trust broken is tough to repair


Iconic brand. A name trusted--once--around the world for car performance and engineering.

And now, just two months after it surpassed Toyota to become the world's largest automobile company, what is Volkswagen? Says Wall Street Journal auto writer Dan Neil:

Fines, buy-backs, lawsuits, indictments. VW is going to be a leading manufacturer of legal fees for years to come.

Now, thanks to VW, we become familiar with ways car executives can behave like common crooks, inventing "defeat devices," internal computer programming that can cheat emission control tests. New York Times correspondents Danny Hakim, Aaron M. Kessler, and Jack Ewing report:

On Sept. 3, a group of senior engineers admitted what the regulators had suspected: The company had installed defeat devices on nearly 500,000 diesel vehicles sold in the United States. In a presentation, they admitted that the software subroutine had been added to vehicles going back to the 2009 model year, when Volkswagen’s “clean diesel” arrived in America with promises of an environmentally friendly future.

So what? How is this relevant to home building?

Well, have a look at this. Fast Company contributor Charlie Sorrel looks at new research that suggests that human beings look at brands and other people's faces the same way when it comes down to trust. Sorrel's focus is on insight from the Institute for Experimental Business Psychology at Leuphana University of Lüneburg, Germany, from researchers Anne Lange and Rainer Höger. The key finding:

It seems that the same mechanisms we rely upon to rate the trustworthiness and intentions of the people we meet are also triggered by branding. If true, then we are hardwired to shop by brand, even while we try to remain neutral or apply rational thought to our purchases, and that’s a rather scary thought.

All that's only true if we trust.

Now, VW strikes a particularly sensitive chord because while its denials and untruths were not about car failures that resulted in anyone dying, they were core to claims that the company was making its diesel cars run "clean," low on harmful airborne emissions like nitrogen oxide.

For, it seems that cleaner air and longer, healthier lives go together. That's for one thing.

But what's more, people who care about the issue of clean technologies, sustainability, and corporate accountability with respect to the planet's health, are likely to be harsh when it comes to looking at and forgiving VW for its transgressions. Especially, since the company seemed to do everything it could to weasel out of admitting its chicanery.

Trust is so hard to come by. You and your associates know that. Trust among your teammates, among your partners, among your stakeholders, and among your customers comes once. Now should be about building trust.

From home building, development, and residential real estate's not-so-distant past, we've know hard-won trust can fly out the door in a nano-second. Among the deceptions that erode trust in home building.

  • Home systems can fail, with no one apparently accountable 
  • Financially, consumers can be misled, or allowed to mislead, destabilizing lending 
  • Claims for energy performance can contain small print that creates exceptions in the real world or disclaimers after a limited time 
  • Hidden community costs surface as a homeowners association takes on responsibility to sustain quality of life and programming in the neighborhood

There's bound to be technology, or a big cost argument, or a communications loophole that will tempt people building homes to try to take a shortcut, hold down expenses, or profit off another's lack of grasp of the rules. That fork in the road to No. 1, where you'll have to make a hard choice between what seems easier and less expensive and the harder, more-immediately costly option that keeps you honest and may slow you on your route, will come.

It's so tempting. It has to be, or why would so many smart, good people succumb to the urge to it? It must feel almost foolish to keep being brutally honest when it's apparently unnecessary, and it's certainly more costly.

One word for you.

Do it anyway.