Why winning the trust of colleagues and clients is crucial

Practices must work much harder to build and maintain trust with both clients and employees

IP image

This year’s Edelman trust barometer threw up two very interesting angles for accountants:

  • Clients – 58% of people will buy or advocate for brands (your firm) based on their beliefs and values
  • Team – 60% of people will choose a place to work (at your firm) based on their beliefs and values.

These Edelman findings from a 36,000-person study in 2022 show that, if your accountancy firm is going to be trusted by your clients and future clients, you have to be clear on your firm’s beliefs and values.

And if your firm is going to be trusted by your team of employees and future employees, again you have to be clear on your firm’s beliefs and values.

But being clear on values and beliefs is not enough. You also have to bring your values, beliefs and behavioural standards to life – values have to be lived, not just talked about. Paying lip service to values backfires, as it has backfired, big time, for Brewdog.

Trust requires authenticity

Brewdog, a fast-growing brewery and pub chain, published a set of values and beliefs for its business. It looked like they had identified clear values (like the Edelman research suggests). But then Brewdog was shown to have failed to follow through and live these values.

In 2021, 60 self-proclaimed ‘punks with purpose’, a disgruntled group of former employees, wrote an open letter to Brewdog founder James Watt, accusing him and Brewdog of a bullying culture. A follow-up BBC documentary reached a similar conclusion.

The backlash was real and immediate, and it resulted in annoyed employees, shareholders and customers – all because of Brewdog’s lack of authenticity in living up to its values.

If this is what happens to a brewery business, what damage would it have on a professional accountancy business that relies on trust with all clients and team members?

Clearly, in today’s transparent world, values matter as Edelman suggests. There is a real and tangible commercial impact if they are not made clear and if they are not lived authentically.

The flip-side applies too. Get your values clear, get wholehearted team buy-in and you set your firm up for strategic success and even achieve a sustainable competitive advantage.

NB. All credit to BrewDog, which subsequently set up an independent review and implemented a series of changes to set things right.

What happens if you ignore values?

Ignore values and, as Edelman suggests, you’ll miss out on great candidates because your values are unclear, vague or anything other than authentic. You also risk losing your best people, especially in today’s economic climate and employment market.

Check out the recommended reading in chapter 4 of the strategy ebook if you want to see the evidence associated with the power of values.

Many firms are being asked about their values when interviewing prospective employees (and by prospective clients too). If this happens to you, how will you answer? Also, how will you prove you’re taking values seriously and not just paying lip service to them?

Act on values

How must you and your colleagues behave? Get clarity on this question and you’ll be set to answer any team or client query about values.

This question shows up in our ebook, How ambitious accountants make strategy work... 8 questions to help you transform your firm's results. And shows you what’s needed to make sure you’re alive to the importance of values and behavioural standards – as suggested by the Edelman trust barometer findings.

For more than 20 years, Edelman has studied the influence of trust across society — government, media, business, and NGOs. Its work on trust has proven that an organisation’s ability to succeed or fail is defined by trust in their leadership – invest in your firm’s future strategy and you show great leadership.

How do you and your firm stack up?

Trust in you and your firm is a strong indicator that your firm is strategically healthy. If you want to assess your firm’s strategic health – according to the eight questions of strategy – get your strategic health score from this survey by Remarkable Practice – authors of the strategy ebook in partnership with ACCA.

Two more Edelman findings about trust

  1. People want more business leadership, not less. Take trust seriously and you’ll take strategic leadership more seriously. How clear are you about clear and real values, vision, purpose and the other five questions of strategy?
  2. Focus on long-term thinking. If leadership is to focus on long-term thinking over short-term gain, then we all need to be more strategic in our firms: how clear is your firm’s five-year plan?

Get the ebook or take the survey and you’ll be on the pathway to strategic health, greater trust and as a result greater success.

Wishing you every success.

Douglas Aitken – director, Remarkable Practice

Douglas is a director of Remarkable Practice and (in partnership with ACCA) co-author of the ebook, How ambitious accountants make strategy work... 8 questions to help you transform your firm's results. Because of Douglas’s commitments to the United Nations Social Development Goals every ebook download will result in the planting of a tree. Remember to take the survey if you want to know how strategically healthy your firm is now.

ACCA is delighted to partner with Remarkable Practice in bringing to you the strategy ebook and the engaging podcast, Humanise The Numbers – featuring many ACCA firms in discussion with Paul Shrimpling (co-author of the ebook).