Trust is the Bedrock Beneath Every Lead With We Business — Part 8 “The Virtuous Spiral of Trust”

This post is the last in a series of eight that examines the bedrock beneath every Lead With We business: Trust that builds reputation, culture, sales, and loyalty during a time of crisis.

Trust among your employees, partners, and consumers necessitate the need for businesses to articulate early and clearly what it stands for. It all loops back to developing your Lead With We purpose- and trust-building strategies.

To review, in order to elevate the humanity of your brand to the point of becoming as trustworthy as possible, you need to discover what specific cultural conversation your business will Lead. What problem(s) are you uniquely qualified to address? What can you contribute to your customers’ lives?

In this way, you can grow your business even as you wholly commit to humanity and the planet — even during our current unprecedented confluence of crises. In fact, relevance and long-term prosperity for your business will absolutely depend on it.

How you get there is to radically reimagine and reengineer your business — all business — based on the idea of collectivized purpose. You express it in co-creative ways that can bring to life an effectual movement, rather than just a series of transactions.

What do I mean by “co-create?” You can think about that as a two-stage process: Both internal and external. Look at the diagram here. The “Virtuous Spiral” of Transcendent Business demonstrates visually how to Lead With We, building trust from the top-down, bottom-up, and inside out.

First, in formulating and executing your business practices, include to the extent you can as many of the stakeholders in your business’s local system, its obvious sphere of influence, i.e., your employees. Form a consortium of the departments/divisions/responsibilities of all the various bubbles that make up your business.

Lead them all to work in chorus — e.g., your PR and HR departments, your sales staff, your partners — whereby all essential “big picture” policies, decisions, and actions pass through a vigorous decision engine based on the central purpose that everyone trusts is good and right.

This will automatically translate to a better work culture. Research from Harvard reveals that workers at companies where trust is high report 106 percent greater energy in the workplace, 74 percent lower stress levels, 76 percent greater engagement, and 50 percent more productivity than their peers at low-trust businesses.

When you’ve achieved this, then move up and out to your partners, e.g. those in your supply chain. Work on ensuring you all share similar values. Learn from each other. Employ best practices.

Getting all this internal buy-in has been long detailed in plenty of books and courses, including my own. The key variance that can supercharge the usual attempts here is that we’re considering all-purpose here as universalized. Think of it this way: All individual purposes are united by a common quest to Lead With We.

Yes, your purpose will express itself in various forms, depending on the specifics of your business, but everyone must share the same central purpose if we’re to survive as a society and species.

Because repetition leads to automation, I’ll reiterate: Everyone’s purpose must become the same — to serve the collective. That regenerative future of business is in our grasp. The future of life, work, and growth in which We, together, succeed in business while we restore and protect the social and living systems on which all our futures depend.

The more we all do that, the sooner we’ll all create the energy necessary for the momentum we’ll need to grow outward into previously inaccessible realms. And the stronger the trust we’ll enjoy.

So, start to Lead from wherever you sit in the Spiral, and assemble a crew of “We” from among your stakeholders, to exponentially widen your We by leading up the line into broader and broader realms, always aiming for the widest possible, obviously constructive and progressive, sway. To understand always that the whole is always going to be greater than the sum of its parts.

Remember that ecosystems thrive on all members taking responsibility. If some stakeholders abrogate their responsibility, the efforts of those that do are less valuable — even wasted. This is an all-or-nothing game. But it’s also a positive-sum game. If all of us participate, then we all benefit — all boats rise.

That means you must leverage your hard-won Lead With We purpose, and how well you’ve embedded it across your internal company culture — and take that purpose out into the world of your customers, consumers, and their lives, whereby all the stakeholders voluntarily do the work of communicating on your business’s behalf. They become brand ambassadors.

Keep in mind that this kind of “community architecture” begins with the company and its leadership, who continually communicate and clarify the business purpose, then co-create, co-author, and co-own with all shareholders in our collective future responsibility — limitless opportunities — for improving the world, even as every boat rises, and business profits climb.

At that point, your movement builds out into the world at large. Still in collaboration with employees, customers, and consumers — but now also with NGOs, governments, investors, industry coalitions, and even competitors. It begins to affect the culture at large, changing society.

A word of warning about not eroding trust along the way. Your Lead With We initiatives should always reach for, embrace, and uplift the collective. Always ask, “Who’s this With?” and “What We are we serving?”

Some critics of Lead With We thinking erroneously argue that purposeful business presumes that companies implicitly position themselves as heroes or saviors. The opposite is true. The point here is that We are all on the hook and that With and only With each other, we can Lead our way out of our various messes.

I stress this is not about brands or executives presuming to come to everyone’s rescue — that’s a surefire way to damage trust. It’s about all stakeholders who represent or interact in some way with the business world — AKA everyone, The We — jointly enabling solutions at scale.

The 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals that business holds onto its position as the most trusted institution, with even greater expectations considering the perception of the government’s mishandling of the pandemic. “By an average of five-to-one margin, respondents in the 28 countries surveyed want business to play a larger role on climate change, economic inequality, workforce reskilling and addressing racial injustice.”

All stakeholders want business to “fill the void,” according to the survey. Almost 6 in 10 consumers buy brands based on their values and beliefs, and 6 in 10 employees choose a workplace based on shared values. Employees expect their CEO to take a stand on societal issues. More than 6 in 10 investors seek businesses aligned with their values.

Inherent in your business purpose, trustworthiness must become a fundamental fiber of your brand DNA. It’s a base ingredient in your communications strategy, company culture, supply chain management, choice of partners, community relations, product development and innovation, marketing and sales, and impact programs. It drives the reputation, relevance, and reach that support your revenue streams.

At We First, we trust that business is the most logical, well-resourced, and most responsible entity for solving the world’s interrelated challenges. We also trust in the inherent goodness of most people. We trust in our collective connection to nature, which we can mimic and model our business structure, behaviors, and interactions on.

We trust that business overall is moving in the right direction, thanks in large part to more scrutiny occasioned by the ubiquity and influence of social media — but also because of increased awareness of the challenges we face, and our foreshortened timelines.

With more than half of people across the globe believing capitalism as its currently practiced does more harm than good, we trust that together, We can develop and support a more equitable, less damaging, and more humane system in which businesses can thrive even as the world gets better.

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Simon Mainwaring

Simon Mainwaring

Founder/CEO brand consultancy, We First, bestselling author of We First and Lead With We, host of podcast, Lead With We.