In Businesses Should We Trust?

It’s the end of January and I’m still working my way through some of the various top 10/50/100 lists that proliferate at year-end. I have before me one that is a little different. Trust Across America has provided a list of the “Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business Behavior 2012”. 

Your first question has to be “What is Trust Across America”? Well, exploring their website, it looks to be affiliated with “Next Decade, Inc.”, which may mean they have their own agenda. However, continuing to explore the site, there seems to be some interesting work going on here about identifying businesses and operations that have a focus on “trustworthiness”. I’ll let you do your own explorations to determine if you think there is value in what they are doing. But, my first run-through indicates it is at least worth the time to explore.
But, to that top 100…
The list is an interesting collection of authors, business people, and sundry thought leaders. It provides a quick synopsis of why that individual has been included and links to affiliated web sites. It includes some well-known names (e.g., Stephen Covey and Tom Peters), heads of organizations (e.g., David DeLorenzo of Dole, Tony Hsieh of Zappo, and Indra Nooyi of Pepsi), a large number of professors, and a large number of consultants.
Going through the list and the web site, I got to thinking about two different things. The first was wondering how many of the executives in our organizations would be considered for inclusion, or would even think it was important to be included. Many organizations today pay heed to the concept of trust. In particular, it seems I am hearing this more and more about various organizations’ employees – the need to instill trust in the individuals working for the organization. But I have a feeling (no hard facts – just one of those my-gut-is-telling-me moments) that trustworthiness is not one of the big subjects in boardrooms today. Note the significant distinction here - not trust, but trustworthiness. Trust is about how people perceive you; trustworthiness is how you act. Trustworthiness is an evaluation of an organization’s activities versus expectations; Trust is PR.
The second was wondering where this fits in our audit universes/risk universes/things we worry about when we audit. I’ve got no good answer or any real evaluation on that because, to be quite honest, I don’t think I’ve ever thought about this aspect of an organization’s responsibilities. Yes we consider fraud risk, yes we consider reputation risk, yes we consider ethical risk. But I’ve never heard anyone specifically talk about trust. And, even though there is an aspect of it in each of the risks I just listed, I’m wondering if it doesn’t require its own consideration.
No answers here. Just a suggestion that you read through the list, maybe peruse the web site, and then let me know your thoughts. Is this a risk/consideration that auditors should be including in their risk and auditing evaluations? And what role (if any) should this whole concept have in the work we do?

Posted on Jan 29, 2012 by Mike Jacka

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  1. Jack,

    I'm one of the consultants mentioned in the Top 100 Thought Leaders list. I also know the Kimmels, who put together the list of trustworthy companies. I'm also the co-author of The Trusted Advisor, a book known to some in the internal audit business.

    I'm glad that you picked up on the list.

    First, thanks for making the distinction between trust and trustworthiness.  Actually, we should distinguish three terms: Trustworthiness, Ttrusting, and Trust. 

    Trust always has two players: one trusts, the other is trusted.  The first one takes the risk; the second is the one who is trustworthy, or doesn't get trusted.  The result – of one party trusting another – is what we might call trust. 

    You're right that a lot of 'trust' talk is about perception. An example: when someone says, "Trust in banking is down," does that meanbanks are less trustworthy? Or that people are less inclined to trust banks these days?

    If you can't make the distinction, then the question itself is confused. 

    What I and the Kimmels talk about is trustworthiness. In The Trusted Advisor, we defined the Trust Equation as having four components of trustworthiness.  In Kimmels' work on trustworthy companies, they have defined five areas of relevance for a company to be considered trustworthy,reflected in their acronym FACTS. 

    I myself don't think that internal auditors need concern themselves with trust as part of a specific, programmatic effort; trust is notoriously contextual and hard to quantify.  

    But I do think that internal auditors are very well qualified to spot a place that is run in a trustworthy manner, compared to one that isn't. And I suspect they can articulate well to management the cost (e.g. in greater internal audits) of having to counteract the corrosive effects of trust's absence. 

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