In business, nothing is more essential—or more fragile—than trust.
At EY, trust has always been one of our core values. It’s embedded in our institutional DNA. And it’s central to the work we do with our clients each and every day.
Whether I’m meeting with regulators, or an audit committee, or a CEO who’s looking for a partner to lead an internal transformation, questions about trust loom large, explicitly or implicitly. It’s a subject that’s top of mind for every successful business leader, and for good reason. In business, our colleagues want to know they can count on each other, our clients want to know they can trust our work, and the public wants to know that we are acting with integrity and purpose.
But today, building trust is harder than ever. Over the last decade, we’ve seen a consistent decline of trust in our institutions. The world is becoming both more connected and more complex. And as disruptive new technologies upend the economy as we know it, people everywhere are worried they’ll be left behind.
So, how do companies earn trust? And, just as important, how do they maintain it?
At EY, we’ve helped leaders of businesses across all industries grapple with these questions. And we’ve seen that, time and again, building trust starts with understanding three key principles.
1. You can’t have trust without accountability.
For any company to succeed, each and every one of its employees—from CEO all the way down—must be accountable. This means creating an environment where people step up, understand their role on a project, and take responsibility for it—and everyone knows where the buck ultimately stops.
Achieving organizational trust is predicated on role clarity and leadership transparency in everything you do. At EY, we often undertake massively complicated transactions—ranging from mergers to digital transformations—that require buy-in from individuals all across our organization. One of the first steps that we take in these situations is to map out responsibilities, so if things go wrong, or someone has a question, every member of the team knows exactly which decision-maker to call. At the same time, it is critical that leaders bring a high degree of transparency in articulating the issues at hand, and the corresponding imperative to act.
Equally important is cultivating a sense of ownership across an organization. If we want our employees to feel empowered to drive a project forward, we have to give them not just the guardrails, but also the flexibility to chart the course that realizes the agreed objectives.
At the end of the day, accountability isn’t just about how you run a business; it’s about how you run your teams—with transparency, clarity and empowerment. When team members are aligned in their goals and clear-eyed about what they’re responsible for, they’re better positioned to get things done. They’re more likely to lean on each other. And they’re more inclined to forge relationships of trust that help them—and their clients—do their best work.
2. Trust can’t be taken for granted—and our organizations need to evolve to maintain it.
In 2015, EY was brought on to handle one of the most complicated transactions in recent memory. Two giants of industry announced a colossal merger: they would come together in a deal worth $120 billion, and then split into three separate companies over the next few years.
A transaction like this meant handling many moving parts and overseeing many different processes. What made these two companies choose EY over its competitors? In the end, it came down to trust.
At EY, we’ve long understood that our own evolution is a core business priority: in an increasingly complex world, we can no longer rely on the business models that got us where we are today. Instead, we all need to take advantage of every tool at our disposal, build multidisciplinary teams, and engage new partners. Clients expect that we bring the essential combination of expertise—the human element—enabled by leading technologies, and not the other way around. At the end of the day, people build trust and technology enables it.