I think that we're looking for new forms of trust.
Trust is a concept that carries enormous weight at Salesforce, as the firm’s President and Chief Financial Officer Amy Weaver affirmed at the World Economic Forum 2022 gathering in Davos today. Speaking in a debate on how to restore societal trust across business and government, Weaver said:
At Salesforce, trust is something that has been really intrinsic to the company for all of our 23 years. We have five corporate values that we really try to test every major decision we make against. It is trust, customer success, innovation, equality, and, most recently, sustainability. Now, over 23 years we've tweaked some of the wording, we have changed the order. But one thing that has never changed is that trust is always our number one value.
And I think that this is not just the right thing to do - it's smart business, especially today. I look at customers, I look at employees, and they vote with their feet. Customers want to do business with companies that they trust and companies that are transparent with them. Employees, especially with this Great Resignation or Great Reshuffle, have really never had more power. They want to work for companies that they trust and companies that they believe have their back. That makes it smart business to be focusing on trust.
But trust is an elusive concept, she added:
We talk about it all the time. We say our number one value is trust. We talk about it being something that's lost, something that's gained, but really what is it? It goes back to this question of reliability. One of the things that we did, that was very counter-intuitive, was when Salesforce was just a few years old, we were actually having some trouble with keeping our systems up. You would get a call from the customer and they didn't know what was going on. So we did something that was counter-intuitive at that time. We put all of our availability online, so customers could look at any point and check to see if our systems were up, how far they were up, any issues we were having. While that could have been damaging, especially in our early years, it had the opposite effect. They trusted us they knew the information was out there.
It comes down to transparency, she argued, but noted that trust and transparency are not the same thing. While they're really the opposite sides of a coin, said Weaver, organizations can use transparency to build trust. She cited the example of Salesforce’s own efforts to achieve pay parity across all employees as a case in point:
We had two female executives go to our then CEO, now co-CEO, Marc Benioff and say that they thought - they weren't sure, they didn't have the data - but they thought there might be a difference on pay based on gender. And what Marc committed to was, he said, 'We're going to do a study, we're going to dive in. We don't know what we're going to find, but at the end of it, we are going to announce the results publicly. And we're going to fix it'.
Sure enough, we did the study and it turned out that we weren't perfect and we had to pay more than $3 million to make salaries equal at the company. We also realised we were going to have to do that every single year and over the last six, seven years, we have paid out more than $16 million. But what that does is it shows people that we're going to be transparent. We have their backs and we're going to be reliable and do it every single year. This builds trust with your employees and I think it attracts the best.
Not that it’s just about the money, she added:
It's not all about compensation. It is about values. Employees want to work at a company that reflects their values and also that is mission-driven. It's not enough to go to a job every day and kind of clock in and clock out. You want to feel connected. You want to feel that you're making a difference. That can be easier in the non-profit world and the government world. I think corporations need to lean into that as well.
The COVID crisis of the past couple of years has put that collaborative relationship between government, non-profits and big business to the test. Weaver suggested that this has been positive:
I love the concept of civil society, government and businesses working together. The beginning of the pandemic really put to rest the idea that corporations were separate, that a corporation could just function on its own, paying attention only to its profit. Within days of the beginning of the pandemic, it became so clear that corporations are inter-dependent with their communities. We needed schools to be open for our employees to be able to work and do their best. We needed the hospitals to be functioning and not be over-run. We needed local businesses to continue and to thrive. It really showed Stakeholder Capitalism, and it showed that you have to be attentive to all of your stakeholders. All three of these areas need to work together to restore the trust and really to be effective, and serve all of our citizens as well as possible.
The lack of PPE at the beginning of the pandemic is a good case in point, said Weaver:
When we had the shortages at the beginning of the pandemic and the government in the US was not able to source enough PPE to keep our our hospitals functioning, there were a number of companies that really stepped up. Honeywell is a great example. They re-opened factories, they put people to work. Salesforce stepped in to source PPE from China and along with a number of other companies that worked with us, we were able to bring in PPE to San Francisco, to New York, to London, recently to Fiji and to Mongolia. We relied on what we knew and what we could do and then partnered with the government on what they were best at. In doing that we were able to serve a lot of communities in need
At the end of the day, trust is an essential enabler for much more, but it comes with other riders. Weaver concluded:
I think when you're looking for people, and you're looking for how you're going to manage, how you're going to run the company, that there is an element of kindness that we don't talk about nearly enough. That comes from trust. People trust if they're going to be treated well and they're going to be treated kindly.
Several years ago, I wrote an article that ran in the Toronto Globe and Mail talking about kindness as a management skill. And someone wrote in on the comments, 'This author doesn't get it'. And they said, 'Sometimes you've got to give people a kick and sometimes you have to fire people'. And I held myself back from responding, but here's what I wish I had said. I wish I'd said, 'You're right. Sometimes you have to make tough decisions and you have to fire people. You have to give people tough feedback'.
But there's never a point where that isn't better with kindness.