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How can business leaders effectively measure trust? Deloitte’s Enterprise Trust leader shares how he advises clients to gauge progress on the new must-have KPI

August 24, 2022, 5:49 PM UTC
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Measuring trust can be a daunting task for most companies wanting to factor the KPI into their internal and external performance goals. Deloitte’s Michael Bondar shares his tips on how companies can get started.
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When corporate executives are skeptical about translating that ineffable quality of trust into concrete performance metrics, Michael Bondar understands the sentiment.

As he took ownership in 2019 of Deloitte’s new Future of Trust initiative, which aims to help clients center their planning and purpose around the attribute, Bondar harbored many of the same concerns.

“My background is in technology, and it’s meaningful, real, tactical solutions that we can put in the hands of our clients,” said Bondar, Deloitte’s U.S. and global enterprise trust leader. “And so when I heard this notion of trust, it felt a bit esoteric, somewhat conceptual.”

Three years later, Bondar believes that trust is not only a measurable trait, but one that should be front and center in discussions around management goals and company performance.

Bondar and his colleagues have interviewed dozens of executives and conducted thousands of surveys since Future of Trust launched in 2020, trying to better understand what corporate leaders believe are the biggest factors that cause trust to rise and fall. From there, they’ve collaborated with clients to think about ways to attach data-driven targets to those levers.

Admittedly, it’s not an easy task, Bondar said. There’s no single data point that perfectly measures trust. Each company has different sets of needs and wants. And the work requires going well beyond rudimentary customer and employee surveys (more on that in a moment). 

Still, Bondar said companies of all sizes can work toward trust-based metrics that could apply to C-suite leaders, middle managers, and rank-and-file workers. Here are some of the biggest tips and takeaways from our conversation this week about his team’s work.

Identify what drives trust in your company

Deloitte’s Future of Trust team (which has since been renamed Enterprise Trust) started by pinning down 17 areas that impact internal and external perceptions of a company, offering executives a menu of options to consider. 

The areas included matters related to company outputs (product quality, consumer experience), internal performance (financial integrity and health, ethics), and forward thinking (innovation, intelligence, and technology, cyber).

“That framework is at the core of how we define what it means to measure trust,” Bondar said. “It’s your efficacy across all of these domains and drivers, as well as your intent in carrying out these steps.”

Consider these four characteristics in setting goals 

Once companies have identified their biggest trust levers, Bondar advised leaders to consider setting goals tied to capability, reliability, transparency, and humanity.

Some examples cited by Bondar: “Are the products high quality? Are they delivered on time? Do they last a long time, as you would expect? Do they have the life expectancy that you’d want? Are they manufactured in a way that would align with the expectations of the consumer base? Is the workforce producing those products diverse, equitable, and inclusive?”

Utilize company data that measures outputs and inputs 

Bondar advised executives to dig past the traditional back-end measures of trust, such as net promoter scores, customer surveys, and employee feedback. 

While goals can be tied to outcome-based metrics, companies also should look at metrics linked to proactive steps taken to ensure trust isn’t broken. Too often, Bondar said, companies only tie trust to the end result of a product or service, without looking at the company’s actions preceding output. By examining inputs, companies can encourage behaviors that might prevent trust-breaking events.

“Because this topic is so seemingly esoteric, nebulous, and squishy, and perhaps not in the core competency zone of most organizations, [trust-related goals] are often left as an outcome,” he said.

Don’t wait for a crisis to act 

Bondar recalled a meeting with the chief operating officer of a “major consumer products company” in which the executive assured Deloitte staffers that the company didn’t have trust issues. Sales were strong, customers weren’t complaining, and retention rates were high.

“It may have been hidden by the success of the organization, but we uncovered massive trust issues,” Bondar said. They included scammers selling counterfeit goods under the company’s brand name, false claims of product shortages by critics, and issues with customers misusing products.

The lesson: “Inevitably, at some point, a crisis will strike. But if that organization has built up enough trust over time, a layer of trust equity, that crisis may end up being a blip on the radar more than a catastrophic event.”

Jacob Carpenter

This is the web version of The Trust Factor, Fortune’s weekly newsletter on the critical role of trust in business. To get it delivered to your inbox, sign up here.