Trustworthy Business Behavior

I was recently honoured to be named among the “Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business Behavior” for 2010, by the folks at Trust Across America.

The list is an interesting mix. It includes fellow business ethics profs like Laura Hartman and Mary Gentile, along with business leaders like Jeffrey Hollender (formerly of Seventh Generation), Whole Foods CEO John Mackey and consultants like Charles H Green and Christine Arena, as well as journalist-bloggers like Aman Singh.

The focus on “trust” in this listing is interesting. There’s probably not much to differentiate this list from a listing of thought-leaders in, say, business ethics or CSR. That’s not to say that a different title wouldn’t have changed the list at all; but basically all such lists, whether they’re of companies or of individuals, are about the doing the right thing in business or about promoting and fostering such behaviour.

But I do like the focus on trust. I think the role of trust in commerce simply cannot be overstated. Business — and that includes consumers interacting with any business — simply cannot happen without trust. Consider, for example, how crucial trust is…

  • …whenever you buy any consumer product, and thereby trust not just the person who sold it to you, but dozens or perhaps even hundreds of people who helped make that product.
  • …whenever one business buys something from another business, just by picking up the phone and saying, “Hey, please send us a box of X, and we’ll pay you at the end of the month.”
  • …whenever anyone is employed by anyone else. (In that case, the employer trusts the employee not to shirk as soon as the employer’s back is turned, and the employee trusts the employer to pay the agreed-upon amount at the end of the day or week or whatever.)
  • …whenever you give some of your money to a bank, ask them to hold onto it for you, and then (as most of us do) take their word for it when they tell you how much interest you’ve earned (or, more likely, how much interest you owe them on the money you’ve borrowed).
  • …whenever you climb into a taxi, or sit down at a restaurant to eat. (The driver or waiter is trusting that you will actually pay your bill at the end, rather than make a dash for it.)
  • …whenever you pick up the phone to order pizza. (The fact that it actually shows up means that they trust you to pay for it when it gets there.)

Basically, all of us, in our organizational lives and in our lives as consumers, end up trusting dozens and perhaps hundreds of people (and many many business organizations, too) during the course of our daily lives.

Of course, sometimes we use specific mechanisms to enforce trustworthiness — policies, laws, regulations, warrantees, contracts, etc. But all the formal enforcement mechanisms in the world couldn’t possibly keep a complex modern economy running, in the absence of a fundamental ethical commitment to trustworthy behaviour.

8 comments so far

  1. jepollabauer on

    Congratulations Professor MacDonald to be named one of the top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business Behavior for 2010 by Trust Across America. Looking at the names of some of the other persons identified as upper echelon Thought Leaders puts you in mighty prestigious company. The quality of your written work combined with your active participation in many varied forums makes you a very deserving nominee for this Top 100 Thought Leader recognition and as a loyal reader of your business ethics blog I salute your success and wish yoiu all the best in the New Year 2011.

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Chris MacDonald. Chris MacDonald said: Trustworthy Business Behavior […]

  3. Jim Gaa on

    Congratulations Chris.

    It’s funny — today, the first day of my information ethics class, I was talking about the importance of trust, using most of the examples you give. But, maybe it’s interesting that I did it in the context of trashing the “business ethics is an oxymoron” joke. I.e., it can’t be an oxymoron because …

  4. Chris MacDonald on



    And yeah, that’s actually usually the way I use that set of examples. There are just thousands of ways in which we all consider business to be ethical, most of the time.


  5. Lalitha on

    You do deserve the honor and recognition for your intellectual contribution to Business Ethics!
    May you be blessed with several more honors and distinctions!

    Thanks for the write-up on trust. I believe, the binding nature of business transactions emerged from the principle “Pacta sant servanda”.

    Have a great year ahead!
    – Lalitha

  6. […] to take our business elsewhere, and sooner?” Chris MacDonald demonstrates the importance of trust in our daily business lives — like “whenever you pick up the phone to order pizza. (The fact […]

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