Trust is the quality that underpins all strong relationships and effective networking. It is something that I talk about in almost every programme I run and the one quality that can, above almost everything else, affect the progress of your career or bring down your business. Yet has the very nature of trust changed?
In his article for the Daily Telegraph earlier this month, advertising executive and author Charles Vallance argued that we have moved from a deferential system of trust to a referential one. The generation of Charles' and my parents were brought up to automatically trust people and organisations in positions of authority. Trust could only be taken away, and not necessarily easily.
Now trust has to be earned. No one individual or organisation can claim to be entitled to trust in the same way. Teachers, police, politicians and bankers have to fight for their reputations and we are automatically cynics when we first hear them speak. Trust no longer automatically resides in its old habitats, many people would now give more credence to whistleblowers or Wikileaks than Obama or Cameron.
Word of mouth marketing has thrived in this environment. E-commerce sites from Amazon and Tripadvisor to the smallest hotels and restaurants have recognised the importance of peer reviews in helping people to make buying decisions. We are more likely to trust the word of people we have never met before (and can't even be sure actually exist) than the promises of the vendor themselves. If I want to watch a film, I'll look at reviews on Imdb first. If I want to read a book I'll see what people are saying on Goodreads.com.
Once negative word of mouth has taken hold and trust in an organisation is diminished, it can be very difficult for them to recover the situation. I've just come back from a trip to Ireland where trust in banking is at an all time low due to the release of damning tapes of bankers at Anglo Irish Bank (AIB) discussing how to 'game' the system and laughing at the bail out the bank received as the financial crisis hit.
Suddenly anyone who has worked for AIB in the past is rushing to amend their LinkedIn profiles to remove the tarnished name from their CVs, irrespective of whether they were involved in the scandal hit area of the bank or not. The name of the bank itself is now toxic.
In his article, Vallance makes an interesting point about the naming of companies. He states that we have moved to an age where fewer companies put their founders' names over the door. Brands use slick, marketable names that are "more transferable and more tradeable". What companies gain in marketing and exit potential may be lost in terms of trust.
"Perhaps we lose something in the process", suggests Vallance. "That one level of extra integrity that a person's name brings. Perhaps it is just a semantic point, but perhaps not. Had Google been called Page and Brin, I wonder whether they might have been inclined to pay a bit more UK tax."
Vallance makes a strong argument. The phrase 'not in my name' springs to mind. Ever since the set up of my business I have often battled over the question of whether it is right to trade just in my name rather than find a slick, more marketable, company name. But the fact that it is my name over the door surely impacts on how strongly I protect my reputation and do everything I can to ensure people trust me.
I'd like to think I'd behave the same under any brand name but it is much easier to let go if your brand doesn't carry your own name.
What do you think?