Rebuilding Trust, Can it Be Done? Five Lessons We Can Learn from Toyota

I’m pretty mad at Toyota, and I don’t even own a Toyota. I’m mad that such a highly trusted company is doing such a poor job of managing their “run away” car situation. There is a lot managers can learn from this situation, specifically when it comes to rebuilding trust.


Is it possible to rebuild trust, after you’ve made some huge mistakes? Only time will tell for companies like Toyota, who recently recalled millions of Toyota and Lexus vehicles due to “run away cars.” Right now, I don’t believe Toyota will ever regain the trust of their loyal customers nor do I think they will be able to repair their valuable brand. This is not because it’s impossible to do, as companies like Tylenol have proven that trust can be rebuilt if you do so in a thoughtful and genuine manner. But I haven’t seen Toyota do one thing right that indicates to me that anyone will trust them again.


Here are five lessons managers can learn from this whole situation:

1. When you make a mistake, own it the minute you realize something is not right. Toyota allegedly knew about this problem several years ago and even made some fixes for their cars being sold in Japan. If they had done this here in the US, people might have been more sympathetic. Fortunately, most of you are not dealing in life or death situations. More than likely, you will be forgiven if you are honest with those around you.

2. Take responsibility for your mistake – Own it with an “I” statement. By that I mean, begin your apology with “I” rather than using words like “corporate” or “the bank.” In the end, you are ultimately to blame. Few people are going to forgive an inanimate object like a corporation, but they will certainly consider forgiving someone who appears to be human.

3. Vow to make things right and then do so – Toyota keeps vowing to make things right, as they continue to reveal more information that indicates they are not sure if the problem has really been corrected. If you are unable to make things right, then tell people so and explain to them why you are unable to do this right now. The last thing people want to hear is more of the same. If you are able to immediately begin to fix things, keep people informed as to exactly what you are doing along the way in order to regain their trust.

4. Re-define expectations – Let people know exactly what they can expect from you as you move forward. Right now many people, including myself, are scratching their heads wondering how things with Toyota will be different as they move forward. That’s because they’ve yet to really take responsibility for this situation and they haven’t answered this question. If you’ve seen their recent television ads, you know what I mean. You have some American guys working on the manufacturing line with a voice over saying why we should put our trust back in their company. I want to know where the heck the executives are. Are they hiding underneath their desks? They should be the ones on camera speaking to the people, taking responsibility and stating exactly what we can expect from them moving forward.

5. Do what you say you are going to do. Keep the commitment – We can’t really say how well Toyota has done with this as only time will tell. However, you can certainly do this. Trust is based on commitment to a shared vision. Without it, there is little left to support the foundation of any relationship. Do what you say you will do and in time you will regain trust.




Roberta Chinsky Matuson
Human Resource Solutions

Author of the forthcoming book, Suddenly in Charge! The New Manager’s Guide to Influencing Up and Down the Organization (January 2011)

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About the author

For more than 25 years, Roberta Chinsky Matuson, president of Matuson Consulting, has helped leaders in Fortune 500 companies, including Best Buy, New Balance, The Boston Beer Company and small to medium-size businesses, achieve dramatic growth and market leadership through the maximization of talent. She is known world-wide as “The Talent Maximizer®.” Roberta, a leading authority on leadership and the skills and strategies required to earn employee commitment and client loyalty, is the author of the top-selling book, Suddenly In Charge: Managing Up, Managing Down, Succeeding All Around (Nicholas Brealey, 2011), a Washington Post Top 5 Business Book For Leaders