Authenticity, Trust and reliability in business

Last week I spoke at a conference in Stockholm titled “Corporate Reliability – who can you trust?  The topic ties in very well with the the Holos four steps to Sustained Success and our Swedish partner Time to Performance’s work on Corporate Reliability, which was the inspiration for the conference topic.

The four stages to Sustained Success are:

1- is Fix – for organisations that are in stress after some sort of crisis
2 – is Reliability – creating a culture of reliability which can increase available leadership bandwidth
3 – is Ensurance – understanding and managing cultural and systemic risk
4 – is Adaptability – where organisations are ready to take on the megatrends and create an innovation culture

We find that most  clients are keen to get to “Adaptability” and Sustained Success –  an organisational system and culture that enables reliable and safe day to day running while at the same time embodying the adaptability and innovation to keep moving forwards.

However there is no direct route from Stage 1 “Fix” or  Stage 2 “Reliability” to Stage 4 “Adaptability”.  Organisations have to gradually build up, increasing leadership bandwidth and capability and cultural agility, before reaching stage 4 “Adaptability”.

Stage 2 Reliability is the critical foundational layer of Sustained Success and the topic of the talk last week.

We start with a question: At what point do we consider “others” and “ourselves” to be late for a meeting?  Asking the audience to raise their hands for 1, 5 and 10 minutes.  For “others” the majority choose 5 minutes, while for “themselves” they chose 1 minute, about 25% went for each of the other options for both questions.

So our first observation is that we calibrate reliability differently.

Another calibration is in communication and particularly the difference between “promises”and “aspirations”.  If we agree a meeting time and I hear it as a promise, but you mean it as an aspiration, there is a high probability of disappointment.  If a company makes a statement without being clear (internally or externally) about which it is the effect is the same.

If increasing “Trust” is part of the reason why we want to improve reliability then we also need to understand reliability in the context of trust.  The “Trust Equation” is helpful for this:  Trust = reliability + competence + intimacy divided by self orientation.

On this basis reliability alone is not sufficient to create and build trust, we also need relevant competence and sufficient knowledge of each other.  Perhaps the biggest element of all is Self Orientation.  For us as individuals, this is perhaps less of an issue, but for corporations seeking to build or rebuild trust it can be more challenging.

For this reason corporations whose “cause” (purpose and vision) and culture are directed towards shareholder value or profitability are Self Orientated at a fundamental level and will always find it difficult to build trust with customers and even staff.   Trust will always be easier when “other” orientation is embedded at a cultural level and when profit and shareholder value are allowed to be an outcome of the successful pursuit of that “other” orientation.

Reliability itself is made up of a set of components – Reliability is defined by the difference between what we say and what we do and also the difference between what we actually do and what we say about what we do – The authenticity gap.

For organisations to be reliable there has to be close cooperation between the communication functions, like sales and marketing, and the production and fulfilment functions, such as factories, call centres and shipping.  Historically  over-promising has been part of inter-company competition, often with insufficient commitment do delivery.

Take the story of the Amagasaki train crash in 2005.  Competition between train operators lead to highly ambitions time tabling of commuter trains with strong incentives for punctuality.  A driver trying to make up 30 seconds, arrived too fast at a station and overshot the platform, meaning he had to back up and costing him another 60 seconds.  Now 90 seconds late, he took a corner too fast, the train derailed and hit a building.  162 people died.

With the equipment available the timetable was aspirational and the accident was the consequence of communicating it as a promise.  In order to make that promise the railway would have had to invest in faster trains, better track or other infrastructure that could have made that timetable safe.

In the digital age with tools like TripAdvisor available, companies have to be all the more careful about the promises they make and the tensions between what they say and what they do.  Today we have to assume that transparency is inevitable and design our organisations, incentives and cultures accordingly.

Holos and Time to Performance have developed robust tools and processes to improve promise adherence in organisations.  Promise adherence and reliability start with leadership and also start internally.  A culture that cannot be punctual to meetings or deliver on agreed actions from meetings will find it extremely difficult to deliver on promises to customers or shareholders.

The other key dynamic is to calibrate promises, identify the priority promises we are going to invest in keeping and then make plans, processes and responsible incentives to encourage promise adherence in the organisation.

At Holos we have been studying change leadership and leadership training in the crucible of reality for years. We know what great leadership looks like and we know the journey to achieve it. We have developed a suite of diagnostic tools to understand where companies and teams are on this journey and how to take them from there to sustained success.

Holos has a wealth of specialist leadership and culture coaches and consultants with decades of experience working with a huge variety of leaders. Holos can help you or your organisation to upgrade it’s leadership to flourish even in a challenging business environment.

Please share your ideas, comment and discuss here – click on the blog title and scroll to the bottom to find the comment box.

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Neil Crofts

+447803 774239






About Neil Crofts

Writer, coach and consultant on authentic business and authentic leadership. Neil has inspired and motivated hundreds organisations and thousands of individuals to their highest potential. Neil has written three published books and numerous e-books. Neil is a coach, facilitator and consultant helping people and businesses find their authentic purpose and use it to inspire and motivate them to be everything that they can be. Neil has raced cars, been self-employed, run a company and sold it, been employed by large companies, experienced growth and contraction at the heart of the dotcom boom, tried changing companies from the inside and from the outside as European Head of Strategy at internet consultancy/rock band Razorfish. Neil has been independent for over 10 years and delivered his Authentic Leadership message to a diverse range of business audiences including people at BP, Shell, Microsoft, Kraft Foods, MSN, Jamie Oliver, South Gloucestershire Council, National Blood Transfusion Service, KaosPilots Business School, Fashion company By Malene Birger, German technology company Eleven.
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