March 2010    

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Rebuilding Trust in a Changing World

By Akhilesh Gulati, Principal, PIVOT Management Consultants

The noughties (the decade from 2000 to 2009) have left the world in a state of anxiety & doubt where consumers and customers do not trust big institutions (e.g. banks), corporations, and governments. Customers are conscious of what they spend and will turn to brands/suppliers that they feel they can trust – and trust is what we need to rebuild as we move into the teenies (2010 and beyond). Lean can help turn that into reality.

Organizations are looking for ways rebuild trust with key stakeholders, customers, employees, and suppliers while at the same time reducing costs. How can ‘lean’ do this?

Lean is loosely defined as relieving an organization of any non-value added activities: work that does not necessarily change form, fit or function of the product/service. However, this is not enough to build trust. Organizations need to understand their customers and deliver what they promise. A key task of management is to identify the customer context in greater detail and then narrate this experience into its processes and rediscover how its services will build the necessary trust. It needs to not only reduce costs, but also dispel customer anxiety and doubt.

Lean typically includes reviewing production and administrative initiatives, identifying ‘value-added’ and ‘non-value-added’ activities, streamlining processes, and reducing costs. The focus is frequently on product/service creation, order handling, and service assurance. However, there are customer-facing and infrastructure activities (e.g., marketing & sales, customer service, human resources, information technology) that an organization must perform in order to operate effectively. These are not generally addressed using ‘lean’ and can be critical in building trust.

Using lean strategies across the organization would guide management in getting past cost cutting strategies and instead rally customer confidence while renewing employee & customer ‘spirit’. Tightening the belt is not generally a differentiating strategy, neither is it a ‘lean’ strategy. Cost savings programs are meaningful only if they predictably deliver measurable savings to the bottom line. Business strategies need to ensure that the short term savings steps they take today are congruent with their vision for success in the future, building customer trust and loyalty, and increasing market share.

Moving into the teenies, customers are looking for value (and value does not mean discounted prices or offering of free bonuses); value they don’t usually find in typical marketing messages, value that can be used to build trust. Customers want to do business with organizations they know will be around for the long term and consistently deliver on their promises and make them feel good.

This makes marketing in these teenies all the more important. So, while budgets for marketing may be reduced, more cost-effective ways to reach target audiences, to build trust, must be researched or created. Here again ‘lean’ techniques are useful in streamlining customer-esteem activities. Think in terms of not just selling products/services, but in surfacing opportunities to build trust. Think Judo Strategy: one does not have to be the biggest to beat the biggest; one does have to recognize opportunities in the current environment. Lean, by itself, might not be enough to see an organization through tough economic times; being ready to adapt with changing opportunities will be more highly relevant. The teenies are going to be the years of using lean practices to build trust.

Does your organization focus on lean through value added activities or does it deliberate beyond that to customer use-value and customer esteem-values? Does it use ‘lean’ to build trust?

Akhilesh Gulati is a Principal of PIVOT Management Consultants, focusing on developing and executing strategy for organizations in various sectors. He has more than 19 years experience in operations and process improvement, innovation, design and quality management. A Six Sigma Master Black Belt, Akhilesh is an experienced trainer/leader in Six Sigma, Lean enterprise, reengineering, benchmarking, kaizen, total quality and waste reduction. He specializes in designing new methodologies, team problem solving, process optimization, process innovation, and productivity improvement. For article feedback you can contact the author at or give him a call at 877-pivotmc (877-748-6862).


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