Build trust in your business relationships

Don't worry - I'm going to spare you another article on setting goals. January is full of advice on making 2014 the best year ever. I roll out my goal-setting techniques in an annual workshop that I believe works, but even I'm tired of hearing everyone's version. Instead, let's hit another hot topic: trust.

Relationships are built on trust. When trust is broken, it is tough, and sometimes impossible, to regain it. And a brand is built on trust, too. In spite of the fancy lingo, a brand is nothing more than a promise a business makes to its customers, employees and stakeholders. What really matters is how it fulfills that promise.

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If you doubt that concept, there are lots of examples. Take Lance Armstrong - his lies caused his personal brand to crumble like a house of cards.

More recently, Lululemon was left reeling from founder Chip Wilson's controversial comments blaming customers' weight for the company's product shortcomings. Amidst outrage and lawsuits, Wilson is stepping down and a board director will take over as the organization goes into damage repair.

Positive brand image can result in huge profits, but the opposite can happen when it turns out the founder isn't exactly what everyone thought he was and start to mistrust product quality. The code of authenticity and trust has been broken.

And those two qualities - authenticity and trust - are no longer optional in business. Focus has moved back towards building relationships and conducting business in a way that ensures accountability and integrity.

So what can business leaders do to build trust? Here are some basics.

Lead by example. If those at the top of the hierarchy endorse a culture of trust and work at ensuring promises are fulfilled, employees will follow and deliver if they are given the chance.

Be human. Human beings relate to other human beings and communication is key to ensuring that happens. What do your customers want and what, specifically, will you do to give them what they want? Don't promise what you can't deliver and deliver what you promise.

Can you hear me now? Social media gives everyone a far-reaching voice. Businesses that listen to what is being said, and in turn act on any criticisms, will build trust exponentially.

Say 'I'm sorry.' Apologizing when something is wrong is common decency and good manners. Don't make excuses, don't blame and justify. Instead, just apologize and fix it. In doubt? Take Republican presidential hopeful Chris Christie's 108-minute apology and claim of innocence over the traffic jam debacle on the George Washington Bridge. Time will tell if his apology worked.

Think forward. Building a culture of trust should be in all facets of your business planning and fostered throughout your organization. Your customers, employees and stakeholders should feel that your company stands behind its promise and delivers without exception.

At Lighthouse Visionary Strategies, Cathy Goddard offers business and life coaching, workshops and the popular Open Forum speaker series events. She is founder of Lighthouse Mentor Network, providing mentor groups to local professionals. Cathy can be reached at info@lighthousevisionary.com

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