Hope is not a strategy. Trust is not good governance.


Hope and trust are similar human traits that, in similar ways, serve to bolster our confidence that things will turn out well. Trust is more specific than hope and is commonly invested in a person or organisation. Trust implies an expectation of a particular outcome, or specific behaviour, for which another is held responsible.

I once spent an hour with Larry Light, at the time a brand consultant to Ford Motor Company and many others, and remember him speaking of the qualities of a strong brand and what he called ‘one think shopping’. His message was that trust in a brand could be enough to drive the customer’s choice.

Trust is useful as it allows us to reduce the effort we would otherwise spend on making sure that something gets done. Instead, we have an expectation and expect it to be met. If it is not, our trust is either modified - perhaps by introducing new conditions - or withdrawn.

Meeting expectations

In the world of professional services, the quality and longevity of relationships are greatly impacted by expectations and levels of trust established. For many, going to a lawyer is much like visiting a dentist: you trust in the person’s qualifications; the setting and equipment; and that you will be charged fairly for the work done. Once you have your mouth open and are being told more work is needed, you may have little choice but to mumble agreement.

There are so many demands on our time and to have to check that we are being charged correctly is a boring task we would prefer not to do. We are advised to check our utility bills, bank statements and restaurant bills. How many of us don’t bother and end up paying the price?

Don’t rely on trust

My firm recently launched a tool that verifies invoices for IP renewals. It addresses the information asymmetry that exists between customer and supplier, including the difficulty of identifying correct Official Fees for each country. 

Many responses to marketing messages have essentially said: ‘We are happy with our current supplier’ or ‘Adding verification to our process would involve extra work’. One person confirmed that her role was to authorise payment and that doing so was based entirely on trust; which surely made her role redundant. 

Though understandable at a human level, it is surprising how many organisations simply don’t bother to check invoices. Remedies for breach of contract are literally of no consequence when there is no process for establishing whether there has been a breach. As Larry Light identified, the trust that people put in brands prevents them from carrying out basic checks that the organisation is playing fair. Even when we have trust in an organisation, it’s always best to ensure they are doing what they say they will. Surely good governance includes checking your bills, doesn’t it?