Trust as a KPI

May 24, 2023

Fortune magazine has recently launched a newsletter focused entirely on trust. They are framing it as “trust is the new KPI”. Just in case you’ve been living under a corporate rock, KPI stands for Key Performance Indicator. The Trust Factor is a  “weekly guide to earning, retaining, and strengthening trust with your employees, business partners, and customers.”

This is a bright flashing light that building trust with these constituencies is of paramount importance to your business success. You are going to put a lot of time, effort and money into building that trust. You are going to dedicate resources to nurturing and maintaining that trust, as you should.

But are you investing in protecting that trust? Protecting that investment, which manifests itself in the form of your reputation? Remember, your brand has a tangible value.

I would add one more venue for trust as a KPI – in crisis capability building. Our expertise has shown that there are three key elements to building a world-class crisis capability – speed, clarity and TRUST.

You can’t be ready to handle a crisis and protect your reputation if you don’t trust that the systems, procedures, and people that you rely on are going to perform in the moment.

Here are the five factors that can positively contribute to building trust in your organization:

  1. Leadership. Does everyone in the crisis infrastructure know who is leading the charge? Not “know” as in name and title, but know them personally. Are these leaders trained in best practices and do they visibly participate in training and support building the crisis capability?
  2. Relationships. Trust has to be based on relationships and the example is set by the crisis leaders. They ensure that they maintain good relationships with their team members, counterparts from other teams, crisis leaders, and external partners so there are no questions about who does what. One of the best-in-class crisis capabilities is with a diversified entertainment company. The head of the crisis capability is in the C-suite with key executives around the world. Three times a year, the executive brings together the crisis leadership team for … a barbecue. He wants there to be no hesitation by anyone to pick up the phone in the middle of the night and call the necessary people during a crisis. He figures that the best way to build that familiarity is through hot dogs and beer, and I agree.
  3. Exercises. I fully endorse a crisis team getting to know each other in a relaxed setting but that doesn’t negate the need for regular team and enterprise practical exercises in both table top and real time fashion. Having your team know their skills and how those skills interact with each other are key components to building strength in this area. Ensure that what you tackle is plausible but not predictable. Also, think two and three rings out from the epicenter about who needs to be involved, such as government relations or investor relations. Bring in outside counsel (hint, hint).
  4. Skills training. Any exercise is only as good as the skills and knowledge of the participants. As part of the capability building, ensure that individuals participate in  regular, frequent skills training that continuously builds their general and functionally-specific crisis skills. The point is to learn new things, not check boxes.
  5. Growth mindset. Foreseeing and responding to crises is not everyone’s expertise so errors must be treated as opportunities for improvement. Creating an environment that encourages staff to speak up and fix problems is as much of a team building exercise as overt exercises. As you exercise your teams, or after a real deal crisis, ensure that After Action Reports are produced, analyzed and acted upon.

This type of approach requires an investment of time, money and leadership. It’s worth it. Many people have started building their 2024 budgets make sure to include requests for crisis exercises and resources. Get the need for an active approach to reputation protection on the radar of your boss; their boss; the board. Again, it’s worth it.

As you look at building trust with your larger constituencies as recommended by Fortune, ensure that the trust is there with the systems, procedures and people of your crisis teams. Afterall, it’s a small investment compared to what it will cost to rebuild the larger trusts.

Stephanie Craig

Stephanie Craig has built her reputation as a crisis expert by guiding some of the world’s most prominent people and organizations through their most trying moments. Before Kith, Stephanie founded the Apeiron Strategy Group where she counted former First Lady Rosalynn Carter and the mayor of the nation’s 10th largest city as clients.