This is Ant and Dec.
They’re here to talk to us about trust.
[For the benefit of my non-UK readers, they are TV presenters who have conquered virtually every glitzy shiny floored big budget Saturday evening show. They win awards for the programmes they present and also co-create them acting as executive producers for programmes that are made through their own TV company. People like them, that’s their thing, likability. Everybody likes them. People who meet them say “That’s actually what they’re like, it’s not fake“.]
In 2007 they almost lost it all.
There was a scandal across UK TV channels about phone-on competitions, all sorts of TV programmes had been found to have been defrauding viewers who had been encouraged to phone a number to vote for something, or to apply for a competition. In Ant & Dec’s case it was two of their programmes, Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway and Ant & Dec’s Gameshow Marathon that had done things including:
- selected competition finalists before the telephone lines were announced as closed
- selected finalists on the basis of their suitability to be on television and where they lived
- selected an individual already known to the production team to be placed on the shortlist of potential winners and who went on to win the competition
These allegations were investigated along with other allegations against other TV programmes and it was found to be an industry-wide habit to treat the lucrative phone-in element of TV shows as much of an artifice as the rest of the entertainment-as a show. Not to be taken as real, not to be taken seriously. The problem being, they were on the other side of the curtain from us and different rules apply on this side.
It wasn’t alleged that Ant & Dec personally knew or had anything to do with this, but their TV programmes are synonymous with them as people. They had their names in the title, presented them and played a huge part in the creative elements of the TV programmes. As far as viewers could see or think, they WERE the TV programmes. It turned out it wasn’t anything that senior producers in the TV shows involved would have known about. But when this scandal broke, it struck to the core of what Ant and Dec were about.
Last week I was listening to them on Desert Island Discs. They said that this was the worst thing that ever happened to them. Dec, the one who’s always on the right, said..
We thought that’s the end, we had lost the trust of the viewers
That made me sit up. He didn’t say their reputation was damaged.
He chose the word trust, and used it repeatedly throughout the interview. I was bowled over.
This is not a word I hear a lot in the large organisations I’ve worked in, they are obsessed with their reputation though.
Some say reputation is knowledge about the past, but trust is a prediction of the future, like a tradesman with a good reputation will cause you to trust them. The eBay feedback system is a tool that allows you to see how a stranger has behaved in the past in his eBay dealings which allows a potential buyer to come to a judgement about how much they can trust them in a future transaction.
But I think it is actually the other way round. If you aim for a good reputation, trust takes a back seat. Spin, presentation and image are the easy ways to a good reputation but trust is made from simpler and sterner stuff. It has to be based on something real. If your customers trust you, and you follow through, then reputations are made as a consequence. When trust is broken, no amount of reputation management will recover it, only a slow steady rebuilding of it through delivering on your promises.
I have heard an awful lot about “the reputation of the council” in my work, but never about trust. I think we have got it the wrong way round. 180 degrees wrong.
Aim for a result rather than plug away at method and you’ll not get where you want to go. Aim to save money by cutting costs, you’ll create waste and costs rise.
But if you aim for effectiveness and delivering against a customer’s purpose then you’ll cut waste shrinks.
So it is with reputation. If you aim for a good reputation, send out leaflets, put up posters, sing your very own praises, then customers won’t love you for it.
This is obliquity in action. Goals are best achieved indirectly, people will like you when you stop caring about yourself being liked and start thinking about what you can do for others. And then do it. Repeatedly, consistently and without hesitation or deviation. This is true for organisations as it is for people.
I care about doing the things that will allow our customers to trust my organisation, by being awesome instead of awful. That way they get they want and deserve, and we have done what we should do.
I care about the thinking that will get us to this place, I know that thinking about purpose will get us there and I know that caring about what people think of us will not.
This is why I don’t care about the reputation of my organisation.