top of page

CIPD Annual Conference 2018: "I gave my phone to a stranger, to help me understand Trust"

The opening keynote of the CIPD Annual Conference 2018 in Manchester was puzzling, awkward and terrifying… in a good way. Rachel Botsman, thought leader, academic and author of ‘Who can you trust?’ presented her views on how we build trust and the impact that technology is having on how we trust one another and the organisations in which we work.

Rachel starts by asking us how much we trust 3 well-known and front page-worthy individuals, setting the scene with the fact that Trust is a human process. It needs time to develop and continuous nurturing and development. It can take years to build and be gifted to a trustee, and just seconds to be taken away

Efficiency can therefore be the enemy of trust. Automation can be the enemy of trust. Fast-forwarding what might be a gradual and tentative process because of technology that demands instant communication and information sharing, might mean we are trusting too easily.

Botsman then presents a photo of Jack Ma who I learn is the resilient and brilliant co-founder and executive chairman of the multinational technology conglomerate Alibaba. At University he met the conveniently named Stuart Trusty, who later ran one of America’s first Internet service providers, VBN. Trusty had filled the only space left in his cosy dorm with a computer hosting an early version of the World Wide Web. Stuart turned to Jack and said, ‘type anything you like’ so Jack typed ‘Beer, China’ and hit return. Seeing no results put forward by this supposedly omniscient technology, Ma saw an opportunity to build mutual trust between complete strangers in the form of exchanging information and goods. Today more than 80% of all goods bought and sold in China are through Alibaba marketplaces.

Ma played a pivotal role in helping people take a significant trust leap, moving from the known to the unknown, on mass.

People have always taken trust leaps. Trust leaps are nothing new. But these leaps are getting higher and faster. And we forget that rolling out a new system or process, requires a trust leap. And its scary for those involved.

At this point, Rachel asks us to take out our phones and unlock them. I suspiciously comply and reminisce about the time when I had a separate work phone. We are instructed to swap phones with the person next to us, handing over complete power for a whole minute while they do whatever they like. I laugh nervously and politely ask permission to check the weather. My new friend, who remains nameless yet has my entire life in her hands, asks to look through my photos! Really?! There’ll be little in the way of inappropriate content, but do I really want to open up my recent life experiences, my jokey selfies, cat memes and Instagram-worthy engagement rings that I tried on in hope the day before? Surely not. Thankfully this confident iPhone owner can’t find the Gallery icon on my Huawei and non-intuitive technology has saved the day. Our minute is up, and I snatch my phone back in relief.

Botsman asks the three delegates in the front row how they found the exercise. ‘Awkward’, ‘OK’, ‘interesting’. I’d have said ‘horrific’ if I’d been lucky enough to sit there. These non-planted responses show our different risk propensity, something that organisations often neglect when rolling out a new tool or initiative. We don’t all react in the same way to change and challenge.

And so, our diagram is complete, as Rachel explains that the gap between the Known and Unknown is Risk. And this gap of Risk can only be bridged by Trust.

So how do we build trust?

Companies tend to think that transparency is the answer. But when you test this in organisations, transparency is often only needed when you don’t have trust. And a reliance on transparency which in reality normally means ‘visibility’ in turn decreases trust even further.

Rachel talks about 2 measures that make up Capability; Competence (having the skills, knowledge and experience to deliver what you need to) and Reliability (being dependable, respectful of time, and consistent in behaviour over time). Plus 2 measures that make up Character; Benevolence (empathy and a real care for the trustor) and Integrity (interests, motives and intentions that align with the trustor).

Its Integrity, according to Rachel, that most trust relationships lack, and the area that will always threaten trust in time. It is therefore important to assess how far people and businesses align with your intentions, and assessing the intention of a machine, is near impossible.

Technology = Speed. Trust needs Time.

Speed is a problem. With technology comes instantaneity and we are rushed into trusting websites, apps and virtual personas before we miss out or the chatbot closes due to inactivity. Rachel suggests we need to learn to be ok with uncertainty and take our time building trust and making decisions. We can also use Reputation as an indicator or accelerator to help assess whether someone or something can be trusted.

To mitigate this challenge, we can slow down the rapid implementation of new technology and processes that most suppliers encourage. And we can maintain an element of familiarity so that new things aren’t totally new. I loved this analogy for embedding change; when sushi was first introduced to the US in the 60s, everyone hated it. It was too different with its outer seaweed wrapping and a mystery raw fish in the middle. So, a clever LA Chef reversed the order of ingredients and put the rice on the outside, taming the raw fish with some familiar and loveable avocado.

When implementing new HR technology and processes as Veran does every day, we start by showing people the familiar – their address, their photo, their team, before launching into new functionality like succession planning and predictive analytics. We’re also accelerating the design of new ways of working but slowing down the change management activities required for people to accept them, letting people decide in their own time that they can trust the new system and when they’d like to give it a go.

I’ll be buying Rachel’s book and following her on social media because I’ve decided after her 90-minute talk, that I like her, and I trust her. To discuss over coffee, feel free to email me at


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page