10 minute read 20 Jan 2020
Kelly Grier WEF Blog Post

Three Key Principles to Build Sustainable Trust in the Transformative Age

By Kelly Grier

US Chair and Managing Partner and Americas Managing Partner – Emeritus

Inclusive leader. Change maker. Passionate about giving back and building future leaders. Lifetime Chicago White Sox fan. Wife and mom. Avid runner and traveler.

10 minute read 20 Jan 2020

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. 

At the end of the day, people build trust and technology enables it.

That’s why we’ve developed new innovation centers and built interdisciplinary teams. That’s why we’ve connected our offices across the globe—and why our clients trust us with some of the biggest decisions and most complicated transactions in the world.

As businesses become increasingly complex, they need a wide bench of talent and expertise to build and maintain trust. They need companies that aren’t afraid to evolve to stay ahead of the curve.

As business leaders, we owe it to each other, and to all our stakeholders, to do whatever it takes to come up with the solutions this moment demands. That means deploying every tool in our toolbelt—and actively seeking out new ones, too.

3. Work from the inside out.

Trust can often feel like something companies must build from the outside. But in fact, it’s just the opposite. In order to earn your clients’ and consumers’ trust—not to mention the public’s trust—you first have to earn trust internally. That starts with building a strong culture of belonging and inclusion.

When employees feel like they belong—when they’re encouraged to bring their whole selves and their own ideas to the table—they’re more engaged, more effective, and more likely to unleash their full innovative potential.

At EY, belonging and inclusion often start at the team level. Our team-based culture has always been our trademark, and it’s driven by a conviction that success cannot be achieved—or measured—individually. Never before has that principle been truer—in this dynamic, Transformative Age. The era of the “rock star,” in other words, is over.

These teams are designed to bring together diverse perspectives. But they’re also about fostering a culture of mutual support. It’s about making sure that everyone in the organization feels equally empowered to speak up, whether they’re at the lunch table or in the conference room.

The most successful projects are those that were grounded in teamwork and collaboration, which are built through belonging. That’s what makes it possible for people to raise issues before they become red alarms, to share constructive criticism and difficult feedback, to learn and grow rather than try to hide mistakes.

Only when a collaborative, inclusive culture is embedded within your organization can you begin to build trust beyond it.

Only when a collaborative, inclusive culture is embedded within your organization can you begin to build trust beyond it.

In this age of transformation, trust is more elusive and more important than ever. As the world around us evolves at lightning speed, clients, consumers, and employees everywhere are searching for leaders who are accountable, transparent and inclusive, and willing to evolve—leaders who are, in a word, trusted.

As our organizations continue to contend with these changes, one thing is readily apparent: no single initiative or statement is going to win a company trust, once and for all. Earning trust takes time, it takes thought, and it takes concentrated effort. It’s not enough for us to tell people that we’re trustworthy—we have to earn that trust by proving it. So, let’s get to work.




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