance, and is the editor of the award winning TRUST INC. book series and a Managing Member at FACTS® Asset Management, a NJ registered investment advisor. Barbara has made trust her agenda in quite a unique way. I was keen to find out why and learn more about her work: 

Me: When was your a-ha moment that trust was a pivotal factor for healthy business and society?
Barbara: That moment came at the height of the financial crisis in 2008 when CEOs would announce on a Friday that their balance sheets were strong and then declare bankruptcy over the weekend. I started thinking about what trust meant at the organizational level and started searching the internet for resources. I quickly realized that there was no central "clearinghouse" or website where one could go to find information on organizational trust and trustworthiness. Inherently I knew that trust played a very large role in the health of business and society, but frankly, was unaware at the time just how large that role was.

Me: What are the key challenges facing organizations that are trying to build trust ? 
Barbara: Most of the work we do at TAA-TAW focuses on public companies, although all organizations regardless of the type, tend to have similar issues. The biggest challenge is leadership. Trust is usually taken for granted. It's certainly not something that proactively comes up in meetings of Boards of Directors or CEOs, unless they are faced with a crisis, and there is certainly no budget. Trust is built over time and in incremental steps. There are so many competing forces in public companies- quarterly earnings, analysts expectations, CEO compensation and tenure, etc. That's why we have focused on building the Business Case for Trust via our FACTS® Framework. FACTS is a holistic quantitative measurement of the trustworthiness of public companies, compiled from independent third party data providers. In other words, companies do not know they are being evaluated nor do they pay us any fee. With 8 years of data, we see strong correlations between the most trustworthy public companies and long-term profitability. My message to Boards and CEOs is that without organizational trust decisions take longer, employee turnover is high, innovation slows and profits erode. Place trust on your agenda. Start meeting the needs of all your stakeholders, not just your shareholders, and your profits will increase.

Me: What was your prime motivation in developing the Top Thought Leaders in Trust Awards program?
Barbara: There are people who have devoted their entire careers to building organizational trust across every functional area of an organization. These same people should be hailed as heroes and be celebrated. Seven years ago there was no mechanism for doing this. Now there is. Perhaps the recognition opens doors for these folks to make a greater impact.

Me: Tell us a little more about the Trust Alliance? What does the Alliance achieve? 
Barbara: I started the Alliance 5 years ago to bring like minded professionals together to build tools and resources that would enhance both our website and society at large. Very little existed before the Alliance was formed. Now when visitors come to our website, there is an almost endless supply of organizational trust resources and tools. I love to connect members that have complimentary interests and watch new relationships flourish that already have a head start on trust. Understanding that trust is both holistic and global, so is our membership. We don't actively solicit new members but welcome them when they find us. It's a global group.

Me: What's top of your agenda in advancing trust in the coming year or two?
Barbara: Within the next several months we will have the ability to issue "flash reports" to public companies who have an interest in elevating organizational trustworthiness but don't know where to start. The reports will provide a good overview of where the company stands in relation to its peers. These will be driven by our FACTS ® data and provide a mechanism to get companies on the right road, at least those that want to be there! Imagine if every company published their FACTS score in their annual report! With so many years of data there is also quite a bit of interest building both in and outside the financial community. We are discussing licensing with many organizations. This is good for business and for society over the long term and will remain our focus over the next few years.

Thank you Barbara for making trust your thing and for your contribution to making trust our thing. Thank you to all the Top Thought Leaders in Trust for making our world better. 

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Trust Across America 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award honoree, Ice Cream Addict, Author of Understanding G4: the Concise Guide to Next Generation Sustainability Reporting  AND  Sustainability Reporting for SMEs: Competitive Advantage Through Transparency AND CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices . Contact me via Twitter (@elainecohen)  or via my business website   (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm).  Need help writing your first / next Sustainability Report? Contact elaine: 

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