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Whenever we enter into a contract there are some terms which are implied. Even in those banking and finance contracts which are reputed to be longer than some of Shakespeare’s plays, there are still some basic assumptions which underpin the fabric of the contract.
Key amongst those is trust. Most particularly the buyer trusts that the seller has taken reasonable care to produce a product which is as described. Note particularly “as described”. It doesn’t have to be the best, it doesn’t even have to be a market leader, but it does have to meet the expectations which have been built up throughout the buying process.
Rolls Royce or runabout, it doesn’t matter which. Buyers may not be able to afford, or even want, the top of the range product but they do expect and trust that at whatever level they buy, the product will have been crafted to a certain standard and will be safe to use. Equally importantly they trust that where their decision process has been influenced by certain criteria or factors the product meets those specifications.
So when buyers opted for a diesel car partly because of its environmental credentials, they certainly didn’t expect that the product they were buying had a ‘cheat button’ built into its software which resulted in false emissions readings. But that is the very scenario which is facing millions of VW Diesel owners this week. At the time of writing the full extent of the problem is still unknown but the boss of Volkswagen in the USA has already gone on record admitting that the company had been dishonest with regulators and had “totally screwed up.”
When one firm hits the headlines, it affects the entire industry
This is only the latest problem to hit the car manufacturing sector which in recent years has seen numerous incidents of safety recalls and disputes over advertised levels of fuel consumption. But when it comes to negative headlines, the car sector is by no means alone and the problem is that when one firm hits the headlines, it affects the entire industry. In one fell swoop, customer trust is lost, sales fall and investors lose heavily. We are not talking here just about those individuals who have directly bought shares in the company affected; when a global organisation falls from grace, the devaluation of its shares has a global impact.
Setting aside the monetary implications for now; whatever the sector, whatever the scandal, the result is another nail in the coffin of trust. It’s little wonder that people are increasingly looking to partner with organisations, to have a direct say in their operation and their products. For years, for decades, even for centuries we have trusted that those who run our major organisations are acting in our best interests. But when mis-selling and misrepresentation stories arrive in the public arena then we may be forgiven for wondering just what sort of culture prevails in big business and whether it is the sort of culture with which we wish to be associated.
Whatever the reason, whatever the circumstances; when the organisational culture enables a division, a team, or even one individual to move away from acting in a manner which is ‘right’ then it is more than time for that culture to be overhauled. In fact carrying out culture checks and revisions is something which organisational leaders should in any case be doing on a regular basis. But whilst resetting the internal culture is one thing, rebuilding trust is something else again.