Trust: Why Google Got It Wrong Or The Importance Of Being Trustworthy

"Don't Be Evil". Be trustworthy.

Why building trustworthiness is one of the best investments you could make – as a business and as an individual. And what it takes.

Do you know that ‘Don’t Be Evil’ was Google’s unofficial motto from 2004 to 2009?

Google, the company whose objective is to improve the lives of many.
“…a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short term gains.” (An owner’s manual for Google’s shareholders).

Google, the company which has also been accused of tax evasion, manipulating search results… and whose Chairman Eric Schmidt simply stated when questioned about Google tax arrangements:

“It’s called capitalism… We are proudly capitalistic. I’m not confused about this.”

There seems to be a dissonance between what Google says and what Google does.

The result… broken trust.

Not everyone cares. Not everyone will switch their search engine and remove google products from their computer.

But some will. Some have.

Why Bother With Trustworthiness?

As an individual, trust and being trusted are the basis of strong relationships and friendships.

In business, trustworthiness matters too… now more than ever.

Because people are more careful about who they buy from and how much they spend. Because ethical issues have risen to the forefront. Because a detrimental online campaign can easily be launched by just anyone these days.

You don’t want to give your customers any excuse to go somewhere else. They will be loyal if they can trust you.

“Companies and their brands need to reach out and speak directly to consumers, to honor their values, and to form meaningful relationships with them. They must become architects of community, consistently demonstrating the values that their customer community expects in exchange for their loyalty and purchases… In fact, I believe the first companies that make an effort to develop an authentic, transparent, and meaningful social contract with their fans and customers will turn out to be the ones that are the most successful in the future. While brands that refuse to make the effort will lose stature and customer loyalty.” ~ Simon Mainwaring (Award winning branding consultant)

Building trustworthiness is not just important for customer retention. Trust and trustworthiness are important within an organization too. Leaders and employees who trust each other and the company they work for will give their all to get the best results they can for the organization.

After the tax affairs of 2012, Eric Schmidt (Google Chairman) seems at last to have realised the value of trustworthiness. Here’s what he recently said after explaining Google would not fight tougher tax reforms:

“It will be harder and harder for corporations simply to be focused on shareholders.The reason why they won’t be able to is their employees. In Google, we’re there because we all talk about a shared vision of making the world a better place. Employees work in a company not for shareholder value but because they feel a need to be there. That model is how corporations everywhere are going to have to work.”

The 4 Pillars Of Trustworthiness

Here’s the recipe to become worthy of trust.

Show Integrity

Integrity is when we’re consistent between what we think, what we say, what we do and (importantly and often forgotten) what we should be doing according to moral standards and ethics.

If you do as you say and think according to your values but these values are simply wrong, it’s not integrity.

Of course, it’s a difficult line to tread. We live in a capitalistic world. Capitalism is based on greed. Can we ever be successful and still show integrity? I guess the answer lies in the measure of what we do. We can please the boss without being dishonest and manipulative. We can choose to be fair, courageous and stand by the values we profess. We can choose to avoid double standards. We can choose to not shift the blame, admit our responsibility and learn from our mistakes. And, to return to our Google example, we can be tax efficient (which is good practice) without using “loopholes that allow cynical exploitation” (a quote from Consumer Watchdog’s director John Simpson about Google).

A few practical tips:

  • Don’t be hasty in your judgements. Wait until you know the hard facts and be fair.
  • Do not openly proclaim your values unless you’re completely sure you can live by them (especially if your motto is… ‘Don’t be evil’).
  • If you’re in a predicament where you acts do not match your values, read our Cognitive Dissonance article for help to solve the issue.
“In looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if they don’t have the first, the other two will kill you.” ~ Warren Buffet

Be Consistently Reliable

Do what you say you’re going to do. People trust people they can depend on.

If you can’t do it. Say so.

Think before you commit or make promises. Can you deliver on it? If not, do not promise. Only agree to what you know you can deliver. Then, make sure you deliver… and again… and again.

Be Honest

Being honest is not just not telling lies. It’s not omitting important details, not masking truths.

If you always provide reliable information, people will trust you. You should try to avoid being brutally honest though. Conveying hard facts without compassion or understanding will make you cold and distant.

“Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters” ~ Albert Einstein

Be Competent

Integrity, reliability and honesty will make you trustworthy as an individual. In business, they’re a necessary basis but they’re not enough. Customers, colleagues, managers will not trust you if you’re not good at what you do.

Professional skills and competencies help you achieve results and results are what people want and buy. If you’re good at what you do, people will repeatedly come to you for your services, trusting you to deliver.

Final Thoughts

Building trustworthiness has 2 sides to it: the character side and the competency side.

Being competent on its own doesn’t make you trustworthy. Without the character side of trust (integrity, reliability, honesty), professional skills and competencies just aren’t enough. To me, that’s where Google got it wrong.



Trust: Why Google Got It Wrong Or The Importance Of Being Trustworthy — 4 Comments

  1. I think competence is enough, it is the most important, but you will be ultra successful if people like your character, which includes Trustworthiness,integrity, reliability, honesty. Unfortunately if you are incompetent but have a good character you can still be very successful.
    I wonder if that is the difference between Apple and Google?
    People love Apple with its swagger and hip attitude/image very approachable, but its products cost more and uses same technology as everyone else.
    Google still excellent technically but is now a unsmiling beast unapproachable and cold.

    • Thanks for these comments Ev. As always, very interesting points!!

      Believe it or not, Isabelle and I have slightly different perspectives on this too.

      Personally, I think maybe there is a fault here that needs to be addressed, but perhaps it’s not with Google – at least not to the extent that the hype surrounding this would imply. Though I do agree with Isabelle’s point – even thought what they did is legally right, I think it’s fair to at least consider questioning if it is morally right to avoid paying taxes to the extent they did.

      By the way, Isabelle was in no way saying that Google were bad or evil in this (just in case that’s what you were thinking), she was only saying that they got it wrong to promote such morals and values on the one hand (granted more in the early days) and then play the tax system to the extent they did.

      It would also be a little easier to argue if our governments made better use of our tax dollars/pounds in the first place – but perhaps that is another discussion!!

      I actually quite like Google, and Amazon, and Apple – despite hearing various horror stories about all 3, when companies get that big, they are very complex organisms and it’s going to be very easy to find fault – I think a lot of these companies begin with certain ideas and ethics and then slowly begin to consider how much they can bend these and take shortcuts to please shareholders and be as competitive as possible. There are no two ways about it, capitalism can be a ruthless business, but then perhaps that’s not always a bad thing.

      …in the end they are all still very impressive.

      Progress means different things to different people.

      Ask a mormon.

      What I think would have been interesting is if Google continued with their approach to tax because it was legal but at the same time pioneered highlighting how it could be done so the system could be corrected – at least in terms of relative fairness of taxation for global companies which span jurisdictions – i.e. were up front about it but at the same time challenged governments to come up with a solution that addresses the issue so that they would couldn’t legally pay such low tax but neither could their competitors.

      As it stands isn’t this ‘loophole’ still there, I mean technically?

  2. Good article, it made me think about my position.

    You can not go wrong buying IBM, and so it is can not go wrong repeating that Google is evil.
    Of the many things a company must do, tax is not one of them. Paying TAX is a legal requirement to do business.
    Governments are very greedy for tax revenues and will gladly take a significant slice of a companies profits, it even says it has the right to it (here greed is the correct word).
    Quoting some one as if you were stating a mathematical formula is common technique for strengthening an argument. Even thought it adds emotional persuasion, it actual does nothing, because the statements can not be determined to be true or false. (people are always justifying something by quoting a Malcolm X or Dr Martin luther king, yes great men fine words but no mathematical truth).

    Depending on if you are left wing or right wing the treatment you give to google will differ. If you believe a companies worth to the economy is measured by how much corporation tax they pay then google is worthless and should be forced out if they will not voluntary makeup some tax amount that looks significant enough and pay it.
    If you think that the google is generator of industry and their position at Old street is causing more industry. Where ex-employees of google are starting their own companies, where google is acting as a large pool of talent.

    Capitalism is based on greed, repeat it often enough and it almost becomes true.
    The idea that someone is greedy is a derivative of envy. At what point does someone making money become bad. Do we have the right to limit legally how much they earn. what is the limit million dollars, a thousand dollars? And is ‘the common good’ justification to steal from some people and give the money to others?
    I believe this, that even dollar this ‘greedy’ makes benefits someone else as well. else there would be no business. The richer he makes himself the more wealth he has created. In Capitalism business is done voluntary, nobody is forcing you to buy or sell any thing.

    I think most of this google story is about envy! The story here is how the power of envy can damage and restrict freedom and damage wealth creation. With out envy greed is self defeating, if you charge too much, there will be someone else that will charge less, or make a new product to make yours worthless.

    For me Google has not broken any trust on this tax issue. But they have broken the trust of the employees by changing working practice. They have gotten ride of the 10% project time, which employees used to peruse there own projects. Even though this time had generated many of googles leading products. Google has also become like any other company, they closely monitor employees, and use faceless statistics to judge employees and departments. The old avant guard managers have gone to other companies and now we see the typical management practices taking over.

    • Hi Everton,
      You make good points.

      Google… You’re right, Google is not all bad. As a user I benefit from their free products. Google is an innovation driver, they support non profit oganizations through grants.
      But they have grown so much in a very short space of time. Going public means they now have to answer to shareholders. Yet they’re still trying to hold on to their original ideals of changing the world and not being evil (I personally don’t like the word evil but I found the story of the motto extremely interesting. And the word ‘evil’ still appears in their philosophy ‘You can make money without being evil’). Now, if you specifically say loud and clear you’re not evil, I think you’ve got to make sure you’re not if you want to be trusted – and not just when talking about guiding principles on your advertising programs.
      When I first heard the tax story a while back, it made me uncomfortable because of the extent of it… paying just 3.2% of tax on overseas profit (a deficit in tax said to be of over 200 millions pounds in the UK alone). Yes, their complex tax arrangements seem to be legal but being legal doesn’t make it right. And yes, governments don’t always use taxes wisely but 200 millions pounds would pay for a lot of nurses, teachers, policemen,… that’s the way I see it and that’s why I’ve personally switched my search engine from google to bing and now DuckDuckGo.

      Quotes… you’re right you can find a quote that says one thing and then another quote that says the exact opposite and both seem compelling. But I like quotes. I won’t build a theory around a quote but if they help illustrate a point I make in an eloquent way I think people are more likely to remember the point I make. It doesn’t make my arguments more true – they should stand true on their own.

      Greed and Capitalism…
      Greed: An excessive desire to acquire or possess more than what one needs or deserves, especially with respect to material wealth.
      Capitalism: term coined not so long ago, in the mid-19th century, during the Industrial Revolution, when individual entrepreneurs were creating new industries and amassing wealth.
      I do believe that Capitalism is fuelled by self-interest. But that’s not necessarily wrong because self-interested individuals can ultimately benefit society more than they benefit themselves. That was the case for many industrialists in the 19th century and it’s probably true of Google too… I guess the future will tell.

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