In the wake of the VW emissions scandal, I have been thinking about the role trust plays in relationships, both private and corporate. One of the worrying things about the scandal is the fact that the device installed to defeat emissions tests was a deliberate, planned fraud against US pollution reduction laws, against the consumers who bought the cars, and some would say, against every breathing being on the planet.
Consider the ripple effect that has and might result in this exposure: Already the CEO of Volkswagen has taken responsibility by resigning, although his expressed shock at the exposure is now being seen as mere lip service as more facts emerge. The company’s value has plummeted and class action suits have been filed. Parts suppliers will be affected, and a large chunk of the 370 000 people (and their families) employed by VW in 21 countries around the world could potentially lose their jobs.
This is not a problem that is going to be contained within one company. In fact the reputation of all German engineering could be besmirched by association. For instance, Bosch developed the software and although Bosch warned against installing it in cars, one would have to consider why Bosch developed emissions test defeating software at all.
Trust underpins all good relationships. And if we look at this particular case, the fall-out is enormous. Trust has disappeared between VW and its current customers, environmental agencies in countries where its cars are sold, its supply chain, its country of origin, and even its own employees. I can imagine that the worst position in the motoring world right now would be a VW salesperson. Exposed on the front line of customer anger, unable to make target and unwittingly complicit in someone else’s crime.
How do you avoid a breakdown in trust?
- Admit mistakes early and go out of your way to fix them – no person or company is perfect, and pretending that you are just means that when something goes wrong, it will go wrong in spectacular style. Admitting to being fallible, but stepping up to correct mistakes is a sure-fire way of winning loyalty.
- Integrity, integrity and (yes, you guessed it) integrity – We have blogged about it before – there is no such thing as a minor lapse of integrity. If a company or individual sets out to deliberately deceive, they might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later things fall apart.
- Do a secrecy audit – There is a huge difference between confidentiality and secrecy. If there are too many secrets being kept, then change is needed. Secrets being defined as information about practices that are unethical or illegal.
- If you can’t do something honestly, don’t do it. If you have to lie and cheat to get something, it may gain you something in the short term, but consider if it is worth it. VW finally made it to the top spot this year, but not for long and at what cost?
- Dare to disagree – keeping quiet makes you a partner in the deceit. Speaking up might be unpleasant, but the long term consequences may be worse.
- Rigorous internal scrutiny – it doesn’t matter what the competition are up to if your own foundations are built on treacherous ground. What processes are put in place to prevent bad practices from taking root?
This may all seem obvious – but the fact that one of the biggest car manufacturers in the world has breached trust in such spectacular fashion means that obvious or not, we can’t be complacent about ethics and trust. It starts within your company, but it doesn’t end there. Who are your suppliers? Do they share your values? Are they prepared to turn down a project if they don’t think it fits their values, or if they don’t think they are the right supplier for the client?
Its not just who we are that counts – its who we associate with too.