Editorial: Why trust is not a soft issue

Who do you trust? The government? Marmite? Michael Fish? Persil? George Bush? Your spouse? Northern Rock? Radiohead? The weather? Innocent? Your kids? Tesco? MT? - we hope so.

by Matthew Gwyther, MT Editor
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

This is not a frivolous question. The issue of trust in business is a red-hot one at the moment and firms that are found untrustworthy by their customers and the public can pay a heavy commercial price, which might savage their bottom line.

Our article on trust gives the vexed question a thorough airing, right from the crisis that has befallen the poor old BBC - its staff are wearing hairshirts after 'Crowngate' and the voting scandal that attended the naming of the Blue Peter cat - to why globalisation might have loosened the emotional ties between business and society. There's no doubt that the relationship between my mother and her grocer down the road in the 1960s was very different from what exists between the Gwythers and their supermarket now.

I find the whole debate slightly bewildering. I don't particularly trust those who provide me with goods and services - Ryanair, my barber down by Hammersmith tube station, Pret A Manger, where I get my lunchtime sandwich, or Lambeth Council, which takes away my rubbish each week and makes me wait a month to register the birth of my child. But that doesn't mean I despise them or find them dishonest. They can make mistakes that irritate me, but I'd hope that they're just trying to do an honest job.

I see trust as a deeply emotional thing to do with personal relationships, and I don't have an intimate relationship with, say, Ocado. I do business with it and expect it to give me what I ask and pay for. I like its ethos, its punctuality, its polite staff - who drive at only 28 mph - and its tie-up with John Lewis, but I don't want to get up close, personal and cuddly with it. I'm happy for the firm just to deliver my groceries. It's a relationship based on utility.

But I'm in a minority here. Trust matters, and it's not a soft issue. Just ask Carolyn McCall, boss of Guardian Media Group, who is our cover subject this month. Cynics might say it's easy to do the right thing and compete when you are owned by the Scott Trust, where profit-making is a means to an end, rather than an end in itself. But McCall is a great leader in a special organisation. The Guardian newspaper and its outstanding website Unlimited are adored by their customers. Woe betide the outfit if it does anything to betray that intimacy.

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