Building trust: why business is about more than money

 Over the past few months, much has been written about the importance of re-establishing greater trust in business Chris Sheppardson says it’s time for real change in terms of building trust and putting people first 

This year, Forbes magazine quoted that 63% of employees do not trust their leadership teams and this is a genuine cause for concern in business and one that does need to be considered.

There is also a wealth of research from charities such as Mind, a UK based charity providing help and support to people with mental health problems, that detail the problems associated with increased loneliness and isolation as well as the rising levels of mental illness and depression. This is arguably a harder problem to solve as it does mean there needs to be a change, not so much in the mindset of people but certainly in behaviours in the workplace.

One of the core issues is that business models are constantly strained and under pressure, everything is too focused on the bottom line; on profit – and it’s all very transactional. ‘Cash is king’ and leaders are stretching their teams, pushing for more productivity and more revenue – yet little is being put back into the workforce to make businesses sustainable and successful for the long term.

The biggest loser
Everyone is under pressure. Leaders are doing their best to find a balance and keep business prices under control as organisations grow their margins. Teams are struggling to be aligned to that leadership; unhappy workforces on the rise and the gap between leaders and employees is growing – the biggest loser is trust and culture.

At the same time the traditional pillars of society have broken down and become more transactional in their approach. Evidence of this can be seen in banks, GP practices, solicitors and accountants. Business needs to strive stand for more, because the drive for increased profits at any cost is undermining business.

Leadership rhetoric focuses on improving trust but few leaders actually walk the talk. Trust builds more than just relationships in business; it builds loyalty, care, support and long-term business. We all fail and fall down at some time in our lives but the point is that we do need to strive to ensure that business today has a greater level of trust at the forefront.

Can we learn from team-based areas like the sports industry?
I’ve long believed that the lack of trust and culture within business is becoming an increasing problem and that team-focused industries such as the sports industry  could offer some valuable lessons and insight to business from which to learn, but there appears to be a bigger and closer remit. .

The more I speak to companies the more I realise that a lack of trust is becoming a key issue across all levels as business models become stressed and more is being asked of employees. Leadership and management teams are struggling and something needs to be done.

A strong culture is crucial to success and allows teams to grow as well as support the natural development of leaders within business. This has been proven in several case studies throughout the ages.  

Good culture is almost more important than training because a culture of trust equals greater pride and belief in the business and that in turn leads to higher staff retention, higher productivity and greater customer service. It’s also no secret that great customer service increases revenue  and creates new leaders. This, in turn, takes the pressure off other leaders and builds sustainable long-term businesses and teams. 

Forget about the price tag
The big surprise for business on improving working culture is that there is no mention of the word ‘money’ at all because culture builds success so increased revenue is inevitable.

The above premise deals with key areas such as productivity, emerging talent, retention, and sustainable profit. There are many articles talking about the issues and the complexity of solving them – yet the real answer is far simpler – culture, trust and internal comms sit at the heart of solving the issue and this is proven.

Leaders do not have the available time to give as they once did and they are under more pressure, as models are being stretched and pressurised. This has to change.

Research indicates that losing and replacing a middle manager can cost up to five times their salary when all of the factors are taken into account; from recruitment to induction to lost relationships.  

The facts are staring us in the face so we have to make a change
Confidence in institutions is at an all-time low. By 2021, it is estimated that more than 40% of employees will be working as part of the gig economy or on a freelance basis, which will make people more of a premium cost.

There is a break down in trust between employees and HR and only according to research from my own organisation EP Innovates, 27% of employees believe HR is effective.

Data from a seminar I attended showed that only 31% of customers expect great customer service levels and 58% believe customer service levels have declined in the last decade.

According to EP research, only 20% of employees believe they are valued or part of a good team.

One can argue over the rights and wrongs of these statistics but it is clear that there is less trust in leadership, in HR and in companies. Customers also lack the confidence in the service that they receive.

There is sadly a great loneliness at work and a decreasing team ethos so leaders need to raise the bar.

The above is simply not acceptable, the time is now for real change – so let’s start with building trust and putting people first again.


By Chris Sheppardson, serial entrepreneur and CEO at EP Innovates, an organisation designed to recognise and support the innovation that entrepreneurs and smaller businesses bring to the future economy (