Trust me…I’m a CEO

Yoshito Hori, president of GLOBIS University, managing partner of GLOBIS Capital Partners, shares his views from an entrepreneur's perspective.

We CEOs are not the world’s most trusted group of people. In the 2014 Edelman Trust Barometer, we only managed to get a credibility rating of 43%. That’s a long way behind the 67% scored by the academic experts who were in first place.

In fact, the only group less trusted than CEOs was government officials!

Here in Japan, business is experiencing its own severe crisis of trust. The inept performance of the CEO of the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) after the 2011 Fukushima disaster seriously undermined public confidence in business. And recent revelations that the Asahi Shimbun, Japan’s second-biggest-selling newspaper, has been knowingly publishing erroneous stories on the comfort women issue for decades has only eroded trust in business leaders further.

In Japan, company scandals always culminate in the CEO performing a 90-degree bow before flashing cameras at a press conference. Vivid images of top management making ritual apologies only deepen the general sense that business leaders are untrustworthy.

So what should CEOs do to be better trusted?

I believe they need to aim for three things.

1. FRANK LEADERSHIP

Eliminate the gap between private and public persona


The public is no longer satisfied with stiff language and formal posturing. No one trusts a CEO whose idea of communication is parroting a boilerplate script cooked up by the PR department. To gain external trust, CEOs need to be emotional, passionate and sincere. They need to say what they mean and mean what they say.

That’s certainly what I try to do in my company, GLOBIS.

First off, I try to communicate with the public frankly, informally and frequently, whether through LinkedIn posts like this, Twitter, FaceBook, mail magazines, TV programs, books, or whatever. I try to live up to my motto for corporate communication: “What you see is what you get.”

I also write a blog where I share the stimulating ideas I encounter at venues ranging from the Davos World Economic Forum to VC-related meetings in Europe and Asia with everyone in the firm. I try to present in the information in a chatty, fun-to-read style so that employees can enjoy seeing see how my thinking is evolving and get a sense of where I may take the company next.

2. TOTAL TRANSPARENCY

Make everyone a spokesperson


The public is much more inclined to believe what employees say about the firm they work for than to believe what CEOs say about the firms they lead. The logical solution here is for CEOs to encourage all their employees to act as spokespeople. Through sharing and retweeting on social media like Facebook and Twitter, any individual employee’s postings can quickly develop viral momentum. Why not leverage such platforms instead of being afraid of them?

At GLOBIS, I actively encourage all 300 of our employees to act as company spokespeople. We use Klout, an app that evaluates social influence, to see who our most effective individual communicators are, and we give prizes to those with the highest “Klout scores,” both in digital-only media and traditional offline media.

3. POSITIVE CULTURE

Eliminate dissatisfaction. Promote happiness


In the age of Wikileaks, information wants to be free—and it usually will be. Since complete control of the message is a simple impossibility, the best option is to create an environment where the private pronouncements of the staff (as described in #2) are likely to be in alignment with the company’s vision, mission and values. The best way to do this is to keep everyone in the firm happy by actively eliminating any causes of dissatisfaction. The CEO should (a) routinely communicate his or her thoughts to the rest of the organization through blog posts, video clips, and (b) listen and respond to the employees’ own gripes and concerns. In this way everybody is on the same page all of the time. Happiness reigns!

To keep tabs on any simmering dissatisfactions, at GLOBIS we conduct an anonymous annual survey in which all employees get the chance to rate our culture, management, work environment, and so on. Unquestionably the most valuable information comes from the free comment section, where employees can sound off about their worries.

A couple of years ago, after getting complaints that the firm was expanding too fast and everyone was feeling overstretched, we decided to spend the next year in consolidation mode. When that resulted in comments about “feeling a sense of drift” the next year, we resumed our expansion, but at a more measured pace.

Because everyone knows what I am thinking from my blog and I know what their concerns, hopes etc. are from the survey, I have no worries about festering resentments or misalignment in our fundamental points of view.

Even though I’ve worked hard to build trust through the three above measures, I honestly don’t know how successful my efforts have been. Trust is very difficult to build. It requires a great deal of candor, a great deal of time, and numerous interactions with a great number people to reach people’s hearts and achieve resonance with the broader society.

What do you think of my approach to building trust? Am I going about it the right way? And tell me about your country—do people trust business leaders there? If not, why? Are your CEOs making efforts to become more transparent and trustworthy?

Let me know your thoughts.

I’m interested in your feedback. Really I am!

(Photo: Shutterstock / EDHAR)

Author

Mr. Yoshito Hori established GLOBIS Management School in 1992 and GLOBIS Capital Partners in 1996. In 2003, GLOBIS started its original MBA program which, in 2006, received accreditation from the Japanese Ministry of Education and gained “university” status. GLOBIS started a part-time MBA program in English in 2009 and a full-time MBA program in English in 2012.

A Harvard MBA graduate and former Sumitomo Corporation employee, Mr. Hori founded the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) Japan Chapter in 1995 and became the first board member from Asia in charge of Asia Pacific region in 1996. He also served on the World Economic Forum (WEF)’s New Asian Leaders Executive Committee and Global Agenda Council on New Models of Leadership, as well as the Harvard Business School Alumni Board from 2005 to 2008. Currently, Mr. Hori is a board member of the Keizai Doyukai (Japan Association of Corporate Executives), and serves as co-chair of WEF’s Global Growth Companies.

In 2008, he launched the G1 Summit – a Japanese version of the WEF’s annual Davos forum. This led to the foundation of G1 Summit Institute in 2013, which Mr. Hori serves as Representative Director.

Just days after a huge earthquake struck northeast Japan in March 2011, Mr. Hori launched Project KIBOW to support the rebuilding of the disaster-affected areas. The following year Project KIBOW was incorporated as the KIBOW Foundation, which Mr. Hori serves as Representative Director.

An avid enthusiast of the Japanese game Go since age 40, Mr. Hori has been Director of the Nihon Ki-in (Japan Go Association) since June 2013.

Since October 2013, Mr. Hori has hosted a weekly TV program in Japan called Nippon Mirai Kaigi (Japan Future Conference). He has authored several books including Visionary Leaders who Create and Innovate Societies, Six Dimensions of Life, and My Personal Mission Statement.

Mr. Hori received his BS in Engineering from Kyoto University and his MBA from Harvard Business School.

He is an avid swimmer and enjoys spending time with his family, especially his five sons.

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