Build trust and protect reputation by doing what you say

Part of the Effective Communication series from Pinch Yourself Communication

A telecommunications company with dropouts in its broadband service; a grocery chain that accidentally charges customers twice for the same groceries; a big bank that fails to detect and stop money laundering transactions; a CEO who continues to fly first class while saying everyone must tighten their belts to cut costs; and a colleague who fails to meet an agreed deadline.

These issues have more in common than might appear at face value.

Each issue involves a question around whether a person or business has done what they said – either explicitly or implicitly – they would do.

Meeting expectations

Their promise may have been:

  • Expressly stated by an individual – I will meet a deadline / all of us need to do our part to help cut costs,
  • Stated as part of their brand – you can trust us with your credit card details / we deliver outstanding broadband service, or
  • Expected as part of running a compliant, law-abiding business – we won’t facilitate criminal activity.

While there are numerous legal, ethical and operational issues involved in the examples cited, ultimately each issue also involves some sort of gap between people’s expectations and reality.

Nothing destroys trust faster than saying you will do one thing, then failing to deliver, or doing something else entirely.

This, and the simple failure to do the right thing, are at the heart of many reputation issues.

Building and protecting reputation

Understanding this relatively simple concept and putting in place processes to ensure you consistently ‘do what you say’ is a powerful and authentic tool to build trust and enhance your reputation – both as a business leader and as an organisation.

READ MORE about authentic communication on the Pinch Yourself Communication blog:Why authentic communication is like learning to downhill ski

However if something does go wrong – which can happen in even the best-run and most well-intentioned organisations – this knowledge can also play an essential part in how a leader or a business can respond and recover.

Once you announce how you plan to fix an issue, you need to get on with doing what you have promised to do and reporting your progress. This will enable people to track your progress and measure you against your word. Continually meeting those expectations will slowly rebuild the trust and help to repair reputation.

This is a notion which has stood the test of time, as reflected in the number of well-known sayings that embody it.

For example:
Walking the talk – unknown
Talk the talk, walk the walk – unknown
Don’t make empty promises – unknown
Live what you teach – Anthony Robbins
Practice what you preach – unknown
Live up to expectations – unknown
Actions speak louder than words – unknown
An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching – Mahatma Gandhi

Whichever way you prefer to describe it, the principle remains the same. If your actions are not aligned with your words, you are going to have a gap that has the potential to impact your reputation and the trust of your staff, customers and other stakeholders.

There’s another established saying about reputation that also holds true: good reputations can take years to build and can be damaged in minutes.

It’s worth taking the time to review where you or your business may not be living up to your promises, and do the work to ensure you’re doing what you say you will do.

What are your experiences with ‘doing what you say’?
Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below



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Mairi Barton is a strategic communication and public affairs leader who has influenced and delivered outcomes at the highest levels of the Australian corporate, government and non-profit sectors. Mairi is the founder and Chief Executive of strategic communication agency Pinch Yourself Communication. She is an award-winning former journalist who served in the Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery in Canberra. Mairi enjoys photography and posts to her Instagram gallery: @pinchmyself