Feb 24, 2024

Trust: The currency of success in today’s business landscape

Donald Thompson

by Donald Thompson — August 23, 2023 .

Editor’s note: Veteran entrepreneur and investor Donald Thompson writes a weekly column about management and leadership as well as diversity and other important issues for WRAL TechWire. His columns are published on Wednesdays. Thompson of The Diversity Movement was named an Entrepreneur Of The Year 2023 Southeast Award winner.

Note to readers: WRAL TechWire would like to hear from you about views expressed by our contributors. Please send email to: [email protected].


RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Want a real-time CEO gut-check? Ask yourself a simple question: “Do these people really trust me and my organization: customers, clients, suppliers, shareholders and employees?”

In an era of rampant disinformation and social media-fueled partisanship, trust in many institutions and individuals is at an all-time low. That’s a hard truth for many leaders. People are being bombarded with data, information and opinions from every angle, particularly scrolling through their social media feeds and watching around-the-clock cable channels.

The sea of (dis)information can swamp an organization’s (or an industry’s) brand as quickly as it takes some celebrities to be “canceled.” However, there is an opportunity amid the cacophony – when people are judging you and your company, trust also emerges as the most significant difference-maker between you and your competitors.

The Diversity Movement names Jamie Ousterout chief experience officer

The 2022 Trust Barometer global study conducted by Harvard’s Institute for the Study of Business in Global Society and the Edelman Trust Institute revealed that “Business” is the most trusted institution in the world, with a trust index figure of 61% (for comparison purposes, Government ranked first at 65% in 2020).

With Business moving to the top of the trust ladder, the research revealed that people’s expectations of corporations and senior leaders has also changed. One of the striking results is that 77% of respondents believe “business has societal responsibilities beyond economic value.” It’s clear that strictly operating for shareholder value is no longer adequate.

CEOs specifically are in the spotlight to do more for their employees, communities and society through direct action out ahead of others. According to the study, “CEOs must inform policy and deliver results when it comes to jobs, local community investments, inclusion and sustainability.”

Loss of trust can be catastrophic. For example, Deloitte authors Michael Bondar, Roxana Corduneanu and Natasha Buckley cited an example of three large, global corporations (market caps exceeding $10 billion), which lost between 20% and 56% of their value – some $70 billion – when they lost stakeholder trust.

Given the highly emotive and frequently sensitive culture transformation campaigns and programming The Diversity Movement conducts with its client companies and their teams, I wanted TDM to be an experience-first organization. From the company’s earliest days, my leadership team and I asked: “How can we as a scrappy startup provide world-class client service that enables us to gain the trust of senior leaders, as well as their teams?”

Prioritizing client success under the leadership of Jamie Ousterout, TDM clients reported a 97% satisfaction rate, which speaks to the power of TDM’s product-driven approach as a way to drive authentic cultural evolution and transformation. As we have continued to assess and drive client success, we have also been thoughtful about how we replicate this insight internally – essentially creating a culture of success that becomes part of our company DNA.

To solidify this external/internal focus, we created a new role – Customer Experience Officer (CXO) – and named Ousterout to the position. For me as an entrepreneur and executive, the promotion fulfills two major aims. First, I wanted to signal to our clients and the industry that driving real-world culture change necessitates a focus on operational excellence that has changed with the ever-evolving marketplace. Second, my overriding goal has been to establish TDM as a women-led business, which provides women leaders with opportunities that have often been denied them in the past.

Ousterout brings a focus on strategy and operations to the CXO role, combined with deep insight into the initiatives clients need to achieve their goals. The external/internal focus creates trust with current and future clients, while simultaneously making TDM teams stronger. For example, clients are really interested in retention as a business strategy. As CXO, Ousterout addresses this topic holistically, developing client engagements to create stronger workplaces filled with high-performing teams. In addition, she brings this expertise in-house, ensuring that TDM’s retention strategies are best-in-class and built for long-term success.

“In today’s marketplace, organizational excellence is a key differentiator,” Ousterout explains. “Studies have shown that customer experience is a powerful tool to reimagine how a company engages with its clients and employees. TDM has already begun applying this thinking in inclusive marketing and inclusive leadership as key indicators of workplace excellence. When companies and leaders get customer experience right, it prioritizes people and profit.”

According to author and branding expert Denise Lee Yohn, “A good customer experience makes a person five times more likely to recommend a company and more likely to purchase in the future.” From her perspective, the CXO role is a type of “new marketing,” the ultimate brand-building opportunity, because it fortifies an organization, thereby providing a foundation for innovative thinking across all client and customer touchpoints.

Historically, trust served primarily as an external bellwether – how the market or customers thought about your company. Changing conditions, fueled by people’s new expectations of business leaders, have transformed our understanding of the term. The external perspective is still important, but at the heart of internal trust is the bond between employees and their workplace that is then radiated outward to clients, suppliers, prospects and future employees.

For success across an organization, executives need to recognize that these two aspects of “experience” are intertwined. When they work in tandem, the confluence creates a powerful continuous feedback loop.

Speaking with Harvard Business School writer Scott Van Voorhis, Sandra J. Sucher, co-author of the book The Power of Trust: How Companies Build It, Lose It, Regain It, summed up the idea, explaining, “Trust is built through actions. You can’t talk your way into trust. You have to act your way into trust.”

About the Author

Donald Thompson, EY Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2023 Southeast Award winner, founded The Diversity Movement to change the world. As TDM CEO, he has guided work with hundreds of clients and through millions of data touch points. TDM’s global recognition centers on tying DEI initiatives to business objectives. Recognized by Inc., Fast Company and Forbes, Thompson is author of Underestimated: A CEO’s Unlikely Path to Success, hosts the podcast “High Octane Leadership in an Empathetic World” and has published widely on leadership and the executive mindset. As a leadership and executive coach, Thompson has created a culture-centric ethos for winning in the marketplace by balancing empathy and economics. Follow him on LinkedIn for updates on news, events and his podcast, or contact him at [email protected] for executive coaching, speaking engagements or DEI-related content. To further explore DEI content and issues impacting your work and life, visit TDM Library, a multimedia resource hub that gives leaders a trusted source of DEI content.